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General teacher strategies

Stammering: A reminder

  • Disrupts the flow of speech with repetition, prolonging or blocking of words and sounds with possible facial tension and extra body movement. The pitch, tone and volume of the voice may be altered.
  • Has no single cause, although there may be a genetic link. There is no single or definite cure and there is no single best strategy for supporting pupils. Current research indicates that the cause of stammering has a physiological basis in the brain structure.
  • Is found in every culture and language at an incidence of about 1% of the adult population and is not linked with ability or personality profiles. It is thought that about I in 80 children of school age stammer.
  • Is usually made worse by stress and anxiety and can come and go, even in the same conversation.
  • Usually starts between 2 and 5 years and intervention at this stage by a speech and language therapist who specialises in stammering offers the best chance of recovery. It is thought that about I in 80 children of school age do stammer, but with modern therapy approaches leading to recovery for young children this number should continue to fall.

Monitor for underachievement

Children who stammer have the same range of innate abilities and personality traits as children who do not. It is easy to underestimate the ability of a child who stammers as he may not always be able to express his thoughts and ideas. Teachers should TRACK achievement in relationship to the potential of the child using whatever cognitive tests are favoured in their school and intervene as appropriate if there is a discrepancy.

Teacher Training

Even current student teachers are unlikely to have had training in speech, language and communication needs, although hopefully they should be alert to any concerns about a pupil. Teachers should be able to seek advice in the school and from training providers within the authority as well as from the local speech and language therapy department. However, as it's been thought for some time that teachers and therapists would benefit from joint training, appropriate courses are being offered in some universities. These changes, together with the anticipated extension of training opportunities for education staff in speech, language and communication needs (SLCN) recommended by the Bercow Report (2008) and followed up by the Government's 2020 Children and Young Peoples Workforce Strategy (December 2008) and The Rose Report  (2009) suggest that the needs of these pupils are much more likely to be identified and met than was previously the case. This is very reassuring to parents and professionals concerned about stammering.

Schools should encourage staff awareness of speech, language and communication needs (SLCN) by encouraging attendance at courses available within the area, and using training online resources such as this and the speech, language and communication framework  (SLCF) to meet this need in support of the training priorities of The Inclusion Development  Programme(IDP) ,the Bercow Report to the DCSF on the needs of children with SLCN (2008) and The Rose Report (2009).

Films and DVDs to raise awareness of stammering

The BSA completed a film for the National Association of Headteachers in partnership with The Michael Palin Centre (MPC), the specialist centre for stammering therapy. This film shows pupils who stammer talking about their needs in school.

The MPC has also produced a DVD to give information to schools about stammering. These are available from speech and language therapy services in England. Both of these films may be used for staff training or for pupils to see in a PHSE lesson, provided that any child in the class who stammers is quite comfortable with that.

Learn how to identify stammering

Often stammering may be easily identified by a layperson who listens to its typical repetitions, hesitations or blocking on words.

Sometimes though it can be harder to notice and identify as the child's worries about his stammer may be more manifested in behaviour than speech, as talking is avoided and consequently not heard sufficiently to allow identification.

Girls are most likely to be quiet and withdrawn and boys to challenge, but of course these stereotypes may not always apply. Occasionally a child may so practised at using alternative words that he can say or use circumlocution to get round to what he really wants to say that it is difficult to spot that a stammer may be present.

Sometimes children may use other avoidance strategies; for example, coughing, being apparently distracted by the search for a piece of equipment, pretending not to have heard or fooling around with another pupil, in the hope that the teacher will not ask them to speak. Teachers need to be continually alert to children's behaviour patterns, reporting and responding to concerns as quickly as possible, so that if necessary a referral to a speech and language therapist may be made. See Introduction: What teachers notice and Further Information in this resource.

Work collaboratively with the speech and language therapist

When a child is receiving therapy for stammering in the first two years of primary school fluency may still be a goal, and the therapist may support the teacher to develop strategies to help with that.

However, later in the primary school years fluency is less likely to develop so the main aim of therapy is usually to build confidence and self- esteem to enable the child to express himself and participate in class oral work, whether the stammer is presenting or not. The therapist will then encourage the teacher to achieve these goals through good support strategies in place in the classroom, and with these the child's fluency may improve. However, that is a bonus and may not be an outcome.

