Monitor for underachievement
Children who stammer have the same range of 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.
Even current student teachers are unlikely to have had training in speech, language and communication needs (SLCN), although hopefully they should be alert to any concerns about a pupil. In the video clip the student teacher is seeking further advice from his mentor about a pupil who is reluctant to speak out and his mentor is recommending an assessment and also a course for his own staff development.
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.
There is growing recognition of the need for more training in SLCN and local authorities are extending these opportunities for teachers, and initiatives such as the community schools programme are encouraging multi- agency co-operation in support of the child. Also, 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.
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 training priorities.
Often stammering may be easily identified by a layperson. 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Girls are most likely to be quiet and withdrawn and boys to challenge, but of course these stereotypes may not always apply. Sometimes children may use 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 also Introduction: What teachers notice and Further Information in this resource
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 as the therapist in the video clip explains 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.
As far as is known children who stammer possess the same 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. 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.
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.
The first pre-requisite to alleviate these worries about speaking that may affect any child with a speech, language and communication need (SLCN), such as stammering, is 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. 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.
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.
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.
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.