Sall M. Reis, Robin Schader, Laurie Shute, & Harry Milne
University of Connecticut
Smiling, sociable, and often both musically interested and adept, persons with Williams Syndrome (WS) have only recently been recognized as a distinct group of people with specific abilities that differentiate them from others with disabilities. To investigate these abilities, 16 individuals with WS were identified and asked to participate in a 10-day residential summer program called Music & Minds. The Music & Mind program was based on the Schoolwide Enrichment Model (SEM), a talent development model usually implemented in programs for the gifted and talented (Renzulli, 1977, 1994; Renzulli & Reis, 1985; 1997) that provides enrichment experiences for students focusing on individual learning styles, prior experiences, patterns of talent development, and educational needs. Music & Minds was designed to provide appropriate enrichment experiences based on the specific strengths, talents, as well as interests of the participants, since research studies in a variety of fields have shown that learning is more productive and enjoyable when a person is able to work in an area of his or her own selection (Bloom 1985; Renzulli 1977; Renzulli & Reis, 1985; 1997; Baum, Renzulli, & Hebert, 1995). The success of Music & Minds resulted in a follow-up study during the subsequent summer with 20 participants, including 11 of the original group. In this study, researchers examined patterns of talent development in music, as well as the efficacy of providing a talent development summer program to persons with WS (Reis, Schader, Milne, Stephens, Tieso, Don & Williams, 2002). This article provides a summary of information about the program, including the enhancement of academic deficits through the use of an enrichment approach to talent development focusing on the musical strengths and interests of the participants.
Since its identification in 1961, Williams syndrome (WS), called a “beautiful mystery” by neurolinguist Ursula Bellugi (Bellugi, 1990), has emerged from obscurity to fascinate researchers, physicians, educators, and others. This rare congenital disorder is characterized by a unique pattern of asymmetric abilities that transcends traditional theories of intelligence and cognitive impairment. In describing an individual with WS from a father’s point of view, Howard Lenhoff wrote: “My daughter Gloria, now forty, has a rich lyric soprano voice, and can play on the full-sized piano accordion, with ease and embellishments, almost any song she hears. She has a repertoire of about 2,000 songs and sings in over 20 foreign languages. Yet, like most individuals with WS, she cannot add 5 + 3 nor can she get along independently” (Lenhoff, 1996, p 10). Unfortunately, persons with WS are only labeled as disabled, and previous research has focused on their genetic, medical, linguistic, and psychological deficits. Educational programs have generally been developed to address the disabilities of this group and therefore, have failed to provide opportunities for the specific identification and development of the unique musical interests and talents observed in many persons with WS.
The incidence of WS is estimated as between 1 in 25,000 or 1 in 20,000 (Bellugi, Lichtenberger, Jones, Lai & St. George, 2000; Levine, 1998). WS is evident at birth, occurs in all ethnic groups, affects males and females equally, and has been reported throughout the world (Pober & Dykens, 1993). Individuals with WS typically have cardiovascular abnormalities and short stature (Udwin, Yule, & Martin, 1987). Einfield and Hall (1994) described “typical facial appearance, the so-called ‘elfin’ facies, with an upturned nose, sometimes called retroussé, with a rather bow-shaped mouth. Abnormal dentition is always present. A particular iris pattern [in the eyes] is present in many persons with WS and is described as star shaped or stellate” (p. 276). Nicholson and Hockey (1993) reported that developmental delay was found in 72% of the sample studied, while 67% displayed significant cardiac murmur, 22% had reduced peripheral circulation, 50% showed mild musculoskeletal abnormalities, 33% experienced recurrent urinary symptoms, and children in the sample were less obese than adults. Flint and Yule (1994) indicated that WS belongs to a group of conditions that are not characterized by a single behavioral anomaly. However, certain deficits are present sufficiently often to suggest that their origin lies in a common biological disorder. Characteristics reported for WS may include psychiatric disorders with symptoms including anxiety, hyperactivity, preoccupations, inappropriate interpersonal behaviors including indiscriminate affection, sleep disturbance, and hyperacusis (sensitivity to noise) (Einfeld, Tonge, & Florio, 1997).
Cognitive and Musical Abilities of Persons with WS
Reported cognitive abilities for this population are described as severe to borderline intellectual impairment when measured by IQ tests, with a score range of 40 to 100 and a mean of ≈60 (Lenoff, Wang, Greenberg, & Bellugi, 1997; Levitin & Bellugi, 1998). Poor visual-motor and visual-spatial/perceptual abilities (Bellugi, Bihrle, Jernigan,Trauner, & Doherty, 1990) and limited adaptive skills (Dilts, Morris, & Leonard, 1990) contribute to the inconsistent academic achievement profiles of the WS student (MacDonald & Roy, 1988). Subjects in a study by Pagon, Bennett, LaVeck, Stewart, and Johnson (1987) revealed “serious conceptual failure in mathematics;” in fact, eight out of nine could not correctly answer how many pennies made a nickel (p. 90). Bellugi, Klima, and Wang (1996) documented individual difficulties in the areas of number, space, substance, weight, and quantity. Although individuals with WS generally have below average IQ scores, many also have unique cognitive profiles characterized by relative strengths in language and music, which contrast with extremely poor math, visuospatial, and visuomotor skills (Don, Schellenberg, & Rourke, 1999).
Although many similarities are found among persons with WS in both physical features and cognitive profiles, the WS population, like any normal population, has great variability and diversity in their behaviors and abilities. Because of this complexity, confusion has resulted regarding educating WS students and few specific services have been provided for them (Finn, 1991).
It is only recently that musicality in WS has been a focus of interest for researchers; however, the love of music has been anecdotally associated with WS from the time the syndrome was first described. In an early report delineating the psychological characteristics of the syndrome, each child was noted to be musical (von Arnim & Engel, 1964). In another early case study, music was reported to be the child’s “truest love” (Anonymous, 1985, p. 968). More recently, researchers initiated both formal and informal studies of music in WS at a week-long summer music camp for individuals with WS. Lenhoff (1996), reported that the participants exhibited high interest and responsiveness to music, facility with complex rhythms, strong lyric memory, ease with composing, and a higher incidence of absolute pitch than seen in the normal population. Levitan and Bellugi (1997) noted that while anecdotal evidence suggests many WS persons have musical abilities, little research has been done. Their observation of 40 WS individuals aged 8 to 24 years indicated:
Don et al. (1999) used standardized tests of melodic and rhythmic discrimination as well as structured interviews to assess music skills of 19 children with WS (8 to 13 years). In contrast to earlier studies of WS students, these children were not selected for their musical skills or interests. Results showed that music skills in the WS participants were at levels expected for vocabulary age when compared with chronological peers. Tonal discrimination was equivalent to the control group, but rhythmic discrimination, though within expectation for receptive vocabulary age, was poorer. Musicality in the WS group was expressed through higher interest in music and greater emotional response to music, being made both happy (100% vs. 84%) and sad (79% vs. 47%) more often than the control children. Thus, as parents and clinicians have reported, music is an area of special interest and affinity in many persons with WS. Even though persons with WS have both motor problems and difficulty with coordination, they appeared to experience less difficulty in those areas when playing their musical instruments (Levitan & Bellugi, 1998).
