The Musical Theater Project Demonstrates the Value of Building Evaluation into Programs from Day One

One girl and two boys growl like tigers while wearing smock-style costumes.

Students participate in a Kids Love Musicals! residency. Photo credit: Heather Meeker

When leaders at the Musical Theater Project in Northeast Ohio decided they wanted to expand their Kids Love Musicals! residency program to serve students with disabilities, they were deliberate in their planning. They sought out resources and expertise from peer arts organizations already working with students with disabilities, and they attended professional development sessions on arts and special education topics. As they laid out their expansion plan, they identified program assessment as a priority and sought to include comprehensive evaluation strategies as a part of the new residencies.

With this in mind, Heather Meeker, Executive Director of the Musical Theater Project (TMTP), connected with leaders at the Schubert Center for Child Studies at Case Western Reserve University (CWRU), located nearby in Cleveland, Ohio. “CWRU is interested in being deeply involved in their community, so developing a mutually beneficial research project was of great interest to them,” says Meeker.

The Schubert Center introduced Meeker to psychology professor Sandra Russ and doctoral student Olena Zyga, who agreed to work with TMTP to assess the new residencies. TMTP agreed to support the academics’ work by raising money to pay for student researchers and faculty time, and Meeker says funders have been especially interested in supporting this collaborative assessment.

The Kids Love Musicals! residencies for children with disabilities aim to teach social skills and emotional understanding through the stories and characters from classic American musicals such as The Wizard of Oz, The Jungle Book, and You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown. The multi-year evaluation project with the Schubert Center seeks to better understand if engaging in the residency program impacted participants’ socioemotional skills, including the ability to make eye contact, engage with others, take turns appropriately, and demonstrate emotional understanding. A secondary goal is to understand whether gains seen during the residency program extend to other environments.

Russ and Zyga created a custom measurement scale for the program, using their expertise in the fields of psychology and play. TMTP initiated their new residencies for students with disabilities, collecting multiple forms of data throughout. Residency sessions were videotaped across multiple school sites and to include a range of student ages and ability levels; the videos were then coded and scored according to the measurement scale. Teachers were also asked to report on the same variables that were being coded in each session for every student, both before the residency program began and after it had finished.

Analysis of the first round of data, which specifically focused on The Wizard of Oz residency, suggests that students who participated in the Kids Love Musicals! program did make gains in eye contact, turn taking, engagement, and symbolic flexibility. These results were recently published in the Journal of Intellectual Disabilities. Meeker is thrilled that their collaboration with the Schubert Center led to the research being shared broadly, both through journal publication and in various conference presentations by her and Zyga.

Four children stand in front of two adults, all wearing curly gold ribbon on their heads and making roaring faces.

Teaching artists work with students in the Kids Love Musicals! residencies. Photo credit: Heather Meeker

The research collaboration between TMTP and the Schubert Center continues post-report publication, including a new round of data collection focused on identifying if similar gains are seen across curriculums presented to students. Specifically, they are asking if children made the same gains while learning The Jungle Book as made while learning The Wizard of Oz. Analysis of this data is currently underway, with initial results suggesting that curriculum differences do not significantly impact the student outcomes. A final phase of data collection, completed at the end of the 2016-2017 academic year, focused on comparing the active residency period with a pre-residency control period.

Given the success of their collaboration with the Schubert Center, Meeker encourages organizations interested in conducting robust program evaluations to consider partnering with a college or university in their own community. “If a project can be designed with the idea that both the organization and university students can benefit from it, a collaboration can really be a win-win situation,” she says.

Of course, Meeker also warns of the hard work and complications that come with conducting a large-scale assessment. She explains, “We had to make peace with the fact that we would not get 100% compliance from teachers in our data collection efforts, and that not all of the data we worked so hard to collect would ultimately be used in the study. We also did not anticipate the delays that sometimes come with working with a university, like waiting for internal review board approvals for everything from project proposals to parent permission forms.”

