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Reading aloud

In class

Where the child who stammers has no anxieties about his speech, the teacher should simply support him by listening attentively, and giving time for him to finish, so that there is no sense of hurry or rush. The younger pupil is more likely to do this as he may be unaware of his stammering or more likely is aware but has not become anxious about it. The rest of the class should be following some whole-class ground rules in place for speaking and listening. 

The teacher's normal scanning of the class should ensure that none of the children are reacting to the stammering in an unacceptable way. The older child however is very likely to have become more anxious about his speech and may need a differential strategy which could support the communication needs of the whole class.

When the child is anxious about talking, the teacher needs to work on a 'step by step' basis to build up confidence, so that fear of speaking situation is diminished, even though the child may be stammering severely. In the video clip the teacher models reading a passage herself and then asks for volunteers to read either on their own or with a partner. At first, this choral reading is helpful, because children do not stammer when reading with other people.  Then the task may be extended to reading aloud with a friend, to a small audience of children, then to a larger audience of the class.  Reading solo for the first time should be made as stress free as possible, perhaps to the teacher or assistant, a friend or a group of friends.

Progress may not be linear and the teacher must be flexible in using these strategies as they are needed.  If you do not know the children, be aware that there may be a child who stammers in the class, and avoid using systems of reading round the class, or random selection that could cause him anxiety.  Ask for volunteers if it is important to have the material read out aloud.

Literacy and phonics

Most schools have adopted some form of phonics for this and while there is no specific research to indicate that this method of teaching literacy is difficult for children who stammer, the BSA knows from some parents that their child who stammers had problems with the system and that teachers did make adaptations to meet their speech needs. One of the most upsetting techniques in use was where the child had to repeat the letter a number of times which made him feel that he was stammering and could be a subject of ridicule from other children. Having every child work with a speaking buddy might be helpful for all pupils, but particularly the child who stammers as when he talks in unison with his partner he will not stammer and should be able to more easily remember his own speaking so that the sound of the letters is reinforced. This is a complex area and should be individually addressed within the classroom to meet the needs of the individual child. The therapist may be able to offer advice.

Reading aloud in one-to-one situations

The teacher and other key adults in school or at home are likely to hear pupils read aloud regularly, as they progress through the reading programme. When the child is stammering, without perceived struggle or anxiety, the adult should listen attentively and comment supportively, as with any other member of the class. However, for a child whose reading needs to be heard, and is apparently struggling with his speech and showing anxiety, a paired reading strategy can be helpful.

One method that has been reported as successfully encouraging the child who stammers is for the adult and the child to read together. The rhythm of the adult's voice will give support to the child who stammers and he is most likely to keep up with that and enjoy the experience of talking fluently. When the child feels ready to read aloud on his own, he taps with a pencil and the adult stops reading, allowing the child to continue solo reading. As the child knows that he only has to tap again for the adult to join in with him, he may feel more confident and relaxed about talking; this could possibly improve his fluency in that reading task, although there is no certainty of that. Empowering the child in this way does seem to build confidence.

A further extension of the approach could then be for the adult to make the choice of who reads solo by tapping with the pencil so that the child has to be alert to the request to read, and cope with the kind of unexpected demand in a situation in which he should feel safe and supported. This experience may build confidence and allow the child to feel capable of responding without embarrassment when unexpectedly required to speak.

Summary

  • The experience of stammering in class can undermine a child's confidence as a speaker and damage his self-image generally. It is essential that he feels supported by the teacher and the other pupils. Phonics may cause particular problems.
  • Try to encourage the child to plan a series of small steps to help him with reading aloud, so he can build up his confidence by joining in.
  • Allow children to volunteer to read aloud in class either with a partner or on their own.
  • Build confidence in reading aloud by encouraging the child to read regularly to one adult.
  • Try strategies such as paired reading to encourage the child.
  • Work out with the child what he may find helpful.