Any discussion of the musical abilities of persons with WS is fraught with the same lack of consensus that Boyle (1992) described in his evaluation of music ability in “normal” populations, as it is difficult to find an agreed-upon definition of musical talent. Research by Gardner (1983) described musical intelligence as one of a group of eight related intelligences, defined by eight criteria: (1) the potential isolation by brain damage; (2) the existence of idiots savants and prodigies; (3) identifiable core operations such as the sensitivity to pitch, and rhythm relations; (4) a developmental history that leads to expert performance; (5) an evolutionary history; (6) support from experimental psychological tasks; (7) support from psychometric findings; (8) the ability to encode the information with which an intelligence deals in a symbol system (p. 108).
Using Enrichment Opportunities for Persons with WS
The conceptual framework of Music & Minds was based on components of the Schoolwide Enrichment Model, a gifted education/talent development approach (SEM) (Renzulli, 1994; Renzulli & Reis, 1985, 1997). Of the numerous documented approaches to enrichment (Clark, 1992; Davis & Rimm, 1994; Renzulli, 1986), the SEM is one of the most comprehensive and well researched (e.g., Burns, 1987; Hébert, 1993; Olenchak, 1988; Olenchak & Renzulli, 1989; Renzulli, 1988; Renzulli & Reis, 1994; Schack, Starko, & Burns, 1991). The underlying theory of SEM is Renzulli’s (1978) three-ring conception of giftedness, focusing on the development of three interrelated clusters of traits (above average ability, task commitment, and creativity) as applied to a particular area of interest or talent. The SEM model encourages creative productivity in young people by exposing them to a variety of topics, areas of interest, and fields of study; and to further train them to apply advanced content, process-training skills, and methodology training to self-selected areas of interest. Approaching talent development in this way seemed particularly appropriate for use with persons with WS, who demonstrated interest in music but also required educational adaptations in other areas.
The SEM has three major components: (a) analyzing students’ talents, interests, and learning styles to identify patterns; (b) modifying curriculum to address unique interests, abilities, and styles; and (c) providing a series of planned enrichment opportunities based on the Enrichment Triad (Renzulli, 1977), such as exposing students to a wide variety of disciplines, topics, occupations, hobbies, persons, places, and events that would not ordinarily be covered in a regular school curriculum. Other enrichment opportunities suggested in the SEM include opportunities to develop thinking and feeling processes, and the pursuit of self-selected interests. At Music & Minds, students were introduced to many different enrichment activities related to music such as performances by visiting artists and opportunities to try a variety of instruments, and those who became interested in specific areas were able to pursue those areas. For example, five participants who were interested in music composition learned to use computer composition programs and wrote their own music.
Some evidence has documented the effectiveness of enrichment programs with students with disabilities (Baum & Owen, 1988; Baum, Renzulli & Hébert, 1995; Reis, Gentry & Park, 1995), and other research has described various musical talents within the WS population (e.g., Levitan & Bellugi, 1998). This combination of research suggests that using enrichment opportunities and talent development approaches in interest areas may be a powerful motivator for learning and for addressing disabilities. The absence of a systematic approach to consider how to develop interests and talents in persons with WS that takes into account both their strengths and limitations may have placed this group at an educational and occupational disadvantage. Music & Minds was designed to investigate what happens when a talent development program based on interests, strengths and learning styles is implemented for young adults with WS.
This comparative cross-case study (Erlandson, Harris, Skipper, & Allen, 1993; Miles & Huberman, 1994; Yin, 1994), employed descriptive analysis using data from an intensive music talent development program, including background data from participants’ preschool, elementary, and secondary schools, and post secondary education. This study explored the familial, developmental, social, and educational experiences of young adults with WS and examined the use of components of the SEM as an approach to providing talent development experiences for persons with WS. Miles and Huberman (1994) indicated: “One aim of studying multiple cases is to increase generalizability. At a deeper level, the aim is to see processes and outcomes across many cases .and thus to develop more sophisticated descriptions and more powerful explanations” (p.172). It was hoped that composites of a number of case studies would result in descriptors of common characteristics in young persons with WS who are interested in music and lead to better information about how they can increase their skills and proficiency in both academics and music.
Case study methodology is also appropriate when researchers attempt to describe contextual conditions (Yin, 1994) and to compare and contrast case studies. The comparative case study approach has been suggested by Miles and Huberman (1994), Merriam (2001) and Yin (1994) as an appropriate methodology for in-depth study of a number of cases in order to make analytical generalizations (Lincoln & Guba, 1985; Miles & Huberman, 1994). For example, previous information on persons with WS suggests that music may be a powerful motivator for both enhancing learning and addressing disabilities. The following research questions guided this study.
- How many of the participants were musically able and what patterns emerged, if any, in the home experiences, early lessons, and parental support of these participants?
- What were the participants’ reported learning and product style preferences, interests, and perceptions of strengths and weaknesses in both music and academic areas?
- Did the use of an enrichment/talent development approach based on talents and strengths in an area of interest (music) result in achievement score gains in a deficit area (fractions)?
- Will an enrichment/talent development approach using specific instructional strategies, based on preferences, interests and styles, provide a useful framework for talent development and educational experiences to use with persons with WS?
Data Collection and Analysis
Erlandson et al. (1993) advocated gathering qualitative data from a variety of sources in a variety of ways, and in this study, data were collected in five phases. Phase one occurred as appropriate participants applied and were accepted into the program. Following notification of acceptance, sets of preliminary questionnaires were distributed to collect basic demographic, historical, and interest data from participants and their parents. These questionnaires included information such as participants’ ages, school experiences, interests, health information and a series of questions about musical background.
Phase two followed the return of the preliminary questionnaires and involved an extended, semi-structured telephone interview with parents of participants using an interview protocol. These taped recorded interviews lasted from one and a half hours to two hours and were later transcribed. Parents were asked about a wide variety of topics, including birth, early years, age at identification for WS, parental and family demographics, and extensive information about preschool, elementary, secondary, and post secondary education. Familial, developmental, social, and musical experiences were also probed. In this way, the first two phases involved the collection of status information and collation of documentation as well as archival sources of evidence (Yin, 1994). It was at this point that the construction of the rich case studies began, coinciding with planning for the curricular and extracurricular experiences in the Music & Minds program. It should be noted, however, that although the resulting daily program activities were scheduled, they were not fixed. As there were faculty and staff with the participants around the clock throughout the 10 days, opportunities were available to change methods of instruction along with planned events and personal schedules.
