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Students with Visual Impairments in Elementary General Music Classrooms 1

Students with Visual Impairments in Elementary General Music Classrooms

Emily E. Gulli

James Madison University


Students with Visual Impairments in Elementary General Music Classrooms 2


Abstract

In this research paper, I will be discussing how music educators can support young learners

who have visual impairments and/or have lost their sight in elementary general music, while

keeping them integrated in the classroom. Throughout my research, I have found a lot of data

supporting how music teachers can show music notation, the importance of utilizing technology,

and the importance of developing social skills in the classroom. The daily struggles visually

impaired students go through vary from student to student. Due to this, it is important to be

equipped with all the tools necessary to be a successful teacher and for every student to be

successful in all that they do. Above all, it is very important to continue to keep all students

integrated in the classroom despite having a disability, because the classroom is where students

will learn and grow.


Students with Visual Impairments in Elementary General Music Classrooms 3


In this research paper I will be discussing the importance of understanding how to teach

efficiently and effectively. The parents of the student and their teacher should discuss the condition

of the student’s visual impairment, due the many different levels and conditions of blindness.

According to a journal, “Some can see partially depending upon the lighting of the room, how big

font is, some have “tunnel vision”, or can be totally blind. Partially blind or “residual vision” can

be continuously fluctuation depending upon the day” (Knoll, 1978). As a teacher, knowing the

condition the student will be beneficial to how the student can be taught and what his limitations

are. Setting the student up for success is key! As a future teacher, I want to make sure I have all

the tools I need to help students be successful in and outside of the classroom. In this paper, I will

be discussing how this can be done and how teachers can prepare for students who have visual

impairments.

As stated in this journal, “85% of what sighted individuals learn is learned through the

eyes” (Robb, 2003). Social skills, interpreting expressive gestures, or even reading nonverbal cues

can become extremely difficult for those who have visual impairments. As a teacher,

understanding how to train children’s social skills if they have visual impairments is very

important. This requires careful manipulation of the environment the student is in and what

intervention strategies are going to be needed. As a future music educator, I believe that

understanding this is very important because one needs to know and understand what student’s

with visual impairments needs are in and outside of the music classroom. How can we as teachers

make sure these students going to be successful and how can we prepare them once they leave? In

the classroom, group participation is an excellent way to get students more engaged and allows

them to work on their social skills. Sighted children are able to use their vision to maintain focus

and attention; however, those with visual impairments, they have to rely solely on listening and
Students with Visual Impairments in Elementary General Music Classrooms 4


tactile cues. This can become very challenging for those students. To help students with these

problems they face, music is being used as a source of therapy, to enhance children’s attention

span and has been proven to enhance socialization skills.

As a future educator, possibly for elementary school students, understanding the ways

music can be used to enhance someone’s learning and social skills is very interesting. These

techniques and ways of interacting with students with visual impairments is very interesting and

could make a very big impact. According to this journal, it was stated, “children in this study who

went through music therapy sessions, 97% were able to sustain attentive on task behaviors” (Robb,

2003). The process of a session that a music educator has had said, “First, the music was

systematically manipulated to solicit an identified behavior and structure the desired response.

Second, age-appropriate and interactive music activities were used to promote children's

participation. Finally, the therapist designed interventions to afford children multiple opportunities

to practice the identified skill or behavior” (Robb, 2003). I believe that adapting some of these

techniques that music therapists use during their sessions with visually impaired children, would

be very useful to bring into the classroom. I want to make sure that I have all the tools available

and that I am knowledgeable enough to help those who have visual impairments, to enhance their

learning.

Furthermore, the next journal talks about the misconception of “blind musicians are as a

whole, are naturally more musically talented than sighted people”. However, as with any student,

progressiveness in any subject is solely based upon a student’s discipline, initiative and motivation

to learn and develop skills. If a student is determined enough, nothing should stop that student

from being successful! For those who are completely visually impaired, it was stated that teachers

like to have students become oriented with the classroom by walking around, with a helper at
Students with Visual Impairments in Elementary General Music Classrooms 5


times, to feel and touch their surroundings. This will make the student feel more accustomed to his

surroundings. Furthermore, as stated by Knoll, “Adapting materials for students is key to helping

students be successful, which means converting printed music symbols into Braille or large print

music symbols or into verbal dictation” (Knoll, 1978). Some students cannot read Braille;

however, for those who can, most will be able to transcribe their own music as it is dictated to

them. As a teacher, being able to dictate music or musical markings to those who have visual

impairments is very helpful. Another concept that will be very important for teachers to understand

how to convey rhythmical concepts. Students with visual impairments could become very

confused with rhythmical concepts, such as synchronization of rhythms, which are usually printed

in music visually to illustrate what they are and what they look like. Having the ability to see and

understand this concept makes the understanding come easier; however, for those with visual

impairments, this could become more of an issue. It is important as a music teacher to understand

how one can show students who have visual impairments how to understand tricky concepts

without having to look at notation.