Support Strategies:

Address any anxiety about his speech

As far as is known children who stammer possess the same innate range of ability and personality traits as children who do not stammer. However, anxiety about this speech problem can lead to barriers to learning as the child's focus on trying to speak and fear of stammering can distract him from the learning task. This may affect the development of language and social skills and be a factor in underachievement. All teachers know that children's learning can be held back by events or conditions that are worrying them and making it difficult for them to concentrate, and this is the case where a child who stammers is anxious about his speech. Although the younger child is less likely to be anxious than the more self- aware older child, even very young children are known to have worried about their speech and are distracted from the task in hand.

Teachers should TRACK achievement in relationship to the potential of the child using whatever cognitive tests are favoured in their school and intervene as appropriate if there is a discrepancy.

Model good teacher talk

In the inclusive classroom it is essential that the teacher talks clearly and coherently at all times, acting as a model for effective speaking. When talking to the whole-class in the inclusive classroom the 'talk' should be understandable to the children whose language ability is the most limited. This has implications for lowering the standard of vocabulary and syntax and 'chunking' material into clear points, with plenty of reinforcement, possibly with gestures, visual aids or written comments on a whiteboard for example. The individual speaking, listening and language development needs of a pupil may then be met in one-to-one or group situations.

The child who stammers needs to be able to hear and understand the teacher's talk without straining as those extra demands may cause anxiety and affect his speaking and probably his learning.

Create a communication-friendly environment

The first pre-requisite to alleviate these worries must be a communication-friendly environment within the class and indeed the school. The development of the inclusive schools makes it very appropriate to consider that, as there will be many children who will benefit from it as well as the child who stammers. A whole-school policy on behaviour, speaking and listening should be developed within the school, and ideally within the whole-school community. This aims to guide children and adults in their communication with each other, so that an individual need such as stammering is always responded to. If the child who stammers is relaxed about expressing himself, as he would wish in formal and informal school situations, because both adults and other pupils are supportive and interested in what he has to say, then immediately anxiety is reduced.

There will be further training in SLCN so that schools may develop the expertise to put this whole-school policy in place. Online resources such as this and the SCLF, the extension of training opportunities for education staff in SLCN recommended by The Bercow Report (2008), followed up by the Government's 2020 Children and Young Peoples Workforce Strategy (December 2008) and The Rose Report (2009) should make it possible for education staff to receive training in SLCN. This policy can then guide pupils and staff to work together in classes to develop their own specific strategies for managing speaking and listening so that individual needs are met.

Develop a whole-class policy on behaviour, speaking and listening

This is very helpful for busy teachers who are not always able to respond immediately to the needs of individual children in the classroom or elsewhere. It is important that all pupils recognise and understand this, so inappropriate interruptions of the teacher by pupils and unsolicited questions, unless of an urgent nature, are not made by any of them. Children who stammer, particularly the younger ones, may try to speak out when they feel able to do so. They could have some difficulty at first with remembering the speaking and listening rules and reinforcement of these standards may be necessary for them and other children in the class. However, once it is clear that these are the expectations for all pupils, children who stammer and their parents will be reassured that all children are following the same standards.

Making a policy on behaviour, speaking and listening work in the classroom.

Once the school has developed a policy it has to be developed specifically within each class if the pupils are to be fully engaged in implementing it. The views of pupils should be sought for this, and parents or professionals from outside agencies involved with the class may have useful information to contribute. See The Rose Report (2009).

One school known to the BSA accomplished this by asking class teachers to complete an exercise whereby each class worked in groups to brainstorm what would most help all the pupils in the class to talk confidently in class and group discussions, to a partner or a teacher, and in social situations. Even the youngest children came up with valuable ideas as to what would most help them to build up confidence in speaking, and in the inclusive classroom this obviously included the views of children with special needs.

The BSA would like to see the primary class teacher spending time on finding out how all the pupils in the class saw their speaking and listening needs, as we know for children who stammer that there is no prescriptive strategy that will support all of them.

Consequently, drawing on the school policy and then developing a code of practice for a class based on the needs of the pupils, as both the teacher and the pupils see them, could be a helpful step forward. When a communication- friendly environment is created the child who stammers should have lowered anxiety levels and hopefully less barriers to learning as a consequence.

Summary

  • Achievement should be tracked in relation to potential.
  • As teachers have many demands on their time and attention and may not always be able to respond immediately to the individual needs of pupils all pupils need to understand when it is not appropriate to make demands on a teacher. A whole-school policy on behaviour, talking and listening supports this and ensures that the child who stammers observes the same standards as all the other pupils.
  • A whole-class policy on behaviour, speaking and listening should be devised within the framework of the school policy, and the pupils should be involved in the development of this.
  • Simple general strategies support the pupil who stammers.
  • Schools should encourage staff to attend training courses on SLCN and/or use online training tools such as this resource and the SLCF.