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Bringing Little Ones Together With Music!

Mentor Artist Hannah Dworkin reports on her music residency at Marindale preschool.

DSC_0108It was such a joy to work with Carla Echevarria’s  language delayed preschool class at Marindale in San Rafael. This year was especially engaging because Carla invited several students from Santa Margarita, a nearby “mainstream” preschool, to join us weekly.  Carla and the teachers from Santa Margarita have been looking for a way to integrate the two schools, and our residency became an important step toward reaching this goal.

The presence of the Santa Margarita students greatly motivated Carla’s students to move beyond their comfort zone and engage in activities that were new to them. We noticed that they were more fully engaged in the music and the movement and were more apt to accept new songs and dances into their repertoire.

Carla’s students also made great strides in their musicianship, more than they had in the past.  They were able to follow melodies in accuracy I had not seen before, and they often begin singing our songs before the class even begins!

We also used a lot of puppets this year, and the kids loved them!!! The level of engagement and calm throughout the class was evident immediately once they saw my “magic puppets” emerge from their bags.  Some song that worked well with puppets were: “Three Little Monkeys” with an alligator puppet and three monkey puppets, “Buzz Buzz” with Bee finger puppets for each child, and “We are the dinosaurs” with various dinosaur puppets.

Thank you to the Buck Family Fund of the Marin Community Foundation for supporting this program.
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Choice in a Special Day Class

Mentor Artist Hannah Dworkin writes about her work in Glenwood Elementary’s Special Day Classroom

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We had a wonderful 10th year together in Rockne Beeman’s upper elementary special day class, and this year we had an extra special outcome with one of our students.  This student, who I will call Leah, has minimal language skills and does not read, but she responds incredibly well to rhythm.  Through a series of scaffolded rhythm based activities, Leah was able to identify, name and perform rhythmic phrases. She and her classmates also really loved our new song choice board pictured below.

The steps that lead to her breakthrough are as follows: aurel exercises with rhythmic phrases familiar to the students; visuals that integrate music notation, pictures that represent the previous familiar words and the words written out; move to color coded visuals with only the music notation.

The familiar words I use are “Pepperoni” for 4 sixteenth notes, “pizza” for two eighth notes, “pie” for one quarter note, and “cheese” for one half note.

This year we were also visited by students from mainstream classes through a reverse integration model.  It is amazing to see the increased engagement of the students in the special day class when their peers from other classes join them.  This year we noted that they participated with greater depth, were more willing to incorporate dances and displayed fewer behaviors when these children joined our music and dance sessions.

Thank you to the Buck Family Fund of the Marin Community Foundation for supporting this program.
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Sing Along for Autism Awareness Month

Youth in Arts new CD

Youth in Arts new CD

April is Autism Awareness Month.  Youth in Arts is the only arts education provider to special day and severely handicapped classrooms in Marin. We also provide arts programming at Oak Hill School which is focused on students with autism from 5-22 years old.

Check out this CD C’mon Everybody! which was produced with support from FirstFive Marin as part of a special workshop for families with children on the autistic spectrum.

C’mon Everybody! features original music composed by Youth in Arts Mentor Artist Miguel Martinez and featuring performances by additional YIA Mentor Artists Nydia Gonzalez and Hannah Dworkin. Songs encouraging response to direction, social behavior and language acquisition. It is fun and accessible for developmentally typical PreK children, as well as children with cognitive or developmental delays.

Come into our YIA shop on 917 C Street to buy the CD, or you can get a free download of a couple of the songs here Good Morning My Love, and  King of the Beat.

Thank you to the Buck Family Fund of the MCF for supporting our programs reaching children of all abilities.

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Puppets and Music

By Mentor Artist Hannah Dworkin

20160307_095702I loved my opportunity to visit Lara Becker’s Marindale preschool class again after a few years away, and it was extremely rewarding to watch the growth of these students over the 10 weeks.  There were several students who were less engaged the first few weeks, and we were all extremely impressed with their level of participation by the culmination of the residency.

I engaged these students through the use of puppets and songs.  The level of engagement and calm throughout the class was evident immediately once they saw my “magic puppets” emerge from their bags.  Some songs that worked well with puppets were: “ThreeLittle Monkeys” with an alligator puppet and three monkey puppets, “Buzz Buzz” with Bee finger puppets for each child, and “We are the dinosaurs” with various dinosaur puppets.

I also used frog percussion instruments for the section of the class that was devoted to rhythm.  They loved hearing the croaking sound they could make with them, and they were listening so closely that I heard distinct rhythmic phrases, something that I had never heard when I asked them to clap.

It was a fantastic time, and I am incredibly grateful for discovering the magic of puppets!