More about notation, Knoll stated, “Quarter and eighth notes might be introduced first with

both hands playing unison rhythmic patterns on the piano. Then the concept of playing quarter

notes with the left hand and eighth notes with the right might be introduced” (Knoll, 1978). As a

teacher, learning techniques that would help visually impaired students is important for the success

of the student. Throughout music, there are so many things to understand other than notation or

the technicalities of music. I believe that those aspects are important; however, my main goal as a

teacher would be to let students know that even though they may be visually impaired, they can

do anything they put their minds to. I want my future music classrooms and all current music
Students with Visual Impairments in Elementary General Music Classrooms 6


classrooms to be an uplifting space for students. By creating a fun, relaxed, and engaging

environment, I believe that the environment a teacher creates is key to being successful in teaching!

This next journal called “Music Pedagogy for the Blind,” was very direct in saying, “I am

sure you are aware of people in the music world who are blind” (Goldstein, 2000). This journal

was discussing how important it is to make those with visual impairments feel just as welcomed

and loved, in and outside of the classroom. By reading this journal, it has allowed me to start

thinking about how I can start thinking of more activities and techniques to help students with

visual impairments. They stated in this article that there is a non-profit organization headquarters

at the University of Bridgeport in Connecticut that is called “The Music and Arts Center for the

Handicapped”. This organization originally started for those with visual impairments and now has

expanded for not only those with visual impairments, but also other disabilities as well. Goldstein

is the director of this organization, and due to working and answering questions from around the

world regarding braille music, music technology, and teaching techniques, he has made a major

impact for those who struggle with visual impairments. Goldstein stated, “Our goal became to

develop a program where students could get a start learning the special skills, practice and perform

with others on an equal footing, gain confidence in their independence by being in a realistic

situation with help available, find friends, and have fun” (Goldstein, 2000).

Goldstein’s top priority was teaching braille, because many people who have visual

impairments actually cannot read braille. For those who struggle with this, it is paramount for

them to understand and learn braille. Learning braille will help them tremendously throughout

their life. Braille music specifically provides all information that sighted musicians can see, such

as notes, their values, dynamics, fingerings, and expression markings. In braille, of course it

looks much different. As said in this journal, “all the information must be given on one line that
Students with Visual Impairments in Elementary General Music Classrooms 7


the finger can read and the music staff is discarded completely. “Braille is made up of “cells” of

up to six dots, of which sixty-three combinations are possible” (Goldstein, 2000). Those who

sing, can follow the music with their hands while they sing. It is important for music teachers to

be familiar with braille to help guide students who may need this. However, teachers do not have

to be familiar with it for students to learn it. However, I strongly feel that it is important for

music educators to learn braille, or at least have some basic training in it because there could be

potential challenges students face, that as a teacher, you could help them with. Goldstein stated,

“We have found that the learning of the braille itself is not as much a problem as the resistance a

student who has always learned by ear may put up to reading music. It takes motivation to be

able to put all the information together and to avoid confusing symbols that have different

meanings in the literary braille code” (Goldstein, 2000). I believe that even if a student has

learned by ear their entire lives, learning braille will help them prosper even more. As a future

educator, I believe that it is important as a teacher to be well equipped in all areas of disabilities

and resources to help them, so you can help your students be successful.

In McCord’s journal, it stated, “When music educators and special educators work

together, all students are likely to benefit” (McCord, 2006). Many of the time, problems occur due

to the fact that both music educators and special educators have many responsibilities. It is hard

for both people to find time due to all the responsibilities these jobs require, meaning there is little

time to schedule important IEP meetings. IEP means, Individualized Education Program, which

are meetings where groups of people can share important information at any time of the day. These

meetings are important to have because they can help those for example, students who are visually

impaired, get the help they need to be successful. This journal talks about the importance of full

inclusion and how to practice that. This means that one should integrate students in classrooms for
Students with Visual Impairments in Elementary General Music Classrooms 8


not only a half day, but for a full day. According to Darrow, she states, “Proponents of inclusion

believe that it reflects the moral and ethical values of our society and fosters understanding and

appreciation for individual differences” (Darrow, 1999). I believe that by including those who have

disabilities, it minimizes the “othering” many people do to those who are disabled. Isolating those

who are disabled, allows for people to look at those who are different as “othering”. Teachers who

have negative attitudes towards teaching those with visual impairments also attribute to the

isolation and stigmatization of these students, which leads to these students having less teacher

time. This results in the students not getting the education and guidance they need to be successful

and grow.