Phase three focused on data collection at the research site as the case studies were further developed. Daily direct participant observation and the completion of a number of questionnaires by both participants and instructors addressed the preliminary questions guiding this study, as well as other emerging questions (Yin, 1994). Instruments described below were administered to participants during the first two days of the study. Some items were read to those participants whose reading levels were not sufficiently high to enable independent completion. Daily open-ended and focused interviews (recorded and written) were also conducted to explore and elaborate specific issues as they emerged (Yin, 1994) with questions about participants’ reactions to their daily lessons in music and math. Participants also completed a brief reflection journal about their experiences each day focusing on what they had enjoyed and their reactions to lessons, classes, academic and social experiences. Direct observations were also videotaped daily in both music and mathematics classes. Participants were encouraged to discuss relevant artifacts (music written in composition class or a good grade on a quiz about fractions) and participants written responses were elaborated (Yin, 1994). SPSS (1997; Kinnear & Gray, 1994; Norusis, 1990) was used to obtain means and standard deviations for responses to the Likert items on the instruments.
Phase four constituted transcription and investigation of previously collected data along with the collection of follow-up data to confirm or explore issues that emerged during the previous phases. Field notes, and a reflexive journal recording the researchers’ reactions, and descriptions of events in the study were maintained as part of the audit trail to facilitate triangulation and cross validation from the methods and sources (Erlandson, et al., 1993) in addition to follow-up interviews with some staff and instructors. Comprehensive case studies were then completed on each participant. Phase five included the corroboration of initial findings and continued data analysis during a second program of Music & Minds the following summer to which a majority first year participants returned.
Coding and analysis of case study data began with the commencement of phase one and continued until the conclusion of the second summer program. Formal coding involved: (a) open coding, involving data sorting for comparison and contrasting to facilitate conceptualization and categorization; (b) axial coding, involving weighing and contrasting categories to identify descriptive relations among them; and (c) selective coding, in which the core category was selected and systematically related to the other. Triangulation, using a number of sources, was used to support objective validity claims, clarify meaning, and verify perceptions for individual case studies, and cross case analyses (Carspecken, 1996; Erlandsen et al., 1993; Yin, 1994). Individual case studies were compared and contrasted, core categories identified, and research questions discussed.
In this study, the accuracy of the observations was enhanced by the use of multiple perspectives. Because of the range of backgrounds and training of the faculty and staff, the observations, interviews and field notes were continually questioned and critically analyzed by team members. This enabled the researchers to examine and clarify information. In addition, photography and video were used to document and study specific situations and/or settings. To further increase trustworthiness, all researchers kept journals during fieldwork, and daily de-briefing meetings were scheduled among researchers to explore ideas and conduct data checks.
Instruments used during Music & Minds were either developed or adapted from enrichment programs and used to identify interests and learning styles preferences in young people. The Music & Minds Talent Development Participant Interview Protocol (Reis, Milne, Schader & Shute, 1998) and The Music & Minds Talent Development Parent Interview Protocol (Reis & Schader, 1998) were used to gather preliminary data about participants’ interests, medical and educational backgrounds, skills and attitudes, learning profiles, career preferences and other pertinent information about enrichment opportunities, social skills, recreation and hobby choices and employment experiences. The Learning Styles Inventory (LSI) (Renzulli, Smith, & Rizza, 1997), a 65 item instrument used to assess participants’ preferences in learning styles such as projects, independent study, drill and simulation, was selected to provide information on learning preferences that would facilitate the selection and development of educational strategies. “The Secondary Interest-A-Lyzer” (SI)(Hébert, Sorenson, & Renzulli, 1997) includes 25 items that provide an opportunity to probe interests in a variety of areas. “My Way…An Expression Style Inventory” (MWESI) (Kettle, Renzulli, & Rizza, 1998) assesses preferences for styles of products, such as visual, verbal, musical options using 50 items that are scored to provide a profile of 10 separate expression styles such as written, oral, artistic, or audio-visual. Questions are asked about preferences in doing tasks such as “helping in the community” (service), or talking about my experiences (oral), or role-playing a character (dramatization), or performing music (musical). These instruments have been used in enrichment programs for decades, have been revised during the last ten years, and have high reported validity and reliability (Renzulli, Smith & Rizza, 1997; Kettle, Renzulli, & Rizza, 1997). In addition to these instruments, anecdotal reports, checklists, and daily questionnaires were used to collect information to develop appropriate programming for the participants.
The selection of participants may not be a representative sample of persons with WS and therefore limits the findings. One purpose of qualitative research is to provide descriptions of individuals, and generalizablity of findings is not the intended outcome. Techniques discussed by Marshall and Rossman (1989) were used to establish the trustworthiness of this study. For example, additional researchers from the National Research Center on the Gifted and Talented (NRC/GT) played “devil’s advocate” to question critically the project researchers’ analyses and to identify negative instances. Researchers checked and rechecked the data, conducted purposeful testing of rival hypotheses, asked questions of the data, and conducted an audit of the data collection and analytic methods.
A purposive sample of eight female and eight male young adults with WS described in Table 1 was selected for the Music & Minds program in the first summer and 11 of these participants returned during the second summer. Advertisements for the program were placed in WS Association publication, and applicants were screened to ensure they satisfied the age criteria and had previous established interests in music. Educational Psychology professors at the National Research Center for Gifted Education and Talent Development at the University of Connecticut, with feedback from members of the Williams Syndrome Association, selected participants for the program. In this study, musical ability was operationally defined as “the ability to understand and improvise in music, as well as the high level of skills, both potential skill areas and those present that can be developed in music.” Two sub-samples of ‘high’ and ‘low’ performing persons were identified from this group based on music ability. Three music professors and seven music professionals including music teachers and graduate student in music designated all participants as having either high- or low musical intelligence as defined by Gardner (1993).
Student Demographics for Date of Birth, Age of Diagnosis, Education Completed, Reading Level, and Math Level
* Data were gathered from a combination of academic records and parent information.
The Music & Minds Program Structure
The Music & Minds Program was designed by educational psychology professors specializing in gifted and talented education in collaboration with faculty in music, drama, and creative movement. In addition, allied health and physical therapy professors analyzed physical limitations, and developed individualized plans for increased mobility and physical fitness in the participants. The eighteen member staff included four professors, five graduate assistants, seven music students at the master’s level, one nurse, and an administrative assistant. Daily classes in chorus, general music, individual instrument or voice, movement, and math using music enrichment to increase proficiency in fractions were part of the multi-faceted program. Only the choir was taught as a whole group. Creative movement classes, which focused on expression and fluidity, were taught in three sections of five or six students at a time. Computer skills and percussion ensemble were selected by groups of three to five students. Although most instrumental and voice lessons were individual, several duos were also established.
