SEND Inspire: A Musician's Perspective
Sadie Fleming reflects on Live Music Now's new training initiative for musicians working with young people with additional needs.
I am an independent singer/songwriter based in Bristol. I have performed at hundreds of gigs across the UK, and released a couple of albums, and over the past two years I have been predominantly developing my involvement in music outreach, working with Live Music Now.
This has been one of the most rewarding experiences I’ve had as a musician, and I’ve gained a deeper understanding of how to engage with young people in special schools, how to understand different needs and responses, and how to interact with children musically and nurture their abilities.
We began this project in September, and after the initial (very comprehensive) training, the first stage involved working alongside a mentor at Claremont School in Bristol. We ran a mini project, aiming to focus on cause and effect and turn taking, with 4 children with PMLD. We must have played ‘Bare Necessities’ a hundred times, but the kids loved it and each session we offered incremental developments, introducing new elements, instruments, technologies etc. These sessions really highlighted the importance of being flexible and responsive, and helped us to develop a wider range of musical activities and ideas. Although we had a structure for each session, we had lots of interchangeable ideas to best meet the needs of the group on the day. I learnt the importance of balance in a session (between calm and lively), and also the impact of silence and leaving gaps for each child to fill. Some of the children were very overt in their enjoyment of the musical activities – for example one pupil found using MadPad hilarious and loved conducting her friends, and another really enjoyed the tactile nature of playing along on my guitar. Others naturally needed a lot more space and time to respond in their own ways. A particular highlight was when one of the children, who was very unresponsive and in fact fell asleep in the first group session, became very energetic and began vocalising and playing along on the iPad as soon as we worked 1:1 with her. It was amazing to see this transformation!
Both during these sessions and throughout our initial training, we learnt about the Sounds of Intent Framework, and found this a really useful tool to identify how children are engaging in musical activities, if this changes over time, and how we can help them to develop incrementally. We began putting this into practice with some improvisation sessions. These sessions began with gentle improvisations on the guitar and violin, and developed into call and response, repetition and being conducted by some of the children’s movements. These were really enjoyable to be a part of, and really helped develop our ability to interact with children with SEND in a musical way. The first SOI session was amazing – the two pupils seemed completely immersed in the music, and were smiling, moving, conducting us and joining in with vocalisations and the use of Thumbjam. Their responses and interactions were quite incredible, and their TA became quite emotional seeing their reactions – she had been working in the school for years, and had never seen them react in this way.
We spent our lunchtimes travelling round the classrooms to perform a few songs for and with other children and members of staff. This was a lovely opportunity to meet others at Claremont and share what we were doing with the wider school community.
After each session, we had plenty of time to reflect on our practice, which was invaluable! We spent time with out mentor watching back videos and looking at photos to evaluate each session, reflect on pupil responses and make plans for the following week. Both our mentor and the music teacher always offered constructive, insightful feedback, which was really beneficial.
The next stage was observation – this was a fantastic insight into the day-to-day operations of a music leader in a special school. We were involved with Music Club, and had SO MUCH FUN! I learnt so much – from the music leader, teachers, TAs and the pupils! I feel much more equipped to be able to structure and plan sessions – by the end of the observation, we developed our own song for Music Club using a lot of the techniques we had observed – deconstructing a song, ensuring everyone had a bespoke, meaningful part to play, using a wide range of instruments, encouraging the children to interact with each other through dancing etc. We quickly realised the huge role Music Leaders play to ensure each child is engaged and participating in meaningful and differentiated ways, with opportunities for progression - as there are a lot of children in Music Club, and each has different needs and abilities (some are also from the mainstream school). One of the highlights of the observation was seeing how the children from the mainstream primary school interacted with those from the special school. Not only did everyone have a varied and valuable part to play in each song, but the sessions were organised so there was a lot of interaction between the pupils – for example the pupils had the opportunity to share their news with each other after the ‘’welcome’ song, verbally or by using their Big Macks. This was so lovely to see, and a fantastic way to develop understanding and awareness of others from a young age. We also observed and developed a broader range of verbal and non-verbal communication methods, as well as approaches to engage with and involve staff, which will be imperative for leaving a musical legacy at the end of our project.
We are now about to start Stage 3 – our own 6 week residency at the school. The theme for this term is pirates, and we are so excited to start!
For more information, please visit the Live Music Now website.