Saslaw’s (2009) journal discussed numerous adaptive strategies for us with students with

visual impairments and/or have lost their sight. She asked herself, how is she going to make sure

that this student receives the same education as everyone else? In this document, she stated,

“Hardware, software, braille textbooks and scores need to be ordered ahead of time, tutors need to

be found, and teaching aids may need to be constructed” (p. 4). Making sure that as a teacher, you

are prepared for students who may be visually impaired, that you are able to provide them the same

learning opportunities is very important. Also, keeping these students integrated into the classroom

is also very important and imperative for the growth of the student. I also found it very interesting

that there are websites like Finale that can be used by visually impaired musicians, which is called

“Goodfeel”. “Goodfeel” allows visually impaired musicians to read and write scores. Braille

Music Editor is another website that can be used specifically by music teachers to provide students

who require music in braille. For myself, as I am going to school trying to become a music teacher,

I think that it is amazing that there are programs like these for student who struggle with their

sight. Furthermore, in the last journal I read, Bernstorf (2001), stated the many ways
Students with Visual Impairments in Elementary General Music Classrooms 9


paraprofessionals can assist students with needs in the music room; however, by also finding a

happy medium to continue to let the students grow by themselves. She states, “with assistance

during even part of a lesson, students with disabilities may have a more successful experience and

be able to be included in movement and instrument playing activities with everyone in the class”

(Bernstorf, 2001). I believe that students may achieve more throughout a lesson, with assistance,

but also by keeping them integrated with the rest of the class. By letting students in general, do

activities and learn how to accomplish something on their own is more important than giving your

students all the answers. As a future music educator, I want to help my students enough to where

they can be successful on their own, which will also develop more independence.

In conclusion, music educators should always create a learning environment that is

inclusive and is variable for students with visual impairments. To do this, music educators should

receive academic preparation regarding these matters, for all severities of blindness. I have found

through all of my research, how music teachers can show music notation, utilize technology to

help students, and the importance of developing social skills in music classrooms. By doing

individual research and receiving the help one may need to help guide and teach students with

visual impairments, to me is very important, so all students have the abilities to succeed in and

outside of the classroom. To continue research, there are many people you can contact to help you

learn more about students with visual impairments and how to give them the best education

possible. The biggest recommendation I found throughout my research is to refer to the Library of

Congress online to seek help in anything!


Students with Visual Impairments in Elementary General Music Classrooms 10

References

Bernstorf, E. D. (2001). Paraprofessionals in Music Settings: Paraprofessionals who provide assistance


to students with special needs can assume a number of roles in the music classroom setting.
Music Educators Journal, 87(4), 36-48.

Darrow, Ann Alice. (1999). Music educators’ perceptions regarding the inclusion of students with
severe disabilities in music classrooms. Journal of Music Therapy. 36(4). 254-273. Retrieved
from https://academic.oup.com/jmt/article/36/4/254/892279

Goldstein, David. (2000) Music pedagogy for the Blind. International Journal of Music Education. 35-
39. Retrieved from https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/pdf/10.1177/025576140003500112

Knoll, Catherine Dolan. (1978, April 1). Guidelines for teaching blind music students. Journal of the
American Music Teacher, 27(5). 28-30. Retrieved from
https://search.proquest.com/openview/acc5ed03e84df7544de3cf5c773d4805/1?pq-
origsite=gscholar&cbl=1819728

McCord, K., & Watts, E. H. (2006). Collaboration and access for our children: Music educators and
special educators together. Music Educators Journal, 92(4), 26-33.

Robb, L. S. (2003). Music interventions and group participation skills of preschoolers with visual
impairments: Raising questions about music, arousal, and attention. Journal of Music Therapy,
40(4). 267-282. Retrieved from https://academic.oup.com/jmt/article/40/4/266/930618

Saslaw, Janna. (2009). “Teaching Blind”: Methods for teaching music theory to visually impaired
students. Journal of the Society of Music Theory, 15(3 and 4). Retrieved from
http://www.mtosmt.org/issues/mto.09.15.3/mto.09.15.3.saslaw.html