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Special Needs Music during COVID

Updated: Dec 27, 2020

For the past nine years, BMP has made a commitment to ensure that all children have the opportunity to experience the power of music. In doing so, our special needs music program, the Beethoven Ensemble, has continued to grow over the past three years thanks to the support from the Boston Public Schools Arts Expansion Fund through EdVestors, Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, and the Liberty Mutual Foundation.

Despite the current challenges with the COVID-19 pandemic, our special needs music director, Marlene Markard, continues to explore new ways of reaching all of our 62 musicians with special needs.

Read more from Ms. Markard as she reflects on distance teaching students with special needs:

"When the Boston Public Schools made the difficult decision to close schools in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, I was uncertain as to the best way to continue teaching my Beethoven Ensemble students effectively. My inspiring students are exceptional in many ways and benefit from hand-over-hand instruction, repeated prompts, differentiation, peer-assisted learning, and multi-modal teaching. I wondered how I would continue to deliver high-quality and engaging music education in a virtual environment.

With the support of my fellow BMP colleagues, I began making videos that my Beethoven Ensemble students could access with their families from home on demand. These videos provide one-on-one music instruction they could watch, imitate, and interact with as often as they liked. Over the last few months, I have created more than 70 videos. Initially, one of the challenges we faced was establishing effective ways of communicating with many of the Beethoven Ensemble families.

Committed to reaching our students, I started collaborating with the special needs general classroom teachers at our primary BPS site, the Josiah Quincy Elementary School, to provide a virtual music class once or twice a week. With their wonderful support, I have been bringing music education to your children through Zoom and Google Meet for the last five weeks.

My virtual classes follow a similar structure to the in-person classes we had at school. We begin each class with our “hello” song and we end each class with our “goodbye” song. Through the use of videos, recorded music, live music that we sing together, movement, musical games, and visual materials that I share on screen or hold up during class, the Beethoven Ensemble students continue to benefit from differentiated and multi-modal teaching.

As soon as I started teaching my virtual classes, my initial concerns about providing music education to exceptional students in a virtual format melted away. In fact, I have found that most of my students are engaging, singing, moving, making music, and building music literacy in exciting ways. Many are thriving and some are even excelling in this format. As a group, my students’ social-emotional growth is as apparent to me as their musical progress. They exceed my expectations, surprise, and delight me in every single class."

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