But the reward for that hard work is great, Meeker says, as their research has clarified so much for TMTP about the program internally. She concludes, “If you are constantly looking to improve your work, then thorough evaluation is crucial. This project has empowered us to do even more with our programming.”

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“It Starts at the Door”—TiLT 2015 Challenge Winner

This past April, we launched the first annual TilT Challenge. This exciting new program called for middle school, high school, and pre-professional students from around the world to share their disability experience through the art of digital media and storytelling. The TiLT Challenge sought authentic stories of no more than 5 minutes in length to inform, enlighten, and tilt society’s current perceptions.

The level four (pre-professional) winning entry came all the way from Mongolia and was entitled “It Starts at the Door.” Young filmmakers from Mongolia, Britain, and the United States worked alongside members of the Independent Living Centre in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia to “capture something distinctly Mongolian.” They wanted to bring together both Mongolian and disability culture. The result was a beautiful 4 minute look into the Mongolian bosgo. The team wanted to show how such a tradition remains inconvenient for those with disabilities. When we learned of the positive reaction Mongolian and U.S. audiences were having to the film, we wanted to find out more!

You can watch the full video here:

Untitled design(2)

[Back of cameraman filming shot of elderly man in front of a traditional Mongolian home]

[Back of cameraman filming shot of elderly man in front of a traditional Mongolian home]

In Mongolia, almost half of the population is under the age of 24, so a challenge aimed specifically at this age group was perfect for the creative team. The filmmakers explained that they found out about the TILT Challenge only a few weeks prior to the submission deadline. Despite the time crunch, they worked to make their their film “a bit quirky and more upbeat.”

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[Camera man sitting on bed filming a scene for the film]

The team explained that many times issues related to disabilities are “brushed under the carpet” in their country—not due to bad intentions, but rather a lack of knowledge. After coming up with a topic that the team could focus on, a member of the Centre told them about the bosgo, a step placed at the entrance of a traditional Mongolian house, which is a symbol of how society and traditions can sometimes discriminate against and exclude those with disabilities. The title of their film came together after learning about the topic and they were able to begin the challenge.

[Photograph of film team gathered together]

[Photograph of film team gathered together]

The lead actress, Gantuya, volunteered when the team contacted the Independent Living Centre to see if there was anyone interested in acting for the film. It became a family affair when her family offered their house as the setting. Audiences can even see some of her neighbors used as the extras in the background!

[Photograph of citizens signing a large ADA Pledge on a wall]

[Photograph of citizens signing a large ADA Pledge on a wall]

The team released a Mongolian version of the film, which has received many positive reactions from around the world. The film was screened at the American Embassy in Ulaanbaatar and was also featured on Mongolia’s largest state news channel. On the whole, the filmmaking team believes that the positive reaction will raise awareness and draw attention to the current state of accessibility in their country, as well as make the lives of those with disabilities easier. Along with this film’s success, the team hopes to raise funds to create a proper website for the Independent Living Centre and promote Social Mapping for Ulaanbaatar.

The creative minds behind this film include Gantuya, 22, who served as the lead actress; director and translator Misheel Davaadorj, 22; scriptwriter and narrator Finbar McLoughlin, 22; cinematographer, shooter, and editor Suniko Bazargarid, 19; Tuguldur Lkhagva, 17, who helped with filming and organizational matters; and Yanjinlkham Lkhagvadorj, 22, who served as a translator for both the script and the team as a whole. The film team also gives credit to Alice Colemen, for bringing the team together and providing script writing advice; Undrakhbayar and the Independent Living Centre for support, ideas, and feedback; Dulguun Ba, for editing and filming advice; and Tim Jenkins for connecting the team with the Independent Living Centre and helping to publicize the video in Mongolia.

We want to hear from you—what’s your reaction to the film?

