Stephen Robinson is a music trained teacher who works at Green Park Special School in Wolverhampton. It is an all age special school for pupils aged 3-19 with severe learning difficulties, profound and multiple learning difficulties and those with autistic spectrum conditions. Here, and in his previous post at Beaufort School in Birmingham, he has used music extensively, as a means of developing communication skills, of adding an extra dimension to curriculum topics and also as a subject in its own right.
Stephen first saw Sing Up in a magazine and went online to see if it was as good as it looked. Sing Up is an online resource which has a song bank with over 500 songs cross referenced to curriculum targets and different theme. There is lots of help for teachers too including training and personalised support. The initial good impressions were reinforced when he attended a day organised by Sound Futures organisation. These training days feature classroom practitioners and artists who have been involved in projects with pupils who have a range of special needs.
Sing Up is a really flexible and versatile tool. It is online so teachers can use it anywhere that they have Internet access: in class, the hall, clubs, at home. There are plenty of different backing tracks which can be useful if a teacher is not especially musical or if there are no facilities for making music.
In theory, any school could put together a bank of music resources. Stephen thinks this would be a false economy as it would be a very time-consuming process and the end result would not be as comprehensive. Sing Up has been designed by music specialists and introduces pupils to different rhythms and tempos and the musical culture of different countries.
It is an ideal resource for special schools. There are suggestions for classroom activities and videos of songs with demonstrations of Makaton signs which teachers can copy. There are lesson plans as well as grids for communication aids so pupils who need assistive technology can join in too. The variety of information on the site means that staff can make sure they have suitable content for pupils with a wide range of needs.
When Stephen was working at Beaufort School he ran a club called Everybody Sings. This was an inclusive club. Some pupils would sign, others would sing; some would use percussion instruments, others would join in via assistive technology. The important thing was that children could all make music together in a way that worked for them.
Some pupils with communication difficulties come into their own if they are given a microphone. It seems to unlock their ability to vocalise and helps them to verbalise. Reuben had limited verbal skills. He went through a phase as an elective mute but an African call and response song unlocked his speech so that he began to say different words and sing in the right pitch. Soon he was trying to express ideas in increasingly developed sentences.
Children with communication aids can join in and become the leader. They can record a line or use a communication device with a switch and speech output to deliver key lyrics. Stephen recalled an occasion when a large group of children were singing A sailor went to sea, sea, sea in assembly. The children with communication aids were responsible for the refrain and really enjoyed their moment of power as they made the others wait for the See See See!