There is nothing quite like the moment when the penny drops with a pupil, opening the door to greater achievement. However, creating such inspirational moments for pupils with special educational needs in a class with a wide mix of abilities can be particularly challenging. And it can sometimes be difficult to find time to teach more than a "flat-pack" lesson.
A one-task-fits-all lesson will not always lead to the best outcomes. If, for example, the general task is to complete a group composition from a written stimulus (perhaps a standard chord progression), then it is important to ensure that this is accessible to all pupils. You may need to demonstrate for those who find text or musical notation difficult, adjust the choice of instruments or create a different set-up to standard breakout groups.
Consider how to stimulate those with poor concentration and how to cater for those with physical impairments. Traditional piano can be better for pupils who are hearing impaired because it enables them to experience the vibrations of the music.
Most of all, rule nothing out. Be sensitive, alert and willing to make radical changes - quickly - to your planned lesson.
Seamlessly using approaches that give all pupils confidence is the hallmark of sensitive teaching. Here are a few ideas:
- If pupils are writing musical terms on the board in front of the group, divide up tasks (idea generators and scribes, for example) and ensure that any pupils with dyslexia are able to contribute to the discussion.
- If pupil demonstrators are working with the teacher to bring improvisation alive, use keyboards in different locations around the classroom to overcome mobility issues. Everybody should have a voice in the music classroom.
- Hone in on the special musical skills that pupils in the group have, especially those that you do not possess. Perhaps they play a different instrument to you. If so, seek instruction from them. Asking such a pupil to teach you some starting points can be a great way to turn the educational tables and build their confidence.
- Think about the noise that a music classroom can generate. Try to create moments that suit all learners: quietness to reflect on work for those who find the environment overwhelming; energy and activity for those who need this stimulation.
For pupils with special educational needs, music lessons should provide opportunities to express creativity, explore fresh musical areas and work with other musicians in the group. With careful thought, music can break down, not build, barriers.
Anthony Anderson is head of music and performing arts, and a coach and mentor, at Beauchamp College in Leicestershire. He is a member of the Representative Council for the National Association of Music Educators
Sounds of Intent is a musical learning framework that enables assessment of musical engagement for those with learning difficulties.
Drake Music's innovative approach to musical learning seeks to break down barriers.
Soundbeam is a system that enables those with physical disabilities to participate in touch-free music-making.