The content of the math curriculum taught during Music & Minds included identifying equivalent fractions, understanding components of fractions, and practical applications to time, money, measurement, musical notes, and objects. Teaching of fractions was tied to daily living and music rather than taught theoretically or in isolation. Two daily math sessions (AM and PM) were held for a total teaching time in mathematics of 80 minutes per day over a period of five days (6 hours 40 minutes total teaching time). Music was used both as an instructional methodology and learning tool for learning fractions; a drum set and piano were present in the classroom and were used by instructors, guest artists, and participants throughout the program.
Evenings and weekend enrichment activities included drama, an in-house musical night-club, field trips, and social opportunities. Participants were housed in single sex dormitory double rooms and ate meals in the university cafeteria with hundreds of students their age who were attending other university summer programs and classes. Music & Minds concluded with a public performance reflecting these program goals.
The major findings for this study are organized by a discussion of the core categories identified through data analysis, two case studies of participants, and findings related to the research questions.
The core category emerging from data analysis in this study was the focus on deficits with little or no attention dedicated to talents, interests and strengths in school for all of the participants in this study, as well as the influence of these experiences on participants’ self-awareness and self-perceptions. A related category was the difficulty in finding a “place” where young adults with WS fit into school, home and/or community, as most participants explained that they were lonely at home and that what they loved most about Music & Minds was finding a community of true peers.
The first core category emerged as all participants explained, and parents confirmed, that their academic deficits were the focal point of most of their education. Participants reported that on only very rare occasions, in their many years of education at the preschool, elementary, secondary or post-secondary level, did any teacher or adult discuss any of their strengths, interests, or talents. Instead, participants and parents explained that their deficits and limitations were consistently the focus of school interactions. Over half of the participants explained the frustrations they experienced regarding their inability to participate in music opportunities in school due to the special education focus of their educational experiences. This finding was ironic as a clear finding in this study was that the use of musical enrichment and advanced training in music was found to both enhance all participants’ understanding of mathematics and to provide opportunities to further develop their talents in music.
Thirteen of the participants discussed their awareness of other peoples’ perceptions of them as “unique, different, special people” who experienced a range of disabling conditions. Participants usually reported that other people regarded them as having at least one or two disabling conditions and one or two were mentioned by each participant, including heart problems, high blood pressure, lazy eye, the habit of walking differently from others, inability to run fast, problems with balance, poor depth perception, rocking, hyperacusis, epileptic seizures, negative reactions to smoke, and needing to sleep with a natural noise machine.
Each participant reported that they had poor to low skills in math, the content area they consistently mentioned as their greatest academic weakness. Every participant realistically appraised his/her strengths, indicating verbal abilities, affinity for and potential in music, caring personalities, love for other people, and a desire to help and to make the world a better place. Bart’s explanation was representative of what most all other participants also said, “I love to help others and I live to make a difference in the world.” Five participants said they had problems with their bodies, 12 reported that they knew they were regarded as having a disability, and 6 clearly stated that in order to have a happy life, they had to learn to live with WS, ignore it, and be happy.
A second core category that emerged was the difficulty these young people had in finding a “place” where young adults with WS fit into school, home and community. Most participants explained that they were lonely at home and that what they loved most about Music & Minds was finding a community of true peers. Every participant became aware that during this summer enrichment program, they had formed a recognizable “family” of peers. They all loved their biological families, but they also found a new family within Music & Mind. Liza’s insightful comment may provide an explanation of why these participants enjoyed their interaction with each other, “it was hard to be with people who treat you as special and different”.
The two case studies below help to illustrate findings about the experiences of these unique young adults.
Charles is 24 years of age and is part of a large family, with loving grandparents and a younger brother, in addition to many cousins, aunts, and uncles. His mother has a college degree, an incomplete postgraduate degree in cytogenetics, and currently works as a property manager. Charles’ father has a college degree in psychology, and is vice president of a life insurance company. Charles’ birth was difficult, but normal. He was first recorded as being developmentally delayed at six months and he had heart problems that were not initially diagnosed. Growing up, Charles had numerous physical challenges; he often fell from bicycles, and was clumsy in most physical activities.
Charles was diagnosed with WS when he was two years old. Once identified, he was referred to a nearby association with an early intervention program. He attended this program for four days a week for three years. He next attended a local kindergarten where he began special physical and occupational therapy that continued until he was twelve years old. Since the local middle school had no appropriate program for students with special needs, Charles was enrolled in a self-contained special education school in a nearby town where he stayed until he was 21 years old. At school, he participated in transition and work-skills programs that involved daily living skills training, including work off campus one day a week. In school, Charles performed poorly in mathematics, and hated all work sheets. He still has difficulty writing and solving numerical problems. He can count to one thousand, and sort music tapes and cassettes by musical category, having developed the latter skill while working at a music store. He tells time with and without a clock; explaining, “it is a rhythm thing.” When shopping, Charles dislikes handling change, so he accumulates it until his bills run out. His reading skills are quite good. He enjoys reading The Hardy Boys books, Scottish novels, British heritage books and magazines, and romances, especially if the cover presents “a guy in a kilt.” He likes enthusiastic teachers who are “in sync,” and says he learns best by hearing and doing. Throughout his schooling, he received help from his parents, particularly his mother. He is organized, cooperative, friendly, and cheerful, and has a strong Christian background. His mother explained that she particularly appreciates the way he quietly brings her coffee, and does small jobs around the house such as opening the shades in the morning.
From the age of three, Charles demonstrated his musical talent by singing “Sesame Street” songs in both English and Spanish. He has had access to a piano from a very young age. When he was six years old, his cousin gave him a Pavarotti record, and Charles began to play along on the piano prior to receiving any formal lessons. At age seven, he received tickets to a professional opera performance and both he and his mother recall that tears of joy and sadness poured down his face throughout the two-hour performance. Both Charles’ mother and father took music lessons as children and his mother helped him with his music. Traditional music lessons were not successful because he learned by ear rather than by reading music. He has demonstrated perfect pitch, and has developed the ability to follow musical notation once he has heard the music played. “He relates to the ups and downs of print,” his mother explained. Charles was not offered music at school until his mother began lobbying for him to have an opportunity to do what he loved. At age 13 he began regular drum lessons, and later became a full member of a local Scottish Pipe Marching Band, where he has been promoted to (snare) drummer first class. He plays his instruments (snare drum, piano, keyboard, bagpipe chanter, and saxophone) for at least two to three hours a day, and listens to his records, CDs, and tapes for at least four hours. Over 90% of his tapes are Scottish music and he knows all the details of each tape. He enjoys opera, country, jazz, and Scottish music as well as listening to Elvis Presley. Charles loves creating his own music, but seldom replays or records it. He has attended several years of summer music camps at the one place a summer program has been held for this population.