Five Tips for Submitting a Good VSA International Young Soloists Competition Application

International Young Soloists logo

Each year, a select number of outstanding young musicians with disabilities, ages 14-25, are recognized by the VSA International Young Soloists Competition. These emerging musicians from around the world receive a $2,500 prize, professional development activities, and the opportunity to perform at the Kennedy Center. If you or someone you know is interested in applying for the 2016 VSA International Young Soloists Award, check out these application tips before submitting your entry:

  1. Upload high quality, live recordings. Professional recordings are not necessary. Video recordings are recommended but not required. If you are using accompaniment, it should be live and not pre-recorded.
  2. Submit pieces that showcase your proficiency as a musician. Please choose selections focusing on your primary instrument regardless of whether you play multiple instruments.
  3. Variety is encouraged. We encourage you to submit selections by different composers showcasing facility with different styles or eras of music.
  4. This award is for excellence in performance, not songwriting or composition. Original compositions may be submitted, but will not augment your score. Select pieces that showcase your technical skill, artistry, and musicianship as a performer.
  5. Carefully review all elements of your application before submission. Applicants will not be notified if components of their application are missing.

You can find more information about the 2016 VSA International Young Soloists Competition on the Kennedy Center’s website. Application materials should be submitted no later than February 10, 2016. Questions about the VSA International Young Soloists Program can be sent to VSAinfo@kennedy-center.org.

VSA Permanent Collection: New Insights and a New Home

What makes VSA’s permanent collection so fascinating? For starters, it has a little bit of everything from limited edition pop art lithographs to impressionist-style paintings, and even conference and political campaign posters. However, what makes the collection so unique are the works created by artists with disabilities, some formally trained, some self-taught. These pieces comprise the majority of the collection, and demonstrate the many ways in which visual arts act as a powerful outlet for sharing an individual’s perspective and vision, whether related to their experience with disability or not.

Pictured above: a Chuck Baird poster for Gallaudet University’s 2002 DeafwayII conference depicting artistic variations of American Sign Language, and Yashpal Chandrakar’s serigraph, Untitled, 1991.

Pictured above: a Chuck Baird poster for Gallaudet University’s 2002 Deaf Way II conference depicting artistic variations of American Sign Language, and Yashpal Chandrakar’s serigraph, Untitled, 1991.

Last month, our collection of over two hundred works of art was moved into its permanent home at the VSA archive, which is now located in the Watergate building across from the Kennedy Center. As we unpack and organize the collection we’ll be sure to highlight some of our treasures— many of which haven’t been displayed in years and deserve a moment to shine. Here’s a sneak peak, but stay tuned for more!

VSA Programs Coordinator Anne-Marie Walsh unpacks a ceramic mask entitled Femme a la Fontaine, 1991 by Maurice Tshany (left) and measures Hiro Yamagata’s serigraph Snow Celebration , n.d. (right).

VSA Programs Coordinator Anne-Marie Walsh unpacks a ceramic mask entitled Femme a la Fontaine, 1991 by Maurice Tshany (left) and measures Hiro Yamagata’s serigraph Snow Celebration , n.d. (right).

Seven Tips to Writing a Great Conference Presentation Proposal

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The Office of VSA and Accessibility at the Kennedy Center puts on two conferences per year, the Leadership Exchange in Arts and Disability (LEAD) Conference and the VSA Intersections: Arts and Special Education Conference. The calls for presentation proposals for both of these professional development opportunities are currently open, and we hope you apply! In order to submit the best possible proposal, we suggest you follow the tips below:

[Female, brunette VSA Intersections attendee draws while attending a visual arts workshop at the conference.]

[Female, brunette VSA Intersections attendee draws while attending a visual arts workshop at the conference.]

