It's International Stammering Awareness Day, so we asked educational consultant Sue Cottrell – the author of Can I Tell You About Stammering? – for her advice on helping stammerers in school.
Speaking is central to learning. It enables students to clarify and develop their understanding and reveals any misconceptions or gaps in their knowledge. So stammering can be a serious barrier to education. The British Stammering Association estimates that there is likely to be at least one stammerer in every school, but few teachers receive training on the condition or know how best to support learners who suffer from it. Here are some tips to help:
Get clued up Understanding how the stammerer feels is an important step to helping support them; why not use an assembly to raise awareness of the condition and tackle some of the myths that surround it. Explore the story of a child who stammers and discuss the challenges his stammer places on his daily life.
Be patient The more anxious a stammerer feels, the more likely they are to stammer. It’s important to allow the child additional time to think about what they want to say before they attempt to say it. Managing this is easier said than done, as some people find it hard not to interrupt stammerers. Others may try to help by finishing off the pupil's sentence, without realising that they are unlikely to say what the stammerer intended therefore forcing them to start all over again.
Show you are listening We all like to feel that we are being listened to, but this is of even greater importance to people who stammer. Strategies such as maintaining normal eye contact help to show that we are listening, as does a focus on what they are saying, rather than how they are saying it. This again calls for sensitive classroom management, as some learners may feel embarrassed or uncomfortable when watching a stammerer struggle.
Encouragement is key Try to encourage the stammerer to speak in different situations, but meet with the pupil (and perhaps with their parents) first to discuss which particular situations might work best for them. This will help you learn how best to handle everyday routines, such as taking the register and asking questions. They may, for example, prefer to go first when reading aloud, or perhaps read aloud with someone else. All stammers are different, but it’s better for a stammerer to have a go at speaking than not to speak at all.
You can download free lesson plans, activities and teaching ideas to support your teaching of pupils who stammer.