Charles is very sociable, and enjoys the company of others, chatting, going places, and he continues to attend annual reunions at his special school. He is able to initiate and maintain conversations that are well beyond his own interest areas. Charles also enjoys listening to his police scanner, where he hears details about various crimes and other events. He explains he “swims like a rock,” and hates to get his face wet. He loves watching hockey and basketball, as well as playing roles in the annual summer theater program in a nearby city, where he is an enthusiastic performer, often getting a lead role. A minister at Charles’ church began a once a week social hour at a nearby senior center nursing home where Charles flourished as voluntary Master of Ceremonies, singer, storyteller, and companion for several years. Charles recently completed a three-year residential post secondary program focusing on independent living skills. Although he explains that “music is my life,” his mother and he both reported that no opportunities were available to study or even play music during this 3-year program. He currently can play over 1,000 musical selections on his keyboard and will respond to almost any request category such as "Could you play a song about spring" by giving several options. If the name of the song can not be provided, he will ask for cues, such as the first few notes (by singing or humming) and then he can play what he perceives (usually correctly) to be the song. At this time, employment possibilities for Charles are scarce and his family worries about what might be available for him as he grows older regarding both living arrangements and occupational pursuits.
Marie’s mother describes her daughter as friendly, caring and outgoing. A tall, happy young woman, Marie loves to dance, perform and sing. Marie is 23 years old, has an older brother and sister, and a stepfather who adores her. Her older sister is also disabled and lives in a group home. Marie’s mother confided that, because of the fears she had about Marie’s older sister’s disability, she was anxious throughout her pregnancy with Marie. Marie was delivered by Cesarean section and had some problems at birth including heart irregularity and breathing problems; this improved within a few weeks and Marie has not had major heart surgery, as has been required by so many other young people with Williams. Marie’s father and mother divorced when she was very young and her stepfather entered her life when she was ten. Her mother has a college degree and a graduate degree in social work. Her stepfather has a graduate degree in business and is an executive with a pharmaceutical company. The family is financially well-established and Marie has had many opportunities, resources, and a great deal of encouragement to develop her talents.
Marie was identified as having WS when she was 18 months old. At that time it had become apparent to her mother that she was delayed in both physical as well as intellectual tasks. Marie’s mother sought help from the Genetics Clinic at UCLA where data about Marie, including photographs, were sent throughout the medical system resulting is a positive diagnosis of Williams. Marie began an infant intervention program that included sensory stimulation, speech therapy and occupational therapy. She began walking at about two and a half years, she said her first word at two, but her speech was delayed. When she did talk, she had good vocabulary, but poor comprehension and abstract reasoning. When she was three years old, she attended a regular preschool in her neighborhood where she played with other children and practiced normally appropriate skills such as the alphabet, numbers, and working in learning centers. She stayed in that preschool until the age of five, at which time she entered a public kindergarten. There was no special education pull-out program at the school and personnel discussed sending Marie to a special education facility. Her mother refused to accept the school analysis of what having WS meant; that, for example—Marie would not be able to master many basic skills. “I did not perceive Marie’s identification as having Williams syndrome meant there was an inherent limit on what she could accomplish,” her mother explained.
Despite the teachers continued perception that learning would be a challenge for her, Marie maintained a very high self-concept. During elementary school she attended regular classes and was pulled out for special education resource room time, which included basic skills remediation in reading. Reading continued to be difficult for her and her mother finally decided to teach her to read at home after realizing that the schools would not be able to meet her needs. She purchased a recorded set of stories with accompanying books that included phonics instruction. Marie’s mother read books to her daily and worked on reading with her every evening. She also hired high school students and other young people to read and work with Marie until she could read independently. Currently Marie reads “all the time” and her reading level exceeds ninth grade. She loves non-fiction, magazines and also enjoys romance novels. “She is never without a bag of books,” her mother explained.
The pull-out resource room program lasted until Marie went to middle school and then she was put in a special education class along with youngsters who had Down’s syndrome and other disabilities. Her mother insisted that she attend other classes with students who were not disabled and she went to music, art and physical education classes that were mainstreamed for all students. As she was usually the highest functioning student in the class, she generally felt different from other students. Her mother explained that she felt great compassion for all of the other students who were all functioning at lowered levels and was depressed when they were made fun of or teased. She also looked for opportunities to “hang out with the regular kids”, explained her mother, because she knew she was different from the children with more severe disabilities. She never really belonged with either group. After finding her crying on the staircase at home after school on more than one occasion, Marie’s mother decided that she had to intervene to make school more enjoyable. Marie told her mother she was made fun of by the middle school students and teased unmercifully. Her mother made a very difficult decision and sent Marie to a private residential school. The private school was for students with severe learning disabilities and Marie flourished there for two and a half years. It was an environment of hands-on learning, with a great deal of time spent on active learning experiences. Marie’s skills improved in all areas and she really enjoyed the learning process. She even improved in math, which was the first time her mother believed she had made progress in math. This was also the first time that attention was paid by school personnel to Marie’s interest and talent in music, which had previously been nurtured by her parents but not particularly by the schools.
Marie liked the private school where she flourished academically, but she did miss her parents. Unfortunately, in eighth grade, she had a negative encounter with a staff member that was so painful that her parents immediately withdrew her and brought her home. Marie needed a great deal of reassurance and love and attention to overcome the pain associated with this episode. Her parents decided to enroll her in the local public high school in which she registered for all regular classes. She needed support and help in most classes which she received from a learning disabilities resource teacher, but managed to earn grades of B and C in most of her classes, which were modified for her special needs. Her parents were very proud of her adjustment and loved having her home. She continued to participate in various high school opportunities including clubs and music classes throughout her public high school experience. She also worked part-time in Pizza Hut throughout high school and after school. For six years she worked in the kitchen at a pizza restaurant and she also worked part-time as a nurse’s aide in a senior citizens’ home.
Marie’s mother wanted her to be able to continue her education after high school and she enrolled in a midwestern university where she took two music classes, dance classes and drama classes. She stayed for two semesters and was able to survive in the new atmosphere because her mother hired a personal assistant to help her with all of the new issues she was facing, such as how to use a cafeteria line and how to find her classes. However, Marie knew she was different. Other students did not accept her as a peer and she began feeling lonely and isolated again. She came home on weekends and her mother soon learned that Marie wanted her to take her out to buy groceries because she was not eating in the cafeteria since she felt different. “I am so tired of everyone looking at me. I don’t want to eat in the cafeteria because I have no one to eat with.” Soon after, Marie came home from that university.
Currently, Marie is involved in a special college program for students with special needs where she lives in a dorm and is fully independent from her family. She is happy in this environment and hopes to develop the skills necessary to work in an independent job at some point in the future. Marie spends two days a week in special classes in budgeting and child development and three days a week in job training. She has worked in a hospital emergency room and hopes to try a job in a music store that she thinks she will love.
