Music Program at DuBard School Benefits Elementary, University Students

Music Program at DuBard School Benefits Elementary, University Students


This is a news release from USM

For six years, graduate students and professors at The University of Southern Mississippi have worked hand-in-hand with the staff at DuBard School for Language Disorders to bring music education to students with language disorders.

However, this partnership means more than just teaching students about music, it provides life-changing experiences for university students and creates a unique connection among university departments.

Getting started at DuBard School

Dr. Mandi Schlegel didn't originally have intentions of getting involved at DuBard School. In fact, the task of supervising a graduate assistant at the school just landed on her list of to-dos when she assumed the role of division chair of The University of Southern Mississippi's music education program.

After only two years of observing graduate students teach music at DuBard School, Schlegel quickly realized how much of an impact the music program had on DuBard School students and her own graduate students.

At the start of this school year, the DuBard School's music program was at a pivotal point. The graduate assistant scheduled to work at the school cancelled her assistantship. DuBard School was left without a music teacher. But Schlegel couldn't just let it go, “I knew we had to do something.”

Despite her full workload between teaching, advising, serving on committees and conducting research, Schlegel stepped up. But she recruited help.

University students experience real-world situations

Hilary Bounds is an undergraduate student studying music education at Southern Miss, and Schlegel is her academic advisor. When Bounds approached Schlegel about the need for three additional hours to wrap up her degree before student teaching in the spring, the two mulled over various options. In the middle of their contemplation a light bulb came on for Schlegel – she recommended that Bounds take an independent study class and assist her at DuBard School. This fit turned out even more perfect than the two had imagined.

For Bounds, she gets the hands-on experience teaching a unique population of students that will help prepare her for her future teaching career. To start, she's learned first-hand that every child is different and learns differently. She's had to use her creativity to find ways to make a lesson plan work with a class of 10-20 children at a time.

While music class should be a fun experience for students, she also wants them to walk away with a better understanding of their skillsets in terms of performance, keeping a steady pulse, matching pitch and finding their singing voice. That means just like in any other classroom, Bounds has to set objectives for each program, make lesson plans, plan for future goals and more.

Working with this unique population, Bounds quickly learned lesson plans have to be tweaked, classroom activities have to be altered, and each student needs some individual attention. She has to always be aware of all situations; just as she will have to be once she has a classroom of her own.

Despite any difficulties or struggles in the classroom, it's all worth the effort because of those triumphant moments in class.

Little Triumphs

Meredith, age 7, is now in her second year at DuBard School. She struggles with eight different disorders ranging from expressive and receptive language to orthopedic impairments. Prior to attending DuBard School, Meredith spoke at barely a whisper. While her language ability is growing stronger every day, she's still working to use her voice.

Schlegel recounted a lesson where the students were singing a song during class. Meredith was participating, but at her typical whisper. At the end of the class, when the other students had stopped singing, Meredith turned directly to Schlegel and Bounds and sang out loud in her strongest voice.

“I was almost in tears,” Schlegel recounts.

Hailey, age 6, has profound hearing loss, and received cochlear implants at the age of 18 months. One of the class lessons this semester is to match a rhythm on a drum. During a typical lesson one day, Schlegel began to beat the drum. As she turned to her right, she saw Hailey next to her with a big smile on her face beating another drum right along with her. Schlegel, Bounds and the teacher assistant in the room were floored.

“To have moments when you feel as if a child's life is a little bit different because of something you did – that's powerful,” said Schlegel.

Music and language coming together

DuBard School is a nonprofit organization and United Way agency that serves children with language disorders, including the written language disorder of dyslexia. This means that every activity is focused around language learning, and the music program is no exception.

When the music program began at DuBard School, the instructors started using the Orff-Schulwerk teaching-learning approach because of the incorporation of language together with music and movement.

“The Schulwerk” as it is often referred to, combines singing, instruments, rhythm and movement to give students a full musical experience. Students will often take familiar songs or rhymes to begin the lesson, and then build upon that base adding in singing, dancing or playing an instrument.

While The Schulwerk complements the DuBard Association Method® in that it is multisensory, there are differences in the two methods. Therefore, all graduate students teaching music at DuBard School sit in on DuBard Association Method® Basic Course training to best understand how to work with language-disordered students. Additionally, they gain a better understanding of the method being practiced in the classroom and how they can use their lessons to help students achieve even more during music.

Learning from experiences and building on research

As if the experiences for DuBard School students and university students weren't enough to make this program noteworthy, the collaboration also provides an outlet for research to further understand how students with language disorders understand music as well as develop better methods for teaching music to students.

Schlegel has been heavily involved in research for some time, and is able to use DuBard School as a resource right here on campus. Currently, Schlegel is working on a research project that looks at how students with language disorders react to rhythm and pitch similarities and differences compared to typical learners. The children will listen to two sequences, either specific to rhythm or pitch, and respond whether the two are the same or different. Schlegel notes that this will be interesting research with this population, because the results could be quite similar to typical children.

“I understand that parents struggle with the differences that their children are facing every day. It would be nice to say to them, ‘Your child is typical in this way,'” said Schlegel. But if research doesn't show that, it will provide Schlegel with a base to understand how to teach those students those skills.

Schlegel isn't the only one who has used this partnership as an educational opportunity. Dr. Becky Halliday, the first graduate assistant music teacher at DuBard School, is now an assistant professor of music at the University of Montevallo in Alabama. Over her three years teaching at DuBard School, she completed research that led her dissertation, “Interpretations of Student Engagement in the Context of the Orff Schulwerk Music Classroom at the DuBard School for Language Disorders.”

Halliday said she wanted to better understand the lived experiences of students with language disorders in a music setting.

“My time at DuBard School has given me a deeper perspective on what school music can look like in an alternative setting,” said Halliday.

Halliday is now teaching future educators so they can have an impact on bringing music to young learners, and uses her history at DuBard School as a learning tool for others.

A heartfelt experience

While the graduate assistants and professors are getting their own experiences through working at DuBard School, the young musicians are excited to have the activity available to them at school.

“You can tell from their smiles that they're enjoying themselves,” said DuBard School Director Dr. Maureen Martin. “But more importantly, you can tell week by week as their skills are enhanced that they're truly benefiting from the program.”

And it's just as rewarding of an experience for the instructors.

“The thing that startled me is how much we take for granted our ability to communicate. I can only imagine what it must be like to know what you're supposed to say and not be able to physically get it out of your body,” said Schlegel. “Some of these children live in a constant frustration. If we can bring a little bit of relief to them, that's a little bit of the goal.”