Dear Dr. Shore,
A girl in my class has a very noticeable speech impediment. What can I do to help her feel less self-conscious about her speech?
In teaching a student with a speech articulation problem, keep in mind that your role is not to remediate her specific problem but rather to give her experience and confidence interacting with you and her classmates. You might find the strategies below helpful.
Do not draw attention to the student's articulation errors. In responding to what she says, focus more on what she has said than how she has said it. If she mispronounces a word, do not correct her, supply the word for her, or have her imitate your pronunciation. Commenting on her speech likely will discourage her from talking in class. Instead respond to the content of what she has said.
Provide her with extended wait time. A student with speech problems might need more time than normal to express her thoughts. She might have trouble retrieving the right words, and her speech might be slow and labored. As a result, she might take more time than usual to answer a question. In that case, allow her more time to answer by extending your wait time after asking her a question and avoid showing impatience.
Support her self-esteem. A student with speech problems might feel different from her peers and have little social confidence. Find ways to enhance her self-esteem by giving her opportunities to shine in the classroom, and by spotlighting her talents and accomplishments. Of course, also look for opportunities to praise her, whether for a good oral report, an outstanding art project, or a kind act toward a classmate. If public praise is uncomfortable for her, do it privately.
Talk with the class about how to respond to the student. Try to find a few minutes when the student is not in the classroom to talk with your other students. Help them understand that her speech problem is a result of difficulty making some sounds and is not related to how smart she is. Encourage their sensitivity in responding to her. Let them know they should not say anything to her about her speech or try to teach her how to pronounce words. Make it clear that teasing is not acceptable and will not be tolerated.
Intervene immediately if she is being ridiculed. Take aside students who tease the student and help them understand how upsetting and hurtful ridicule can be. Ask them if they've ever been teased and how it felt. If they continue to ridicule the student after your discussion, take firmer steps.