She is also better at math than some other participants, but did not do any college math classes. Marie loves music and her parents noticed her love of music at a very early age and continued to nurture and develop her talents in this area. Her mother purchased a piano for her and she started taking Suzuki violin in second grade. She was continuously exposed to music, taken to concerts, encouraged to practice and sing, and was able to count on her mother driving her to practice and paying for lessons. Her mother insisted that music be a part of every educational experience she had and in the private school she attended in New York State, Marie starred in plays and was in the chorus. The schools she attended before going to private schools had not provided many musical experiences. Marie’s mother indicated that she had been “adamant that music had to be part of the curriculum” so more opportunities were created for Marie than she would have had if her mother had not been such an assertive advocate. Her parents encouraged her talent by taking her to concerts and community drama performances. They indicate that she has very good musical abilities in all areas. She has taken lessons since second grade, can read musical notation, has perfect pitch, loves to improvise and has excellent rhythmic memory. She does best with patient teachers who have good energy and are gentle. Since she was sexually abused, she does not do as well with male teachers until she gets to know and trust them.
Marie loves Debbie Gibson, and dances, and mimics her constantly. She loves to be involved with music technology and uses the web frequently. She enjoys classes in all kinds of music and loves music appreciation classes. In her music concerts, she frequently stars as the sole vocalist and loves every opportunity to sing, and be in the public eye in music. She recently was featured on 60 Minutes and this appearance brought her much fame in the local neighborhood. Her community is very proud of Marie, according to her mother. Marie has superb social skills, is independent relative to personal skills, and is proud of her physical appearance. She has performed three times professionally for a group called Potential Unlimited in New York, and won best vocalist in her state in the Very Special Arts Program.
Findings Related to the Research Questions
The analysis of data from responses to instruments, parent and participant questionnaires, open-ended and structured interviews, observations and telephone interview protocols from parents provided insights into the following research questions.
1. How many of the participants were musically able and what patterns emerged, if any, in the home experiences, early lessons, and parental support for these participants?
Our music professionals identified five participants with high skill and potential in music, or as demonstrating musical intelligence as defined by Gardner (1993). Another five participants were identified as having mid-level skills or potential, and six participants had low performance or potential. Of the five participants who displayed the highest levels of musical ability, four had very good reading skills, while math skills in this group ranged from low to high. These five participants had similar patterns of strong parental encouragement and consistent opportunities to both enrich their experiences in music and to develop their musical talents. Parent and participant reports found that the participants who had the highest skills in music had been provided with the most enrichment opportunities as children and adolescents including attendance at numerous concerts and shows, lessons with appropriate teachers and the purchase of fine instruments, as well as gifts of music CDs, tapes and records.
All 16 participants had been involved in music programs sometime in their childhood, and 11 had been in other chorus or choir groups. Ten participants had received specific instrument training during in their childhoods, and nine had some experience with private music teachers, but only five actually participated in sustained private instruction in music, and these were the participants identified as having high levels of musical skills. Data clearly indicated that the parents of all of these musically talented participants provided early lessons and encouragement in music, beginning in elementary school, and followed by continuous musical training and exploration. In addition, the parents of these more musically accomplished students purchased a variety of instruments, found the best match of teacher for lessons, and persisted in the face of resistance when some music teachers had difficulty in trying to teach music to theses special needs students who could not read music. Jay’s mother, for example, indicated that his hearing and understanding of sound was so intense that his parents purchased the finest instrument they could for him as he began to excel in the clarinet. Charles’ mother drove him over an hour each way twice a week when she found a music teacher who understood his needs and the startling fact that he could not read music. While the parents of participants who were lower in musical performance provided general support, but it was not necessarily in the form of lessons, instruments, or specific encouragement in music.
An interesting theme emerged in our interviews with parents. Ten parents initially reported that their sons or daughters had demonstrated high ability in music and said that they had supported these talents; however, faculty and staff observations during the Music & Minds program provided insight to what that meant. Our musical staff identified only five participants as actually having developed high levels of talents, perhaps because some of the others did not receive the systematic and appropriate opportunities to develop their talents. For example, several parents said they supported their child’s musical ability by “buying music tapes” as if they may have believed that listening to music could increase musical talents. Five of the parents were quite realistic in their appraisals, noting that their son or daughter had taken lessons for years but played only at a slightly above average level. The majority of parents indicated that their son or daughter displayed an unusual affinity with and love for music and interpreted this joy in music as an important factor in the personal happiness that would be achieved in life. “For my son, life without music is life without heart and joy,” one parent explained. Parents of eight other participants used language that echoed this sentiment.
2. What were the participants reported learning and product style preferences, interests, and perceptions of strengths and weaknesses in music and in academic areas?
Participants’ responses on the Learning Styles Inventory (Renzulli, Rizza & Smith, 1998) where a Likert score of 4 is “really like” and a score of 1 is “really dislike” indicated that their highest instructional preferences were peer teaching (M=3.32, SD=.29), lecture (M=3.32, SD=.30), discussion (M=3.28, SD=.43) and projects (M=3.01, SD=.31), while their lowest preferences were simulations (M=2.67, SD=.44) and drill (M=2.72, SD=.45). These results supported previous anecdotal reports confirming the preferences of many persons with WS for social, verbal, group learning experiences, rather than structured, rigid activities (Levine, 1997). Individual responses varied greatly, explaining the standard deviations. For example, Angela had a score of 1.2 and 1.6 on her response to preference for simulation and drill, while Marie responded with 3.2 and 3.6 for the same items.
The expression styles of the participants on the 50 item My Way: Expression Style Inventory (in which a Likert score of 5=very interested, 4=interested, 3=moderately interested, 2=of little interest, and 1=not at all interested) indicated the following group preferences service, sharing and helping others (M=4.54, SD=.17); oral (M=4.40, SD= .43), musical (M=4.19, SD=.37), dramatization (M=3.99, SD=.19), and artistic (M=3.29, SD= .33). The high means and low standard deviations reflect the group patterns identified in these participants of strong social orientation and expressiveness. While the mean for music was high, the larger standard deviation indicated a dispersion of responses and varying individual interest in music. Two of the participants with the lowest responses in music were among the lowest in ability and potential. The lowest group responses for expression styles were manipulative (M=2.72, SD=.57), technological (M=2.75, SD=.17), commercial (M=2.76, SD=.48); and written (2.91, SD=.25).
