Unconventional Teaching

February 9th, 2018

By Jaclyn DiLouie, The Arc Mercer Music Manager 

At the count of three …

I want everybody in the place to be

To make some noise if ya down with me

One, two, three

I hope ya don’t mind, let me clear my throat

DJ Kool said it best. And here at The Arc Mercer, we have our own budding DJ! With the help of some of the staff, we have equipped Maurice with a cardboard DJ Turntable with records that actually rotate manually. It has improved his behavior tremendously and we use the DJ as a conduit for teaching him skills that every DJ needs to be able to do and know. He is the inspiration for this article.

As a music teacher for over twelve years, I have taught many students with various functioning levels, skills, abilities and learning styles. In my music teaching experiences, I have taught both group and individual lessons. It has taken me a long time to develop a teaching style that works well.

Since I started here at The Arc Mercer, I am trying a different approach. The methods I am using are completely unconventional to the general education population. But they work! I continue to listen to the needs and desires of the individuals we serve here and am trying to come up with ways to help them improve and further develop their musical and social skills. With an unconventional class, unconventional teaching methods may well be called for. Yet the end result is the same for all teaching: achievement and appreciation of the subject matter … in this case music.

There are individuals that have different opinions of the musical styles and because some of them are non-verbal, it is hard for them to communicate their likes and dislikes. While we take requests from those that are able to give them, we also try to play different styles to figure out what styles of music these non-verbal individuals best respond to and keep a running tally of how their behavior is improving.

Take Krystal, another individual we serve here at The Arc Mercer. She loves Michael Jackson songs. She won’t request a specific song, but any will do. If Michael Jackson is playing, she is bebopping and dancing no matter what activity we are doing. If Michael Jackson isn’t playing, she will go up to a staff member and take their hand, guide them over to the speaker and point. When we ask what she wants to listen to, she says Michael Jackson very clearly, though she is mostly non-verbal.

Jacob will walk around the room singing nursery rhymes on pitch with perfect rhythm. Recently, we discovered that when we played Roy Rogers and Pat Brady, American Folk Music from the 1930s and 1940s, his face lit up, and he began dancing around the room and jumping up and down. Something he also does sometimes when he is singing or listening to nursery rhymes.

Babalu aye
Babalu aye

Drumming a very fast pattern, Desi Arnaz sings this famous tune, introduced in the TV Show, “I Love Lucy” in the 1950s. One of Joey’s favorites, no matter what he is doing, he will move to the amp, take his fingers and gently rub the front of the speaker, then spin in a circle. We have interpreted this is his own way of dancing. Sometimes, he will even take his hands and clap along with a huge smile on his face.

Getting to Know You, getting to know all about you.

Getting to like you, getting to hope you like me.

Haven’t you noticed, suddenly I’m bright and breezy?

Because of all the beautiful and new things, I’m learning about you, day by day.

A school teacher, who was whisked away to an island in Siam to work with the king’s children, sang this very song to them and taught them to sing it as well in the Broadway musical, “The King and I.” One of our mostly non-verbal individuals asks for this song by singing the words “know you.” Leah will also ask for another Broadway musical song called, “That’s Rich,” from the Newsies, by holding out her hand and rubbing her thumb against her other fingers in the universal sign for money. She also shows us her arm muscles when she wants to hear “Hercules.”

As we continue to get to know each and every individual we serve here, we will continue to have success stories to share with you. If you or anyone you know has an interest in music, or even possesses a musical talent, consider volunteering your time with us. You might just be the one to reach an individual and make a difference in their lives. Remember, our mission here is to enrich the lives of the individuals we serve by “securing for all people with developmental disabilities the opportunity to choose and realize their goals.”  We need your help to make this a reality. Please reach out to Laura Tapp at ltapp@arcmercer.org or call her at 609-406-0181, ext. 112 for more details or to volunteer.