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Neil Southgate #HHMusicSwansea

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Awareness of SEN(D)

As teachers, we often meet children and adults with SEN(D) requirements.  Sometimes, we are aware of various disabilities that a child might have, while at other times we might not be aware at all.  Moreover, especially relating to problems originating in how the brain functions, such as Dyslexia and Dyspraxia, the students and parents/ guardians of those students might not even be aware of any issue in the first place, or these issues are less obviously apparent.

As a result, SEN students face many visible and hidden barriers and, as a teacher, it is our responsibility to arm the student with the tools to cope the best way they can.  As cliched as it sounds, we arm the student to break down those barriers; to create #access.  You may think to ask – how is this even possible if we are not even aware of an issue?  I will address this shortly.


What we aspire to...

At HHMUSIC LLP, two of our overarching aims are to facilitate #access and #nuture all students that we come across.  The more we understand the problems and difficulties children and adults with SEN encounter, the better placed we are as a company of achieving these goals.

It is not our role as educators to set limitations for our students or even to diagnose them.  It is true that goals and expectations may be different for children of complex needs, but we should be looking to expand those expectations and goals.  If a goal for the day is simply to have, for example, little Johnny smile and that goal is met, this can be a fantastic achievement.  In this instance, the goalpost might be in a different place than for other children but there is still very certainly a game taking place.  A student having a label of SEN is useful in informing us of a students’ circumstances and to give us ideas of how certain situations might be approached (using a child’s parents or carer’s to help our understanding is excellent practice); however, it is never right to impose a limitation based on a belief when we don’t have the medical training to back it up.  A child’s mind is a wonderful thing and closing off opportunities for a belief may serve to do more harm than good.

What can we all do?

So, what can we do?

Fundamentally, the best way to treat a child with SEN is to realise that in most circumstances it is the same as the best way to teach any student.  You should be looking at ways to allow #access (physical and mental) to education, to #nurture that child to feel safe and welcomed in the teaching #environment by being a kind, positive, polite and patient individual.  At Hot House Music, our staff are encouraged to #beKind, which acts not only to create a positive space for students but helps these same students to develop similar attitudes and behaviours.  This creates a #legacy of like-minded individuals.  Thereby, in an #environment where all students are encouraged in this way, students with SEN are more likely to succeed and feel welcomed, because #access to education is encouraged by all students as well as the teachers – it takes a village to educate a child, especially a child with SEN, and in an environment, like at Hot House, where community values are at the top of the agenda, all children have #access to the base from which to flourish.

At Hot House Music, we encourage children to play games, talk and communicate with each other.  We always try to ask students about their day and greet with a smile.  It is our hope our behaviours might be reflected to us by the student.  Similarly, before and during long rehearsals, we engage the children by performing mind games (often called brain gym – although we prefer to call them music activities).  These help to develop memory and fine and gross motor skills that will serve to increase a child’s confidence and abilities.  For a child with SEN, development of these vital areas, could serve to help them navigate their difficulties, though, more importantly, help them feel included in sessions.

Any practical advice? …

When teaching an aspect of music, just because you have explained something once in one way, never assume a child or group of children have grasped the concept (or, indeed, that they will remember the concept for the next time).  It is better practice to explain, model, demonstrate in many ways on multiple occasions and you’ll hopefully be pleased by how the more generalised approach serves to engage more children and include, not exclude, children with SEN.  Always be enthusiastic, because you never know when you’ll be helping to turn on that light bulb.


(On the other hand, it is important to remember that a child with SEN may not react to situations and instructions as you might anticipate.  Always be lively to different reactions and never assume just because a reaction isn’t what you anticipated that it was meant in any kind of malice.  In a later post I will address ADHD and some of the misconceptions held in relation to behaviour and behaviour management.)

As a case in point, this is my approach to teaching where a ‘B’ is placed on the staff to a whole class of recorder students.  Before even looking at notation, we learn how to play a ‘B’, first, not even saying that it is called a ‘B’ simply making the shape, getting the children to copy and practice making the sound.  The children and I create rhythm ideas and utilise the voice by humming or singing the sounds back to each other, before I eventually start calling that sound a ‘B’.  Once that sound and fingerings have been established as a ‘B’ I point towards the the notation and say ‘B’ goes BANG in the middle (shouting the word BANG).  I get the children to say this back to me.  I get them to do actions of an explosion and I get them to sing the note.  I explain it is BANG in the middle because B is the first letter of the word BANG.  I show (and get the children to count) how the placement of the B is on the third line from the bottom and on the third line from the top and is quite literally in the middle of the staff.  I show them that the staff has five lines, just like their hands have five fingers (including thumb) each and the B is in the middle like their middle finger.  Every-so-often throughout the corresponding lessons, I point at the notes and ask where that note is (while singing a B), where is the ‘B’, what goes BANG in the middle, and many other variants of a similar question.  This is to reinforce what I have previously taught and that the children may teach each other by answering the questions.

The above may seem like a lot of descriptions or ways to teach only one note in one position on one staff; however, even this is not necessarily enough.  The point being that with the varied delivery I have not simply assumed that simply stating where the B is would engage all the children.  If a child is unable to grasp mathematical concepts, simply showing that the note is in the middle and counting the lines may not be enough.  If the child has visual difficulties, simply pointing at the board will not allow that child to understand.  If the child gets confused by letters and organising and lists, simply stating the note is called a B will not allow them to associate the sound with a B.  By humming and singing the note, we are engaging students who might not be able to hold the shape of the recorder in the B position.  By making the action exciting, a child who cannot form the embouchure to make a note can feel involved in the lesson.  And so on and so forth.  The concept of sound before symbol is very useful in music education.  The approach may not have achieved full understanding from every child yet will have increased the #access to education and more likely to have engaged a child with SEN or grabbed a child’s attention enough that they may seek to learn more.

Teaching children with SEN can be a rewarding experience and something that no music teacher should ever be frightened of.  As a musician, we have learned many skills in varied delivery simply to learn the instruments we play in the first instance.  Music is already a multisensory activity, not only on a personal level but on interpersonal and interaction levels.  The Hot House community of musicians is very well placed to allow SEN children to thrive, no matter the expectations.

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