Students in Jordan Burrell's class begin each day by singing and playing instruments together – but this is no ordinary music class. Burrell teaches specialized support at Lincoln Middle School in the San Angelo ISD. One of the main goals of the program is fostering communication in students with special needs and intellectual disabilities, and Burrell has found music to be a natural and genuine way to teach that.
"We know that there's been a lot of research behind how our brains process music because it separates things into parts – parts of wholes – and so it allows our kids to take what would normally be really difficult language and put it together in a way that's a really normal way for our brain to process it," said Burrell.
Recently, as the result of a classroom grant, the school added more percussion instruments, including a drum set, box drums, shakers, and drumsticks, to their morning music time. Burrell said he wants "that cadence to come across when we're speaking," and the various percussion instruments "allow that cadence to happen appropriately."
Burrell accompanies the students on an acoustic guitar while other staff members play different drums and model what the music should look and sound like. "Through that, we're modeling what that communication should sound like," said Burrell. "Sometimes the music is not always pretty, but it is beneficial even if it's not pretty."
Students also have opportunities to sing solos, "which is really cool," said Burrell, because many of his students have low vocabulary. "We don't get a lot of expressive vocabulary out of them – tremendous receptive skills – but we don't get a lot of expressive. But when we're singing, we get a ton of expressive language."
Burrell said the students can take what they have learned in the classroom and apply it other places: "We've seen lot of communication growth because of that and that's super exciting for us as educators." #IAmTXEd San Angelo ISD