An analysis of the interests of our participants using the Secondary Interest-a-Lyzer instrument revealed clear patterns. These persons with WS were interested in musical activities, socially oriented in their outlook, and interested in learning about multiple areas, and their responses indicated a tendency to avoid activities that involved mechanical or mathematical skills. Nine said that a perfect opportunity for learning for them would focus on music. Another common response was their collective and individual concern for others. Eleven participants, when asked to select topics that would interest them, said that they would like to learn about issues related to world peace. Eleven also expressed their interests in knowing more about career opportunities, reflected their concern about their own lives, as well as the lives of others. Interestingly, when asked about the type of book they would like to write, 12 participants responded that they would write an autobiography. This is a very uncommon response on this instrument. Charles wrote, ” I want to tell the world about me.” Sabrina echoed his remarks, explaining, ” I will write a book about Sabrina, telling everyone who I am.” On one section of this instrument includes 26 items that participants are asked to indicate their interest in doing with a Likert scale (where a score of 3 =Yes, I would like to do this, 2 = I might be interested in doing this and 1 =I do not want to do this). As a group, participants were interested in musical activities, socially and creative in their outlook and interested in trying new things. Group responses indicated that they prefer to avoid activities that appear to have a mechanical or mathematical basis. The activities they selected most often from this list of 26 were: involvement in a neighborhood project (M=2.8, SD=.77), photography (M=2.8, SD=.81), and cartooning (M=2.6, SD=.81). Their most unpopular activities were studying the stock market (M=1.2, SD=.89), repairing a car or appliance (M=1.5, SD=.82), organic gardening (M=1.7, SD=.90) and starting an astronomy observation group (M=1.7, SD=.95).
On these instruments and in interviews, participants systematically discussed their low abilities in math. “I stink at math and they (my teachers) always told me I just could not do it,” was a phrase repeated in a slightly different way by every participant. “Math was my downfall!” Charles exclaimed dramatically. Participants became visibly upset when they had to take a pretest in math and the majority expressed their fear of math work. Bill’s math deficit cost him a high school diploma; he received a Certificate of Attendance when he graduated because state competency requirements had changed, and algebra was added, which he explained, “nixed it for him.” The fear of mathematics was often manifested by an inability to understand money, and all parents indicated that mismanagement of money would be a major obstacle to independent living for this group. For example, Bob’s father worked with him diligently getting him to read a tape measure, add, and subtract, but Bob seemed unable to understand any abstract number concepts. He does not manage money well. On one occasion he withdrew a large amount from his account, and gave it to a “friend.” Sid also had difficulty with math concepts. Even though Sid possessed some basic addition and subtraction ability, he had no multiplication or division skills. Fractions were also an area where he indicated little understanding.
In summary, data from instruments indicated clear patterns but some individual variability of interests, learning styles and product styles. Data from parent and participant interviews, questionnaires, psychological testing, and school records indicated participants’ below average, but relatively strong verbal skills such as vocabulary and memory. By contrast, participants demonstrated notable deficits in math abilities. Although participants’ math skills were low, particularly in the area of fractions, they were sometimes able to accurately use basic arithmetic facts and, to varying degrees, could add and subtract. However, participants revealed poor self-concept with regard to math skills and were hesitant about their ability in this area. Parents reported that participants lacked basic math skills, and math was rarely applied in daily living, such as counting change when making a purchase.
3. Did the use of an enrichment/talent development approach based on talents and strengths in an area of interest (music) result in achievement score gains in a deficit area (fractions)?
Our research indicated that 94% of the WS participants demonstrated an overall gain in comprehension of fractional concepts covered during the Music & Fractions class (Reis, Schader, Milne, Stephens, Tieso & Don, 2002). Sixty-three percent of the participants achieved a mastery level of .80 and above on the posttest. Individual participants increased their understanding of the basic mathematical concepts covered during the Music & Fractions class as demonstrated by the gain in their post-test total scores (t = 6.21, p < .001), suggesting that the use of musical enrichment and advanced training in music was found to both enhance all participants’ understanding of mathematics.
Perhaps most important, parent and student post-program interviews indicated that a pattern emerged of increased confidence with some aspects of math, especially the use of money and making change. Numerous parents reported a general improvement in their son’s or daughter’s willingness to problem solve and most parents found that despite some inconsistency of application, the participants retained a sense of what makes a fraction. One parent explained that his son had reasoned through fraction problems with parental support where previously he would not have tried at all. At the conclusion of the program, 60% of the Music & Minds participants reported that they were either planning to try more math classes in school or that they wanted to learn more about fractions.
4. Will an enrichment/talent development approach using specific instructional strategies, based on preferences, interests and styles, provide a useful framework for talent development and educational experiences to use with persons with WS?
Music & Minds was entirely based on the respect for individual, participants’ interests, learning styles and preferences. Our approach was flexible and we were willing to try different methods of grouping, teaching and learning experiences. We provided various types of enrichment opportunities, such as dances, evening open-microphone nightclubs, a professional chamber music performance and daily drama activities, culminating in a self-designed musical performance. The use of musical enrichment and advanced training in music was found to both enhance all participants’ understanding of mathematics and to provide opportunities to further develop their musical talents. This intensive program resulted in increased skills in both music and math. From all accounts, this summer enrichment program radically changed parental and self-perceptions of the potentials of these students. For example, when parents arrived on the first day of the program, they provided a list of explicit instructions for each participant about health, safety and learning expectations. Within a few days, the majority of these had changed because of participants’ incremental successes. After observing his growth in Music & Minds, Charles’ mother exclaimed with frustration,
After reflecting on his daughter’s success in Music & Minds, another parent wrote, “Music & Minds has raised the bar and there will be no return to previous expectations.” Thee use of an enrichment-based talent development model such as the Schoolwide Enrichment Model helped to provide positive learning experiences for this population and to address deficits and develop musical talents.
Other findings related to a combination of the core categories and research questions. During Music & Minds, our participants displayed the empathy, caring, and kindness frequently mentioned in the literature in this population. Under stressful conditions such as a loud thunderstorm, nine of our participants used self-talk, engaged in one-way conversations, and did not appear to be aware of the non-participation of others. Twelve demonstrated a clear capacity to understand, befriend, to talk and to listen. Many staff members had in-depth meaningful conversations with these participants. For example, one participant used historical analogies to explain persistence and then added a humorous anecdote concerning an historical figure. Three participants had difficulty with any conversations because they were very shy and reserved, while most other participants were extremely outgoing and friendly. Seven participants appeared to be primarily auditory learners, six were more visual learners, and others were mixed.
All 16 participants displayed enthusiasm, empathy, and engagement in learning and living. They also demonstrated multiple indications of religious belief and a love for God as well as a desire to participate in organized religious experiences. During the first Sunday of our program, additional drivers had to be recruited to transport participants to the wide variety of churches they wanted to attend. Most participants had a joy in their own spirituality that is difficult to define. They each seemed to actively enjoy their love for God and their belief in their own religion. When happy or excited or moved, several began to sing songs with religious overtones, such as Amazing Grace and often, after one or more began a song, the entire group joined in as a chorus.