  1. Be relevant. Think about whether the topic you are proposing is relevant to mission and purpose of the conference.  If you aren’t sure, contact us.
  1. Write for your audience(s).  Your detailed description is for the people selecting proposals. Use that space to demonstrate the depth of the information that will be covered and the strategies that will be used to communicate that information.Your brief description is for people deciding which sessions to attend. Get their attention and tell them what they’ll learn from your session!
  1. Target your objectives.  Learning objectives are the skills or information that participants will gain from coming to your session.  Use that space to add detail to your proposal and describe the practical benefits of the information you are sharing. 
  1. Engage your participants.  Reviewers will be looking for strategies that will keep adult learners engaged.  Don’t forget to discuss this in your detailed session description. And think outside the box – creative engagement strategies can give your proposal an edge.
  1. Fill in the blanks.  Provide all information requested in the proposal submission form, including your confirmed presenter bios. All data gleaned from the proposal is useful for those selecting proposals.
    [Female LEAD presenter smiles while she addresses those in her session]

    [Female LEAD presenter smiles while she addresses those in her session]

  1. Quality matters.  Well-written proposals have a better chance with the committee. Show your proposal to someone who can make sure you’ve expressed your ideas clearly and double check your work before you submit.
  1. When in doubt, ask.  If you have any questions about proposal submission for the LEAD Conference, please write to access@kennedy-center.org.  If you have any questions about proposal submission for the VSA Intersections Conference, please write to vsainfo@kennedy-center.org.

We look forward to reading your proposals!

Announcing the Winners of the 2015 VSA Playwright Discovery Competition

The Kennedy Center’s Office of VSA and Accessibility is pleased to announce the winners of the 2015 VSA Playwright Discovery Competition, an annual competition that invites middle and high school students to examine the disability experience and express their views through the art of script writing. These talented young writers had their scripts chosen from more than 400 scripts submitted from around the world.

The winner in the Primary Division (grades 6-7) is The Problem with Wheelchairs by Elena Koogler, Enyo Okeoma, and Gloria Peroza-Aguirre from Northwest Junior High School in Coralville, Iowa. The winner in the Junior Division (grades 8-9) is Blind Faith by Rebecca Lewis from Union County Academy for the Performing Arts in Scotch Plains, New Jersey. The winners in these divisions receive a certificate of award and his or her school receives $500 to put towards arts programming.

The eight winners from the Senior Division (grades 10-12) are invited to participate in a weekend of pre-professional activities at the Kennedy Center during the annual Page-to-Stage New Play Festival. The young playwrights engage with seasoned professional playwrights, directors, and actors to refine their scripts and further develop their playwriting skills. The winning plays include: 3AM on a Park Bench by Paige Colvin; Cade Klein by Leah Davis; A Journey to the Mind’s Eye by Christopher Huntsman; Twelve Bucks by David Merkle; Forty-Seven by Olivia Popp; Mutant Boy by Bennett Sherr; Personification by Molly Kate Toombs; and Where Colors Rest in the Nighttime by Catherine Valdez.

A picture of Paige Colvin

Paige Colvin

Paige Colvin (3AM on a Park Bench) is entering her senior year at Redwood High School in Larkspur, California where she has been involved in acting and writing for as long as she can remember. Past awards include a silver medal at the Margie Burke Speech Tournament for her poems, as well as having her work published in the 2009-2010 anthology of California Poets in the Schools. She has written and directed one-act plays for her high school’s theater program, and is very excited to be performing as Veronica Sawyer in the school’s production of Heathers: The Musical in the fall. Theater is her ultimate passion, and she hopes to pursue acting for the stage at university level and as a career.

A picture of Leah Davis

Leah Davis

Leah Davis (Cade Klein) is a junior at Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts in Dallas, Texas, where she studies theater and is active in many productions both at her school and within the Dallas community. Her play is based on the events in the life of a childhood friend with autism. She is a member of the National Honor Society, International Thespian Society, National Science Honor Society, and Mime Troupe. This was her first attempt at playwriting, a passion she will continue to pursue.

