Experiences of Undergraduate Music Education Majors in a Special Education Fieldwork Placement


Megan M. Sheridan, University of Florida


Andrew Bajorek, University of Florida



Coursework related to working with students with special needs is commonly included in the traditional undergraduate music education curriculum (Colwell & Thompson, 2000). This coursework often takes the form of lecture-based classes where preservice music educators are presented with information related to teaching music to students with special needs. Despite this, music educators report feeling unprepared to work with this population of students (Sideridis & Chandler, 1995). VanWeelden and Whipple (2005, 2007) found that a fieldwork experience with students with special needs positively impacted preservice music teachers’ willingness to work with this population; however, the experience did not impact the preservice music teachers’ perceptions of the capabilities of students with special needs. Hourigan (2009) corroborated this, finding that a well-planned field experience working with students with special needs can increase preservice music teachers’ confidence in working with this population of students. In light of these findings, researchers have indicated (Hourigan, 2009; VanWeelden & Whipple, 2005, 2007) that further research is needed to examine the impact of such field experiences on preservice music teachers.


The purpose of this phenomenological study was to explore and examine the experiences of undergraduate music education students during and after a fieldwork placement in a music class for students with special needs. Participants included third year music education students who were in enrolled in a required elementary methods course at a large public university in the southeastern United States. To fulfill part of the fieldwork requirements, all students in the class took part in four visits to a local school for children with special needs. During these visits, the undergraduate music education majors observed, participated in, and taught music lessons to students with special needs between the ages of 7 and 21. Following each visit, the participants reflected on the experience and shared their written reflections with the researchers. At the conclusion of the course, the participants took part in either a two-on-one or a one-on-one semi-structured interview with the primary investigator. The researchers coded and analyzed the data separately, then came together to discuss and identify emergent themes.


Findings suggest that the fieldwork experience impacted the participants views and attitudes toward students with special needs. Particularly, the participants noted that they became aware of their own biases toward students with special needs. They also indicated that the experience was a positive one and that they felt it helped to further their development as music educators as they now feel better prepared to include all children in their music classes.



Colwell, C. M., & Thompson, L. K. (2000). “Inclusion” of information on mainstreaming in undergraduate music education curricula. Journal of Music Therapy, 37(3), 205–221. doi:10.1093/jmt/37.3.205

Hourigan, R. (2009). Preservice music teachers' perceptions of fieldwork experiences in a special needs classroom. Journal of Research in Music Education, 57(2), 152-168. doi:10.1177/0022429409335880

Sideridis, G. D., & Chandler, J. P. (1995). Attitudes and characteristics of general music teachers toward integrating children with developmental disabilities. Update: Applications of Research in Music Education, 14(1), 11–15. doi:10.1177/875512339501400103

VanWeelden, K., & Whipple, J. (2005). The effect of field experiences on music education majors’ perceptions of music instruction for secondary students with special needs. Journal of Music Teacher Education, 14(2), 62–69. doi:10.1177/10570837050140020109

VanWeelden, K, & Whipple, J. (2007). An exploratory study of the impact of field experiences on music education majors’ attitudes and perceptions of music for secondary students with special needs. Journal of Music Teacher Education, 16(2), 34-44. doi:10.1177/10570837070160020105