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Reading Music Before Reading Words

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Visual Cue Cards

Written by Mentor Artist Hannah Dworkin

I look forward to working with Jessica Leaper’s Marindale preschool class of students with language delays every year because her kids have so much enthusiasm for music.  Every visit begins with the students yelling, “Hannah!!!!” as I enter the room.

They memorized my daily agenda by the second week, and they cheered at each transition.  One area that was especially successful was the teaching of musicianship.  About half the students could read basic rhythm by the end of the residency, quite a feat for preschoolers!

Their favorite song by far was “Goin’ on a Bear Hunt” where we marched around the room looking for a bear to take a picture of, and then we ran yelling back to our seats when we finally found him.  They also really enjoyed playing with a parachute.  We started every week sitting on the parachute identifying colors and singing about them in English and Spanish. Then all the children would jump under it while the adults pretended we could not find them.

I feel so fortunate to have had the opportunity to work with such a great group of kids and teaching team!

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Puppet Magic!

Written by YIA Mentor Artist Hannah Dworkin

IMG_7992 copyThis was my first year in  Michaela Mirsky’s lower elementary special day class at Edna Maguire elementary in Mill Valley, and it was extremely rewarding to watch the growth of these students over the 10 weeks.  There were several who were extremely resistant the first few weeks, and we were all extremely impressed with their level of participation by the culmination of the residency.

I engaged these students through the use of puppets and songs, a technique that was new to me.  The level of engagement and calm throughout the class was evident immediately once they saw my “magic puppets” emerge from their bags.  Some songs that worked well with puppets were: “Three Little Monkeys” with an alligator puppet and three monkey puppets, “Buzz Buzz” with Bee finger puppets for each child, and “We are the dinosaurs” with various dinosaur puppets.

I also used frog percussion instruments for the section of the class that was devoted to rhythm.  They loved hearing the croaking sound they could make with them, and they were listening so closely that I heard distinct rhythmic phrases, something that I had never heard when I asked them to clap.

It was a fantastic time, and I am incredibly grateful for discovering the magic of puppets!

Putting on a Show!

Leaper Parachute Play 2014Leaper Show 2014

 by Mentor Artist Hannah Dworkin

Most of the work I do in “Arts Unite Us” classrooms is process based, meaning that the experience of  music or movement activities is the goal of the session.  There are of course many other ways that the students benefit including language, social and pre reading development.  Creating a show is almost never part of the conversation, but there are times when students, even autistic preschoolers want to share what they have learned.  Sometimes organizing a small show for their parents is the best way to give them this opportunity. Jessical Leaper’s preschool students at Marindale Special Day School were one such group.

The question that arose for me was: How does one put on a show with a group of students who are often afraid of social interactions and may not be able to retain enough information to put on a traditional performance?  The conclusion I came to was that we needed to develp a delicate relationship between routine and flexibility.

Routine:

If possible I think shows like this should take place in a setting in which the students are comfortable.  In the case of Jessica’s class I chose to have the students share their work in their “circle time spots.” We held all of our class sessions in this space, and the students were accustomed to heading straight for their chairs as soon as I walked in the room.  The songs and activities we shared were also in the order we I taught them each session, and I used the visual aids that were present in each class session.  The order is listed below along with a description of the visual aids:

  • Good Morning Song (Picture of the morning with the words “Good Morning” imbedded)

  • Hello Song (Choice board with options for dance movements to perform with each round of the song)

  • Pepperoni Pizzas (Pictures of Rhythmic notation with pictures of foods-Pepperoni is paired with four 16th notes, Pizza is paired with two eighth notes, Pie is paired with one quarter note, Cheese is paired with one half note)

  • Singing Songs (Picture of singing to remind students to sing along)

  • Dance (Picture of dancing to remind students to dance)

  • Penny Game (Picture of Penny and a real penny to help participation)

  • Goodbye Song (Picture of students waving “Goodbye”)

 

Flexibility:

There are three aspects of flexibility that were important to this experience. First, I started to introduce small changes to my routine halfway through the residency to acclimate the students to the possibility of changes in the class order.  The parents in the audience were also asked to be flexible.  They started sitting behind the students, and then we slowly moved them forward.  Eventually many were sitting in front of the students in traditional audience seating.  I as a teaching artist also needed to be flexible.  I needed to understand that some students would need to sit on their parents laps. I needed to remember that this production was not going broadway, so following the students in this way was just fine.  I did pull those parents into the dance portion, and the parents seemed to enjoy the experience.

Ultimately this untraditional show was successful for everyone involved.  The students shared their work.  I was given an opportunity to introduce parents to our work, and Jessica was able to bring parents into the classroom, some of whom had not visited all year. We plan to try it again next year!

Seven Years Good Luck!

