Excerpted from Accessing Music, Enhancing Student Learning in the General Music Classroom using UDL,
By Kimberly McCord, Amy Gruben, Jesse Rathgeber

Universal Design began as a result of the first laws that required buildings to be accessible for people with disabilities in the mid-1970s. Architects decided it was more cost-efficient to design buildings that were naturally accessible than to add on wheelchair ramps and other accommodations for people who might use public buildings.

The same concept can be applied to education.

Teachers write lesson plans, but what happens if a new student who joins in ensemble happens to be blind? If the teacher has been teaching music from notation, he or she may have to figure out some alternative activities or outside help for the new student. Music can be exclusionary or awkward for students with disabilities who want to participate without feeling singled out or different from their peers who may notice they aren’t learning the same way. Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is a way of planning, teaching, and assessing instruction that is naturally inclusive of all possible types of learners.  In the process, typical learners will learn better, too, because they are being tied with more flexibility.

The three main principles of UDL to be considered when designing lessons are:

  1. Multiple means of representation
  2. Multiple means of action and expression
  3. Multiple means of engagement

This requires the teacher to be flexible and to think about what is most important that the student understands from the lesson. If it is rondo form, the different ways to represent rondo form should be considered (listening, playing, or singing a piece in rondo form, moving, or composing). Representing the concept through different learning modes (aural, visual, and kinesthetic/tactile) could help engage all learners. Teachers tend to teach primarily through their own preferred learning modes. A teacher may be a visual learner who writes on the board, uses visuals, and even uses language that is visually descriptive. He or she may have classroom students who learn better if they have new information verbally explained or if they pat rhythms on their thighs. Typical students do better when concepts are presented through different learning modes, but a student with vision loss is going to especially need teachers who make heavy use of visuals to represent concepts through their stronger learning modes (aural and kinesthetic/tactile).

Students, such as those who are nonverbal, need flexibility in how they demonstrate their understanding of what has been taught. The first national standard for music education states that all students should be able to sing alone and with others. If a student can’t sing because she has a communication disorder, how can teachers assess her in regards to matching pitch? There are many ways flexible UDL teachers can assess in the situation: student demonstrations of the correct Curwen hand signs for sol and mi, for example. A student who is hard of hearing my demonstrate pitch matching through written notation rather than voiced singing.

Finally, differentiated instruction requires teachers to know their students well and think about how to best engage them. Many students with Asperger Syndrome have passionate interest in specific areas. For example, if a student loves maps and collects roadway signs, he might more easily remember that fine means stop if given a visual of a stop sign drawn around the word, as well all the other students in the class! A student with Attention Deficit Disorder might be more successful during a long rehearsal if he is allowed two seats in the classroom and permission to get up and move between the two seats.

Allowing students choice and empowering them to advocate for their own best learning is a valuable tool for success in the world. Students who are engaged and aware of their abilities and learning needs are more easily able to advocate for themselves—this is self-determination, a very important skill students with disabilities need to learn.

Accessing-MusicAccessing Music is a revolutionary new book designed to help special education teachers assist students with disabilities to participate in music to achieve their individual, fullest potential. Based on the philosophy of Universal Design for Learning (UDL)—a way of planning, teaching, and assessing instruction that is naturally inclusive of all possible types of learners—Accessing Music explores alternative and creative ways to reach disabled students in the classroom. Classroom-tested, the innovative strategies, examples, and visuals presented have successfully tackled challenging areas, such as notation, fingering charts, holding instruments, assessment, manipulatives, and much more. This fully reproducible book also includes a comprehensive list of valuable, related resources, and the Data Disk CD allows for printing and classroom sharing. Help students get more from the classroom, and spark a lifelong interest in music and music-making with Accessing Music!