A photo of Christopher Huntsman

Christopher Huntsman

Christopher Huntsman (A Journey to the Mind’s Eye), who has autism, is a recent graduate of Boise High School in Boise, Idaho and is interested in pursuing a program of study in digital filmmaking and video production, game art and design, or media arts and animation. In 2014 he completed a street-art mural painting on display in downtown Boise and participated in VSA Idaho’s Work of Art project with three other local teen artists.

A photo of David Merkle

David Merkle

David Merkle (Twelve Bucks) is a playwright, screenwriter, poet, musician, and rapper from Glen Rock, New Jersey where he has been active in his high school’s theater scene, acting in more than 18 plays and musicals, many in lead roles. As part of the school’s Theatre Company, he also served as a student director, playwright, and executive board member. He served as editor-in-chief and poetry editor for his school’s literary journal, Mobius, and most recently had two poems selected to be published in Susquehanna University’s literary journal, The Apprentice Writer. He is currently a freshman at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts in the department of Dramatic Writing.

A photo of Olivia Popp

Olivia Popp

Olivia Popp (Forty-Seven) is a rising senior at Skyline High School in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and is involved in many of her school’s arts programs, including the theater pit orchestra playing keyboards/piano, the school’s symphony orchestra as concertmaster, and Tri-M Music Honor Society Chapter 6265 as president. Understanding the importance of arts education upon a student’s academic, social, and mental health, and she strives to engage others in learning about its value as well. Being an avid anglophile, she hopes to one day further her studies and exploration in England.

A picture of Bennett Sherr

Bennett Sherr

Bennett Sherr (Mutant Boy) of Princeton, New Jersey, is a rising junior at Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts, where he actively participates in social justice organizations supporting his peers and the broader community on issues relating to diversity, multiculturalism, identity, equity, and inclusion. He is a student board member of DREAM (Disability Rights, Education, Activism, and Mentoring), a club that advocates for and provides support to students with disabilities, a mission he understands well from a childhood spent in 17 surgeries and bone lengthening procedures due to a rare orthopedic condition. In addition to acting and writing for the theater, he has a chapter published in the book, The Boarding School Survival Guide, and an article published in the USTA Tennis Championships

A picture of Molly Kate Toombs

Molly Kate Toombs

Molly Kate Toombs (Personification) is a homeschooled rising senior currently living in Richmond, Virginia. She is deeply passionate about creative writing and music, attending Brevard Music Center as a piano performance major in both 2013 and 2014, and Sewanee Young Writer’s Conference in 2015. She has attended Allstate Chorus twice, sung in the Mercer University Women’s Chorus, and received recognition from the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards. An avid lover of British film, television, and literature, her dream is to study playwriting in the United Kingdom. She hopes to pursue creative writing and playwriting on the university level.

A photo of Catherine Valdez

Catherine Valdez

Catherine Valdez (Where Colors Rest in the Nighttime) of Miami, Florida is a freshman at Columbia University, where she plans on majoring in creative writing and environmental biology. She is a lover of magic realism and is continuously inspired by folklore and her Dominican heritage. She is also the first-place winner of Princeton University’s 2014 ten-minute playwriting competition. Her work has gained international and national recognition from such organizations as The Poetry Society of America, The Young Arts Foundation, The Scholastic Art and Writing Awards, John Hopkins Creative Minds Essay Competition, The National Student Poets Program, and the Foyle Young Poets of the Year.

Excerpts from the winning Senior Division scripts will be performed on Saturday, September 5, 2015 at 4:00 p.m. in the Kennedy Center Terrace Gallery and on Sunday, September 6, 2015 at 6:00 p.m. on the Millennium Stage. The Sunday Millennium Stage performance will be streamed live online at kennedy-center.org and archived for future viewing.

Five Ways You Can Participate in the 25/40 Celebration

kencen-logoThe Kennedy Center and the Smithsonian Institution are hosting a huge celebration of arts, culture, and history this month, and we want you to be a part of the excitement! Whether you can join us in person or virtually, there are plenty of ways to participate in 25/40.