Arts Unite Us Mentor Artist Hannah Dworkin writes about her work with Rockne Beeman’s Special Day Class

I have been incredibly lucky to work with Rockne Beeman’s upper elementary special day class for the past seven years. It is the first time I have worked with a community for such a long period of time. These children and teachers have taught me more about teaching and being a mother than any book I ever read or class I have taken.

I started teaching music and dance in Rockne’s class when I was 6 months pregnant with my first child. I brought in songs and ideas that worked in other special day classes. Some worked and some….not so much. I remember Phyllis, one of the aides in the classroom guiding me along with a smile and advice like, “just move on. You’ll learn soon enough that you’ve just got to roll with it when kids don’t get it at first,” and, “It doesn’t have to be just right today. Sometimes it just takes time.” When I was stuck, Rockne always had advice and articles to share, and Betty, another classroom aide, always has a way of finding humor even in the most difficult of situations. They are also quick to help and understand when one of my children was sick, teething or just going through the terrible two’s.

The students have shown such growth over the years. The children who have been in the class for several years have started leading portions of the class and choose their favorite songs. For some, there are songs that have become the touchstone that pulls them out of tantrums, and other songs and games have filtered into many areas of the classroom day.

The experience is wonderful every year,and I hope I am lucky enough to have many more with them.

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Magic Scarves

I walked into the special day class classroom I have visited for years, and “L” was having a fit.  Yelling, rolling on the floor and spreading general unhappiness.  The teachers and I tried numerous interventions, but nothing worked until we decided to pull out one of the “magic scarves.” This simple, oversized scarf works miracles in my classes.  Once the scarf was over “L,” she immediately calmed down and even participated in that day’s music lesson.

This is just one of many times this scarf has come in handy.  It is hard to say what makes it so engaging.  Students of varying abilities find it fascinating.  They follow it with their gaze, dance with it and will generally follow any direction as long as they get to interact with it.

There are a few specific ways I use this scarf.  First, I use it to encourage eye tracking or to bring focus to an area of the room.  It also helps to remind students to change levels in a dance and encourages a specific quality of movement, I also have students hold one end of the scarf while I move the other end.  Using this technique, almost every student will match my movements.

Though I am not sure of the reason for my students’ fascination with my scarves, I am grateful for its effectiveness, and I plan to continue to use it in years to come.

Listening and Responding

Last year I wrote a blog suggesting that students’ behaviors should whenever possible be seen as an attempt to communicate. I encouraged my fellow teaching artists to:

 

1. Find the hidden messages in “behaviors” or “breakdowns”

Those of us that work with special needs students are very familiar with behaviors or breakdowns.  Initially the crying, repetitive gestures and outbursts from these students may seem random, but they rarely are.  These students have no way of saying “I don’t like this song,” or “The volume is too high.” Ask yourself:

What activity preceded the outburst?

Has this happened before?

What did you or the classroom staff do that calmed the student?

When does this student seem most content?

Sometimes there are even messages in the sounds and words said while in the midst of a tantrum.  One of my students “J” threw a tantrum in one of my classes, and after close listening, I realized that he was yelling, “e-i-e-i-o.” He wanted to sing Old MacDonald but didn’t have the vocabulary to express it.  So we sang Old MacDonald and he was immediately calmed.

 2. “Read” your audience.

A  great many skills we develop as performers are transferable to teaching special needs students.  One such skill is being able to “read” your audience.  After a while we instinctively know when to slow down, speed up or drop a section completely.  The same goes for working with students.

If you find your students engaged in a song, repeat it.  This populations thrives on repetition, and those with language processing delays will have an opportunity to learn your material.  On the other hand, if the class is losing focus or individuals are starting to show behaviors, find a quick stopping place and move on.  It takes patience and flexibility to work with special needs kids, and sometimes no matter how wonderful your lesson plan is, you may have to make a quick change.

3. Your greatest resource: The classroom teacher

The special day class teachers are an amazing group of individuals who know their students extremely well. Ask them for advice and listen to them when they make suggestions.

This year I have been considering the difficult situation when I realize what a student is trying to communicate and I have to decide to honor the request or continue with the class.  For instance, if a student breaks down in the middle of a song, is it best to stop the song or continue in the hopes that ignoring the behavior will not reinforce it.  The simplest answer I have come up with is to look to the classroom teacher for advice, but I am realizing that being a teaching artist with the same children over several years and sometimes through several classrooms can help in this situation.  We are in the unique situation of knowing students on a very deep level and can plan and react accordingly sometimes even surprising the classroom teachers. There was a specific instance where we were singing a song, and one fo the students was obviously not enjoying the experience. The classroom teacher and I looked at each other considering what to do.  I shared that in the past if I get to the next verse, this child usually calmed down.  We tried it, and it worked!

YIA Mentor Artist Hannah Dworkin

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