Finishing Strong

With Celebrating Student Achievement Day last week and the final day of classes for the semester coming up, it’s always fun at this stressful time of year to look back over everything we’ve accomplished at Meredith. I am always inspired by the creativity, intelligence, leadership, and hard work that my fellow students display in all their work. So, to help inspire you to finish strong, here is Honors students Jessica Williford to share about her thesis combining her music and child development majors:
Jessica Williford
What is your class, major(s) and why did you choose this major? I’m majoring in child development and music.  I have been playing piano since I was 7 years old and when I came to college, I decided to minor in music while pursuing a child development major.  I fell in love with the music department here, and decided to stay a 5th year so that I could complete both majors.  Child development is still my first love, but I love my music classes so much and they have been such a great supplement to my child development plan of study. Can you tell us a little about your thesis? What is it on and what does it entail? My thesis title is Adaptive Piano Lessons for Children with Autism Using the Lovaas Methods of Applied Behavior Analysis and Discrete Trial Teaching.  Basically, I am trying to find out if the Lovaas early intervention method can be used for teaching piano and musical skills.  In my preparation for this, I looked for parallels between the skills that we teach at MAP and music skills.  Then I developed six programs, music note matching, non-verbal imitation finger technique, non-verbal imitation rhythm, improvisation, emotions, and sound discrimination.  I recruited three children from the Meredith Autism Program to participate in my study.  They each have three piano lessons per week for eight weeks.  At each lesson, we work on the six programs using a discrete trial teaching format.  After each lesson, I watch a video of the lesson, take data from the lesson, and make plans for the next lesson. How did you become interested in your thesis topic? I have been involved in the Meredith Autism Program since my Freshman year at Meredith.  MAP is an early intervention program for preschool children with autism that uses applied behavior analysis methods taught in a discrete trial format.  Children with autism learn differently than typically developing children, and the Lovaas methods have proven to be a very effective teaching tool for helping children with autism learn language, motor, daily-living, pre-academic, and social skills.  I wanted to see if these methods could be used to teach young children to play the piano, so I talked to Dr. Pitts and MAP and decided to research this for my honors thesis. What has been a challenge you’ve encountered in your research? I teach nine piano lessons each week and between teaching, data analysis, and lesson planning, I have stayed very busy!  The work load has been overwhelming at times but it has been so rewarding to see how much the children love coming to piano – their smiles, laughter, and eagerness to go with me has made it worth it!  Another challenge has been dealing with some unexpected behavior challenges with one of my research participants.  These behavior challenges have significantly impacted his lessons with me, but they will make an interesting variable in my thesis. Later, do you think you might build further on this year’s thesis research?
Right now, I am at the stage of research when I am just ready to be done!  I am really looking forward to the day when I can hold my completed thesis in my hands!  I don’t currently have any plans to continue this research, but I have learned so much through this process and I know that this experience will help me regardless of where I end up after Meredith.
And finally, what is one of your favorite memories from Meredith?
That’s really hard!  I would have to say that one of the best non-academic memories that I have is dancing in the amphitheater with my class at Cornhuskin each year.  Participating in Cornhuskin has been such a wonderful bonding experience with my 2015 sisters.  There is no other bonding experience like dancing in a cold parking lot until midnight every night for a month!

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