Another interesting finding related to our participants’ own comfort level with the identification as persons with WS. Initially, some of our participants did not want to align themselves with other persons with disabilities. Three parents mentioned that their sons or daughters initially did not want to spend all of their time with other WS participants, explaining that their son or daughter was high functioning and felt constrained when confined to situations that only included other WS persons. Some experiences in which they had been isolated in special education programs with other more severely disabled persons had caused our participants to believe that they had been held back either academically or socially. After some time in our program, the participants became more comfortable with each other as individuals and with their interactions with our staff and counselors.
These participants were of a similar age and during Music & Minds, they lived and worked together. Eventually they formed a cohesive group and began to enjoy living together. Some of the more verbal participants began to interact more regularly, two became engaged to be married, but later decided they were just friends. As noted, participants had reasonably accurate appraisals of their abilities when compared to psychological assessments and school records received for this study. As indicated in Table 1, participants’ math scores were quite low, and they were aware of their demonstrated deficiencies in math. In addition to these low scores, however, almost all participants also had strong and limiting beliefs about their ability to learn, consistently explaining what they could not do such as: “I can’t measure, I can’t do fractions”. One participant had acute physiological reactions to taking a pretest in math, as he sweated profusely, was extremely nervous and very apologetic: “I can’t do this at all”.
Attitudes influenced perceptions, as did routines. Routine was important to all participants, even if the routine was not especially conducive to improving a skill. The need for routine translated into daily living as well, as every participant demonstrated the need for a pattern in daily schedules for meals, classes, free time, and group social activities. Several parents mentioned this need for scheduling before the program began and a regular schedule was developed, printed and distributed daily. However, some flexibility was built into the program and it was noted that when changes were made in living skills, participants were able to adapt to changes, and some of this translated into learning experiences as well. When a pattern was broken, participants had to reassemble and begin to learn in a different way.
Participant impressions related to music varied from realistic appraisals such as: “I’m really not that good at guitar,” to unrealistic beliefs about levels of talent in music. Some participants had been led by popular press reports to believe they should have talents in music, but if these talents were present, they did not become apparent during Music & Minds. Many participants displayed a love and affinity for music, but fewer had the developed musical talents than we had been led to believe would exist within a population of persons with WS.
It seems clear that in order to develop programs for this population that include appropriate curriculum and instruction in music, more information about the preferences, interests, learning styles and music abilities in persons with WS is essential. Knowledge about how music can be used to teach academic areas is crucial, as the love and affinity for music in this population might be used to help address other deficit areas. By offering persons with WS a broad selection of music and enrichment experiences in a talent development model, educators may be able to increase the possibility that these individuals will engage in a wider variety of musical experiences. Teachers may also be able to enhance understanding of other academic areas, even areas of deficit such as mathematics with the use of a talent development approach based on strengths, interests and learning styles.
Three findings from Music & Minds seem important for educators. The first is the talent development approach proved to be successful and participants gained skills both in music and in math, an area of academic deficit. The individual within-syndrome variability in our group of participants with WS was large, however, and group-described traits provided in previous research (Dilts, Morris, & Leonard, 1990; MacDonald & Roy, 1988) were deceptive. Therefore, individual assessments of each student with WS were essential and should be periodically conducted to note changes and progress.
The second finding is that educators should attempt to avoid the usual assessment stance of focusing on disturbances or negative symptoms in this population. While school psychologists and special education teachers often have to focus on deficits because of the Individual Education Plan (IEP) process, positive behaviors, such as enrichment opportunities and talent development activities can also be used to construct educational plans that address talents, strengths and interests as well as deficits. Music enhanced mathematical learning and helped to reduce math deficits in these participants. The use of preferred activities and interests as well as learning styles and products styles may help children and adults with WS, and perhaps, with other disabilities. Since teachers who interact with WS children daily are usually well aware of their deficits, they might profit from knowledge of their strengths, preferences, and interests.
The third finding of this study was that most participants were limited by self-held, firm, and sometimes inaccurate, beliefs about their ability to learn certain skills. Participants consistently told us what they could not do, and explained that their teachers had told them they could not do certain things since the day they entered school. Two thirds of our participants were rigid in their ways of doing things and had difficulty when they tried to alter or break the pattern. “I have always done it this way and I can’t change.” This rigidity of style also appeared within music instruction but positive changes did occur during the course of our enrichment program, perhaps because of the specific teaching strategies employed in our efforts to better serve this unique population.
Implications for Practice
Findings from Music & Minds suggest the several implications may be considered in implementing programs for this and perhaps for other special education populations. While the results of this study cannot be generalized to others with WS or other students with special needs, they may be useful to consider. First, we learned that while parents had a realistic view of academic strengths and deficits, the participants themselves had become so focused on their deficit areas, that they were reluctant to try to improve in these areas or to focus on strengths. However, when academic learning was incorporated into an enriched strength-based talent development approach to teaching, achievement increased and enthusiasm for learning was enhanced. Second, parental involvement played a key role in the development of musical talent in the five participants in this study who had higher levels of musical ability. Third, surveys focusing on learning styles, interests, and product style preferences that were developed for general populations were easily adapted to help to identify and provide group profiles about the interests, learning styles, and product preferences for our participants and but individual variability was found. These may prove useful with other students with disabilities. Fourth, curriculum and learning experiences were not rigidly planned in advance for this special population. In Music & Minds, our goal was to develop curriculum around the interests, styles, product preferences, and abilities of each participant (Renzulli & Reis, 1985; 1997), and this approach worked well. Fifth, differences existed in skills among participants in this group as some were already extremely independent and needed to have flexibility and respect for their ability to live as self-sufficient adults. Others required much more support and help but, when encouraged, moved towards relative independence in some areas. Therefore, prior expectations that are limiting should be avoided. Last, and perhaps most important, was the joy our participants experienced in an environment based on a talent development philosophy and this joy may have contributed to improved deficits in math, increased musical skills, and found another family. In other words, when students enjoyed their academic and arts experiences, they developed talents and increased their skills.
Music & Minds was extremely gratifying for both participants and faculty, but such experiences should extend beyond a 10-day summer program. By engaging the love and appreciation for music in persons with WS, their confidence levels increased as did their performance in math as well as music. The purposeful development of musical skills and enhancement of musical interests and talents was found to extend the talent potential and help enrich the lives of these exceptional persons. While some may believe that the use of this approach is only possible in a short summer program, the work described in this study continues, as the experiences of the participants in this study contributed to the creation of a full-time post-secondary school for persons with disabilities who also have musical talents and interests. The Berkshire Hills Musical Academy uses the philosophy of Music & Minds, and provides talent development experiences based on the preferences, interests and styles of participants. A faculty member from Music & Minds has become the Dean of Studies at the school.