Jennifer L. Stewart, Ph.D.

The University of North Carolina at Greensboro

School of Music

Music Research Institute



The United States is experiencing an ever-growing population of school-aged students with disabilities, especially given the development and implementation of detailed special education legislation over the past 30 years. School-aged students are now, more than ever, being educated in inclusive music classroom settings in public schools. Thus, it seems prudent to train pre-service music teachers to effectively educate students with disabilities, paying particular attention to the unique characteristics of instruction that occur in music classrooms and rehearsals.

In many colleges and universities, instruction pertaining to students with disabilities occurs in a stand-alone course that is delivered across one semester (or sometimes less), either concurrent with or just prior to student teaching. This instruction may be delivered in non-music courses or as a part of the required coursework in music. In addition, information about students with disabilities oftentimes is delivered solely via lecture and/or discussion. Although the lecture/discussion and one-semester formats (within or outside of music coursework) may be common, they are likely not sufficient in sensitizing pre-service music teachers with regard to students with disabilities.

A critical need for all teachers in the music profession is to develop sensitivity toward students with disabilities and to have a command of appropriate instructional strategies for the successful inclusion of students with disabilities in music classrooms. The teacher-preparation coursework relative to inclusion should provide numerous opportunities across many semesters for pre-service music teachers to develop themselves as skilled educators of students with disabilities. Instruction should involve more than a “bag of tricks” approach and it should also extend beyond the philosophical, theoretical, and legal constructs that typically accompany such discussions. Rather, direct experience observing and teaching students with disabilities in a variety of music settings will help to foster pre-service music teachers’ role development as the instructor, facilitator, and caregiver. This may be the only way to ensure that pre-service music teachers develop the necessary knowledge, skills, and dispositions to successfully educate students with disabilities. Experiential learning and frequent opportunities for self-evaluation and reflection that specifically include students with disabilities are critical to pre-service music teachers’ role development. Expanding college and university curricula to include an integrated model of role development through experiential learning will enable pre-service music teachers to become more competent, confident music educators of students with disabilities.