My name is Giselle Graham. I am an undergraduate member of the Voices Together Teacher Toolbox project 2015-2016. I came into this Bass Connections experience with a lot of energy and excitement. I have been interested in the effects that music can have on students with autism before doing this project. However, I have never been able to do a research project that coincides with this interest so smoothly. I was a musician from primary school to high school. So, as you can imagine, I was very thrilled when I was chosen to be a part of this project.
We started having weekly meetings with our advisors of Voices Together from the first week of September. We reviewed our expectations for the research project and for our own individual projects that went along with the research project this week. I felt as if the structure and the momentum of the meetings were conducive to my stable understanding of the project that I have now.
In the beginning of the Voices Together project, all the advisors and undergraduate teams were able to meet with Dr. Geraldine Dawson, who amongst many things is a clinical psychologist who specializes in autism. She gave us a detailed introduction to autism that was very informative. She emphasized things that I had forgotten. For example, autism is different for each individual, and ranges on a spectrum. I also learned that both genetics and environment contribute to the probability of an individual having autism. Then Dr. Dawson spoke on the importance of early intervention of autistic children which I found very fascinating. That meeting was very informative, and I learned a lot about the technicalities of the autistic community and biological facts of autism.
After we had this meeting, we had a few working meetings in which we began talking about how we are going to code our research project. This has proven to be an interesting and challenging feat, but it is something that I have adjusted to with time. I love seeing situations from the creating perspective, because it only allows you to see how much you grew after you get your results.
One of my favorite days, however, was when the whole Voices Together team went to observe a music therapy session for autistic students. We saw how the music therapist worked with her students using a nondirective approach. She never told her students exactly what to do. She just gave them suggestions. For example, she would ask a student if he wanted to put his drink down for class. She never told him, she only asked him. This gave him the opportunity to remain in control and therefore learn from the experience. Through this method, the students generally answered “correctly” and learned the activity better. The goals of these music therapy session are not only to get the students to use their voices more, but also to make them more aware of others and their environment. I found the whole experience enlightening, and it definitely changed my idea of what a teacher is. I’ve always had one specific vision of a teacher. But after seeing the kind, deliberate, and gentle way that the music therapist guided her students, I saw a whole new type of teacher that I genuinely appreciated and respected.