Preparing Preservice Music Teachers to Teach Students with Special Needs


Mara E. Culp, The Pennsylvania State University


Students with special needs deserve a quality music education and providing every student the opportunity to master the music education curriculum is a matter of social justice (Shuler, 2012). Cassidy and Colwell, (2012) reported that preservice music teachers (PMTs) are concerned students with special needs will not be able to succeed in their future music classrooms. These concerns were realized in research studies that found students with special needs could be denied access to a music education due to the teacher’s lack of knowledge regarding how to best accommodate these students (Abramo, 2012; Nabb & Balcetis, 2010). Hence, preparing PMTs to teach students with special needs is also an issue of social justice because teacher preparation can directly impact the quality of instruction.


A possible explanation for PMTs’ apprehension about teaching special populations and deficits in the music educational opportunities for these students may be explained by insufficient PMT preparation. Reporting the findings of a national survey of NASM-accredited universities offering degrees in music education, Salvador (2010) indicated that teaching music to special populations was not addressed in the curriculum of approximately 24% of the institutions. Although nearly 60% reported purposefully integrating information pertaining to teaching exceptional populations throughout coursework, the information was often not presented in a sequential or planned manner and may only have been in the elementary methods course. Less than 30% required a course dedicated to the topic of teaching music to special populations.


When courses about teaching special populations were offered, they were often provided outside of the music education department (Salvador, 2010). This is problematic because PMTs have more difficulty finding relevance in general education coursework (Conway, 2002) and often lack the ability to transfer knowledge to music education settings (Cassidy & Colwell, 2012). Therefore, music education departments should provide PMTs information about teaching music to special populations in a planned, sequential way (Abramo, 2012; Salvador, 2010).


More students with disabilities are included in typical classroom settings than ever (Hammel & Hourigan, 2011) and every student deserves a chance to master the curriculum. Recently, Abramo (2012) reported findings that students with special needs may be denied access to music education due to a lack of teacher knowledge. Hence, preparing PMTs to teach special populations is a matter of social justice that needs to be addressed by the music education community. This presentation will provide music teacher educators knowledge about preparing PMTs to teach special populations, with regard to purposefully incorporating information and experiences into existing coursework; designing new coursework or enrichments; and relevant strategies for teaching students with special needs in K-12 settings.




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