Teaching Creative Dramatics to Young Adults with Williams Syndrome

By Tieso, Carol L. | Teaching Exceptional Children, July/August 2002 | Go to article overview

Teaching Creative Dramatics to Young Adults with Williams Syndrome


Tieso, Carol L., Teaching Exceptional Children


There are no strangers, there are only friends.

This quote came from a student with Williams syndrome; and the simple quote is an expression of the often extreme friendliness of such students. This article describes a program that took advantage of this strength and others of such young people in a magical summer program called "Music & Minds. "

During a similar program involving dramatic expression, researchers commented: "As they told their tale, they often altered their pitch, volume, length of words or rhythm to enhance the emotional tone of the story. They added more drama to engage their audience ( And suddenly, splash!' `and BOOM!'; `Gadzooks!')" (Lenhoff, Wang, Greenberg, & Bellugi, 1997). Can you feel the amazement between the lines here?

Despite their apparent fluency for language and drama, students with Williams syndrome have rarely had the opportunity to express these talents in creative dramatics. People with Williams syndrome are usually labeled disabled, due to genetic, linguistic, and psychological deficits; and educators usually design instruction to remediate their "deficits" (see box, "What Is Williams Syndrome?"). Students with Williams syndrome are often placed in special day or resource room settings during their school years. As young adults, they may exhaust their educational careers at the high school level, though some may attend special university programs.

Most young adults with Williams syndrome who have completed their education, live with family members or in assisted living facilities. Since they may have a limited time in a general educational setting, educators must address the strengths and weaknesses of these students through their individual profiles of interests and talents. When people with Williams syndrome are viewed through the lens of talents rather than weaknesses, an entirely new model of special education emerges: talent development.

Talent Development Pro

As part of a summer program at the University of Connecticut, "Music & Minds," 16 young adults with Williams syndrome were invited to demonstrate their talents in language and music by performing in a creative and original dramatic musical performance. The program was funded by a grant provided by the Javits Act Program through the auspices of the National Research Center on the Gifted and Talented (NRC/GT). Researchers at this center asked students' families to attend, using lists provided by the Williams Syndrome Foundation and representatives of the Belvoir Terrace summer music camp in Lenox, Massachusetts.

Enrichment-and Fun

The focus of the program was on meeting the needs and addressing the weaknesses of these students through their talent areas, which for this population are music and language. Participants attended classes in chorus, general music, individual instrument or voice instruction, creative dramatics, and physical therapy (Reis, Schader, Milne, Stephens, & Tieso, in press). After dinner, they frequently would assemble and initiate their own private jam sessions, usually accompanied by the musical staff.

The theoretical basis for the program's curriculum and instruction was the Schoolwide Enrichment Model (Renzulli & Reis, 1998), a model of assessing students' strengths and talents and designing instruction around those talents by providing students with specific instruction or training geared to their interests and talents. In that way, teachers and researchers were able to apply the pedagogy of gifted education and talent development to a population of young adults who would be typically identified as learning disabled.

Student Capabilities-and Surprises

The directors of "Music & Minds" prepared the teaching staff with readings and debriefings, but no one could really be prepared for something so monumental until it occurs. The literature on people with Williams syndrome is thin, but fails to recognize the amazing diversity of talents and sensitivities in this population. …

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Teaching Creative Dramatics to Young Adults with Williams Syndrome
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