Monday, December 3, 2007

Schoolhouse Story: Wendy and the Power of Melody

I am often called upon to conduct assessments to see if a student will qualify for music therapy as a related service. "Wendy" was referred for a music therapy assessment after her teacher observed that Wendy significantly increased her focus of attention during songs at circle time activities. Wendy has mild to moderate mental retardation and speech impairments. As part of the music therapy assessment process I observed Wendy working in the classroom during various group activities as well as some individual work.

Wendy was observed to provide very short attention to her teacher unless given direct verbal prompts. When she was prompted, she was able to maintain her eye gaze focus to the teacher or task for less than one minute for most tasks. I watched Wendy become very focused, however, during familiar songs that employed accompanying gross motor movements. Wendy began singing the songs and performing all the motions without prompts. Wendy had not verbalized any other words throughout the activities until the singing activity except for saying some numbers during a counting exercise. One of the songs the group sang used the melody from Skip to my Lou. Wendy performed motions in the air as if she was drawing each number from one through four. The lyrics to the song described the motions for the number four as, "down, across, one more down...that is the numeral four."

After the group activities, Wendy was tracing the numeral 4 with a pencil for one of her assignments. Her teacher used hand over hand prompts to help Wendy focus her attention and trace the numbers. Wendy's teacher was verbalizing the same instructions as repeated in the lyrics of the song, but Wendy was not paying attention to the verbal instructions. I suggested that the teacher try to sing the melody along with the instructions. The teacher tried this and immediately gained Wendy's attention to the task, although she was still required to provide hand over hand guidance for Wendy's tracing.

I wanted to build on the progress that the teacher made simply by adding the melody back to the instructions for writing the number four. I had observed that Wendy was successful with larger gross motor movements and so suggested that we use a white board to write the number as we sang the song. Wendy was able to sing and draw the number 4 several times on the white board as I sang along with her. Her numbers were messy since she did not have reference points to trace over, but she clearly drew the number 4 without assistance and was fully engaged in the activity.

In Wendy's case, melody and scale were the key elements to enabling her success. She had been observed to respond to some elements of rhythm during chanting and counting activities in group activities, but she was unable to resist singing and moving to music when the melody was added during songs. I believe that by starting out with her drawing large numbers and gradually decreasing the size of her motions to write smaller characters that she will be successful in writing numbers with her pencil on paper. Singing may further enhance this process if the singing is louder for the large drawing on the white board and gradually softer for writing smaller characters.

Sing...sing...sing for success!

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