  1. Attend a Millennium Stage performance. From popular comedians to physically integrated dance, storytelling in American Sign Language to robotic musicians, the ten free Millennium Stage performances happening during 25/40 offer something for everyone. The best part? You can join us from anywhere in the world, since the performances stream live on the Kennedy Center’s website. After the live performances, the shows will be available to watch in the online Millennium Stage archive.
  2. Visit an exhibition. If you are in D.C., be sure to check out the six amazing exhibitions happening at the Kennedy Center and Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History as part of 25/40. They include works from the VSA Permanent Collection, works from previous VSA Emerging Young Artists Program winners, and collections that capture the significance and legacy of the ADA.
  3. See a film. The National Museum of American History is screening three films made by or about people with disabilities on July 25. Following each film, a curator will moderate a lively conversation among the audience members, directors, historians, or others connected to the production.
  4. Look for events in your own community. We are not the only ones celebrating these monumental anniversaries. Check out the list of related activities on the 25/40 website. You can also explore the U.S. Department of Labor’s new online timeline commemorating 25 years of the ADA and the ADA Legacy Project’s map of events.
  5. Connect with us and share your story. Follow VSA on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to get every update about 25/40. Then let us know how you are celebrating by using the hashtag #2540Celebration in your posts.

Your Guide to the 25/40 Celebration Website

The 25/40 Celebration website has launched!

Home Page

Here’s your key to understanding the 25/40 Celebration website, which will have everything you need to know related to the festivities.


25/40 celebrates two monumental anniversaries:

The 25th Anniversary of the signing of the American’s with Disabilities Act in 1990—an enormous step forward for civil rights and equal opportunity for people with disabilities. The impact of the ADA can hardly be overstated—it has irreversibly changed the course of the quality of life for millions of people across the U.S.

The founding of VSA, the international organization on arts and disability, 40 years ago earmarks 4 decades of commitment to providing quality arts and education programming to people with disabilities around the globe. With 52 international affiliates and a network of nationwide affiliates, 7 million people of all ages and abilities participate in VSA programs every year.


Here is everything you need to know about navigating the 25/40 website!

Home Page:  www.2540celebration.com

Home Page

This is the home page for the 25/40 site. In the top right corner (yellow arrow and circle) you’ll find the links to the rest of the site, including the About, Schedule of Events, How to Participate, Latest News, and Contact pages.

The green arrow points to a shortcut for viewing exciting Upcoming Events. Look here to see what’s coming up next, and click the “View more” to easily access the full Schedule of Events!

About Page: www.2540celebration.com/about-2540/

About 2540

The About Page contains more information about the event and participating organizations.  In the body, read about the event and the two anniversaries it’s celebrating.

If you look at the red arrow, you’ll see a highlighted link to learn more about the Americans with Disabilities Act. If you click on this it will take you to the official ADA page (www.ada.gov/ada_25th_anniversary/).

The blue arrow points to a similar link, except about VSA.  If you click on this, it will take you to the Kennedy Center’s Office of VSA and Accessibility page (www.kennedy-center.org/education/vsa/).

Finally, the green arrow and circle show where to find more information about VSA, 25/40’s Partners and Sponsors, and Related Anniversary events.

Find more descriptions of some of those pages below:

2540 partners and sponsors

On the Partners and Sponsors Page, read more about who made this incredible event possible, as well as a list of individuals and organizations to whom we’d like extend a special thanks.

2540 related anniversary eventsOn the Related Anniversary Activities Page, you can find out what else is happening in the DC area and beyond to celebrate these two anniversaries.  The green arrow points to where a list of events will be with details on date, time, location, and clickable links to more information.

*If you have an event you’d like featured, or know of one that we missed, please email vsainfo@kennedy-center.org and follow the directions on the page.

