Several weeks ago I visited AIU3’s Sunrise School, which serves children and young adults with disabilities. I made the trek out to Monroeville to interview Mary Crummie, a special education teacher who regularly uses music to create enjoyable and memorable learning experiences for the students in her classroom. Since Mary teaches children in grades one through six, her ten students vary widely in age, but they all share a love of music.
Soon after I arrived, I joined Mary’s students in their weekly music class. They could barely contain their excitement as they took their places in the circle and received batons with ribbons. As soon as the music began, they started to dance joyfully and twirl their ribbons to the tempo of the music. I saw smiles break out across the room as they jumped and swayed to hits like the “Macarena” and “Gangnam Style.”
Although Mary’s students only attend music class once a week, they experience music on a daily basis. In the morning, Mary often plays classical music to relax everyone and set the tone for the day. She’ll also turn on classical music at other times if she thinks her students need a little help focusing. Mary explains, “The music is an underlying sensory experience, but it calms them and helps them concentrate. It gets them excited but not too excited.”[i]
In addition, Mary uses music to enhance learning by incorporating it into her circle time activities at the end of the day. By inventing songs that teach students to count and spell their names, she uses music to help them develop valuable life skills. Over the years, Mary has noticed that “music holds their attention when nothing else will.”[ii] This makes it the ideal tool for motivating students to learn and remember important facts and concepts.
On the day of my visit, students performed a number of circle time songs designed to promote their academic development. Before one of the songs, Mary asked one student to identify the letter of the day, R. Everyone then demonstrated how R sounded and named objects that began with R while singing “The Letter of the Day is R” to the tune of “The Farmer in the Dell.” Students also sang about the days of the week to the melody of “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” and the months of the year to the “Macarena.”
Students chose to sing “The Wheels on the Bus” as the last circle time song. Mary named two students as bus drivers, and they wore hats and held steering wheels. The bus drivers sat in the middle of the circle to help lead the group, and at the end of the song the other students gave them a big “hip, hip hooray!” All of the students lit up as the music played, but the bus drivers looked especially proud as the others in the room recognized them for their leadership.
Before I left Sunrise School, Mary told me, “Music is the one thing that we can use to engage, reinforce, and help them [students] self-regulate. It’s multipurpose.”[iii] In my time visiting her classroom, I also noticed that it brings her students great joy. I found their enthusiasm for music contagious and was very excited to learn that I would see them again at the PSO’s PNC Tiny Tots concert, A Blue so Blue. Visit our blog again next week to hear how the visit to Heinz Hall inspired Mary’s students!
[i] Crummie, Mary. Personal interview. 7 Mar. 2014.