TME Tuesday: I Don't Have My Computer Hooked Up to the Database, So...

Today is one of those days where I don't have my database handy, so I'm going to offer something a bit different from what I usually share here. Instead of a therapeutic music experience (TME), I'm going to spend some time with my newest venture - centers - and how I'm finding my way into making things, helping my students reach independence, and making things new within a habit. Please keep in mind that I've only been doing this formally for a month now, and things are still works in progress, but here goes.

I spent quite a bit of time thinking about how and why I wanted to change some of my music therapy time from what I've "always done" to something different. There are several reasons - some of them practical, others a bit more selfish - but reasons nonetheless. I needed something to challenge me and the center idea seemed to be that something.

First of all, my caseload has exploded, leading to bigger group sizes and no corresponding increase in staff support. I've found myself unable to establish what I consider to be appropriate therapeutic relationships with groups of 12 kids for only 60 minutes a week. It is difficult to get to know clients and to pull in their preferences when 11 others are there and deserve attention as well. Centers offers me an opportunity to spend some time with smaller groups of students to get to know them a bit better.

Second, music therapy is often the only musical environment where my students feel like they understand what is happening. I've had students tell me that they absolutely hated music education classes at their old schools, "but music here is actually FUN!" Due to these types of comments, I realize that there should be some sort of music education concepts shared so kids can have some sort of success when they return to those music education classes that they didn't understand before. Centers help me teach some of those concepts that you have to know in order to understand all the rest of music.

Lastly, I needed a challenge! Right now, centers take up LOTS of time to plan, run, teach, and implement. I'm hoping that I will eventually have this down to a pattern and a process that will take less time and energy. At some time, I know that my students will understand the process and will move through centers without the need for much intervention. This way of thinking is taking up lots of my attention and energy right now, but I am confident that I will find my groove soon.

Here's a brief description of what happens in my music therapy room every other week (or so). I set up three centers. In my head, the centers are titled Explore, Listen, and Learn. The explore center includes sensory exploration, motor tasks and skills, and manipulatives. The listen center has my headphone station, headphones, and either the computer or CDs for targeted listening. For my students who write, there are also interactive notebooks for recording thoughts, ideas, and answers to targeted questions. The learn center includes a music education experience. Sometimes it is focused on learning a concept and sometimes it is practicing a concept in a more general way. The tasks vary each time we do a center.

Every center has a "Must Do" task. These are the things that students must do in order to earn the points for music therapy. The explore and learn centers have "May Do" tasks as well. These are the tasks that students may do once they have finished the required task. This is where I put things that I know my students really enjoy - playing guitars, the slime, tic-tac-toe games, sorting cards, all sorts of things. Once the "Must Do"s are finished, any and all of the "May Do"s are fair game!

During center sessions, I ask staff members to take over a center to lead. I've learned that I have to be explicit in the instructions (clients get the concepts quickly, but staff members do not). I also have to both show, do, and write down what I want clients to be doing. I'm hoping to have a stack of cards that explains what needs to happen that folks can pull out when we repeat activities so I no longer have to take time to explain what to do each and every time.

One of my problems is that I get overwhelmed with the possibilities and I just cannot seem to figure out exactly what I want to offer to my kids. I get on Pinterest (NEVER A GOOD IDEA FOR ME), and I see all sorts of cute visual aids that support a holiday or a theme. I start thinking, "Ooo. That's so cute!" I reach for my cardstock and then realize that heart note games are really cute, but that's really all they are. There is no reason for me to store a bunch of heart notes that I will only really use during February, so I get frustrated. I have to remind myself over and over again that cute is not what my students need (or even respond to much of the time). Cute doesn't matter if the resources aren't functional. So, I reset myself back into function mode. Heart note puzzles aren't extremely functional, but note puzzles are. Can't necessarily print out the pretty files, but the concept would work all the time. Not bad. One set of note puzzles, made on white cardstock with a black background would go with just about everything!! Sometimes it could act as a "Must Do" and other times as a "May Do" task. So, if I spend some time, I can usually figure out something to do with my students. Then, I have to organize my time so I can make the manipulatives that I want to make.

This upcoming month is not fully planned out yet. I am going to spend some time with the concept of Healthy Relationships during February. We're going to talk a bit about friendship and how friends act towards others. I'm not sure how I'm going to get this structured yet, but I'm working on my strategy. I am also coordinating June's theme of Community Involvement and Interaction for something a bit more organized. Until May, I am just trying things out. Once May hits, I am going to have things already planned so I can organize early and put familiar things into place without the extra work that I am doing now. That's the hope, anyway!

Well, I'm off for the second day of this week. Happy Tuesday, all!

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