Schedule of Events Page: www.2540celebration.com/schedule-of-events/

Schedule of eventsOn the Schedule of Events Page you will find a list of events with location, time, and description.  The green arrow points toward an example, and below find a close up.

The red arrow points to the Calendar View button (with so many events, happening this is our favorite way to take it all in!) — click this to see all the events in an easy to view calendar format. Red events are at the Kennedy Center and blue events are at the Smithsonian Institution.  See image below:

Calendar ViewHere is a more detailed view of the events list:

schedule exampleThe blue arrow shows you where to find the date of every event and the red arrow points to the basic information (event title, location, and time).  The green arrow shows the accessibility accomodations offered for each event.

How Do I Participate? Page: www.2540celebration.com/how-do-i-participate/

How do i participateThis page gives you all the necessary information on getting to the Kennedy Center and Smithsonian Institution locations.  It provides addresses, information on parking and accessibility accomdoations, and other good stuff to help you join in the celebration.

Latest News Page: www.2540celebration.com/latest-news/

Latest newsAt the top right you can click the Latest News link and see all the updates via the VSAInternational Facebook page and everything tagged with #2540Celebration.  (Hint hint, if you want to see your post or tweet featured here, use the official Celebration hashtag!)  Keep up on Facebook by liking the VSA International page!

Contact Page: www.2540celebration.com/contact/

contact pageLast, but certainly not least, the Contact Page.  Here you can sign up for our mailing list, so you receive updates about all the exciting 25/40 happenings!  The red arrow points to where you can add your contact information, and the green circle shows the “Subscribe” button to add your name to our list.  (We promise we won’t spam you!) This way you’ll be the first to know about the latest and greatest of the Celebration.

Finally, the blue arrow points toward our contact information, giving you information for the Kennedy Center and Smithsonian Institution.


We hope you found this post useful and can’t wait to see you at the 25/40 Celebration!! If you have any questions, let us know in the comments below!#2540celebration

Building Reading Comprehension Through Inclusive Arts Learning

Educators participate in an Embodied Storytelling workshop.

Educators participate in an Embodied Storytelling workshop.

Many students need support in developing their ability to read confidently. VSA Intersections conference presenters Arianna Ross and Suzanne Richard have developed arts integration learning strategies and activities that engage learners with disabilities and support reading with comprehension. Ross and Richard combine elements of dance, storytelling, visual art, and drama for their professional development workshop, which they call Embodied Storytelling.

Embodied Storytelling, according to Ross, is using the body and voice to help students tell, plan, and comprehend a story. She emphasizes that the process utilizes all arts genres to embody the story, and that greater reading comprehension comes from that experience. Richard describes the Embodied Storytelling process as, “…breaking down the story, then beginning to read it, then embodying it in group and collaborative work.”

Arianna Ross headshot

Arianna Ross

Ross and Richard each bring their own unique perspective to Embodied Storytelling, which together create a valuable professional development experience for educators. Ross’ background as a multi-disciplinary teaching artist, along with her knowledge of arts integration and Common Core State Standards, offers an understanding of multiple arts genres, teachers, and school systems. Richard adds her personal and professional expertise in inclusive education, through her years as a teaching artist and accessibility specialist and through her own experience as a person with a disability.

According to Richard, the Embodied Storytelling workshops model a focus on ability rather than disability. “We find out what students can do and then expand on that idea,” says Richard. “Also what they love to do,” Ross adds, continuing, “If they like to draw but the teacher thinks they cannot, we suggest they use a modified strategy to bring that in.”

Suzanne Richard headshot

Suzanne Richard

One inclusive strategy frequently utilized in Embodied Storytelling is gesture partners. “For kids who don’t talk, a physical and voice pairing allows everyone to work together with their strengths,” says Ross. Group work is an important part of the Embodied Storytelling approach, so strategies for successful, inclusive collaboration are discussed in the workshops.

Since October 2014, Ross and Richard have led professional development workshops on Embodied Storytelling for over 100 special education professionals. These three-hour workshops focus on arts integration and reading comprehension, with an emphasis on nonfiction reading. Ross says the idea for their upcoming Intersections session came from the positive reactions they have received during these recent workshops.

Educators participate in an Embodied Storytelling workshop.

Educators participate in an Embodied Storytelling workshop.

At their 90-minute Intersections session, participants will learn specific exercises that they can immediately apply in their own community, as well as strategies for adapting their own activities. The interactive workshop will include opportunities for hands-on learning and questions. Ross and Richard will also discuss the process of how the two of them co-taught together and how you can work with an inclusion specialist in your community.

Ross and Richard will present their Intersections session, “Harnessing the Power of Arts Integration: Using Interactive Arts Integration Strategies to Build Reading Comprehension,” on Monday, August 3, at 2:30 PM. Visit the VSA Intersections website to learn more and to register for the conference.

Finding a Framework for Musical Development in Children with Disabilities

Sounds of Intent logoResearch has shown that music education is beneficial for young people, both with and without disabilities. But in 2000, when Adam Ockelford and Graham Welch looked for data on how children with severe and profound learning disabilities developed musically, they were surprised at the lack of research and understanding of the topic. This led Ockelford, Welch, and some colleagues in the United Kingdom to begin their own research project that today is Sounds of Intent.

Ockelford says that he and Welch assembled a group of teachers and music therapists from across the UK, with the goal of creating a framework for how students with severe and profound disabilities developed musically. Over five years, the team observed each other’s work in the classroom, viewed videos of music educators working with students with disabilities, and discussed their observations. Six stages of musical development emerged from the research:

  • Level 1, Confusion and Chaos: Children have no awareness of sound.
  • Level 2, Awareness and Intentionality: Children have an emerging awareness of sound and a sense of cause and effect. They take in sound and react to different kinds of sound in an emotional way.
  • Level 3, Relationships, Repetition, Regularity: All about patterns and predictability, this is when children understand a regular beat and clap a time pattern.
  • Level 4, Notes Forming Clusters: Children have an evolving perception of groups of sounds, or “chunks,” and are putting them together to make their own songs.
  • Level 5, Deeper Structural Links: This stage includes a growing recognition of whole pieces, and of the frameworks of pitch and perceived time that lie behind them; children perform and sing in time and tune in a simple way.
  • Level 6, Mature Musical Expression: At this level, children get the hang of music as a social and communicative feeling.

According to Ockelford, identification of these levels allowed the research team to build the first Sounds of Intent framework. Across the six levels on the framework, there are three ways children can engage musically: reactive, proactive, and interactive. Altogether, the framework provides 18 cells on how music can be made.

“Sounds of Intent is really all about resources and examples for teachers,” says Ockelford, adding that the website has hundreds of examples and videos for using the framework in classrooms. The website includes an online recording and assessment tool with hundreds of different steps music educators or parents can use to record a child’s musical development. Ockelford notes that the need for such an assessment tool was great, since many other music education assessments are too broad brush for children with severe and profound learning disabilities.

The Sounds of Intent team is currently working on applying the framework to children in their early years. Their initial findings show that the framework’s levels seem to be common to all children, both with and without disabilities. Ockelford hails this as “…amazing, to have a fully inclusive framework for musical development.”

Ockelford says there are two key take-away messages from the Sounds of Intent research. First, that all children are musical, regardless of their ability or disability. Second, that how a child develops musically has a genetic element, but also depends largely on how much experience and exposure to music a child receives in the early years.

Ockelford and Welch will be presenting an interactive session about Sounds of Intent at the 2015 Intersections: Arts and Special Education conference. They will co-present the session with American music and special education teacher Don DeVito, and offer attendees the opportunity to try the online Sounds of Intent resources for themselves. To register for Intersections, visit the conference website.