Guilderland schoolchildren overcome mild errors with ‘Speedy Speech’

The Enterprise — Elizabeth Floyd Mair 
Anna Hanson, left, of Guilderland Elementary and Shauna Otsu-Schechner, of Lynnwood, have developed an innovative program to help children overcome mild speech errors. 

GUILDERLAND — Some of them might say “wunch” instead of “lunch.” Or “free” when they mean to say “three.”

These pronunciations common to younger children should self-correct as a child grows. But this doesn’t always happen; sometimes children whose speech is otherwise developmentally on target will continue to have one or two articulation errors that classmates have outgrown.

For these children, there is “Speedy Speech,” a new approach developed and honed over a number of years by speech-language pathologists Shauna Otsu-Schechner of Lynnwood Elementary and Anna Hanson of Guilderland Elementary, two of the district’s five elementary schools.

Otsu-Schechner and Hanson led a seminar at the National American Speech Language Hearing Association Convention in Los Angeles in November, about their approach to helping students with mild speech errors.

Since their presentation, the women said, they have received numerous requests from other speech-language pathologists who want to start using Speedy Speech in their own schools.

A German woman who was in the United States on a study-abroad program approached them after the seminar and asked if they would mind if she were to translate their materials into German and used them in her classroom after she went back home, Otsu-Schechner recalled with pride. They would love to get feedback at some point about how the program works in Germany, Otsu-Schechner said.

In Speedy Speech, children with one or two articulation errors meet with a speech-language pathologist one-on-one, for five minutes a day, three or four times a week. It replaces the traditional model that involved taking kids out of their regular classes for group speech therapy for 30 minutes, twice a week.

In this new approach, students take part in “short bursts of therapy” based on words they will actually use every day, including names of their teachers. One fourth-grade teacher at Guilderland Elementary is named “Mrs. Spooner-Smith,” said Hanson, and her name is often included in drills, since it is full of troublesome “s” sounds.

The larger number of opportunities for the individual child to practice — with 50 to 100 repetitions in the five minutes — brings faster progress through therapy, Hanson said.

Otsu-Schechner and Hanson enlist the help of classroom teachers by letting them know what sounds their students are working on, so they can remind them to be aware of pronunciation as needed.

To maximize efficiency, Hanson doesn’t have these students come to her room at all, but simply walks down the hall and meets them at small desks right outside their own classrooms.

“It’s an innovative way to address mild articulation errors,” said Otsu-Schechner last week. “We were trying to find a better way to create more progress. We were seeing some of the kids not progressing through as fast as we would like them to.”

The approach is only used for students with mild errors, and not for those whose speech is generally unintelligible or who have an Individualized Education Plan, required by the state for special-education programs.

The two women — who used to work together at Lynnwood — had read two articles that described a new method of delivering articulation services, Otsu-Schechner said. They selected concepts they thought would work best in their classrooms, and thought about how they could best put them into practice.

One crucial element, the speech-language pathologists said, is a homework component that asks kids to practice five minutes a night. Practicing at home helps kids progress faster, by helping them connect what they learn at school to the speech all around them in other situations.

Practice is kept varied and fun, the women said: One night might involve saying the week’s vocabulary words five times fast and five times slow. The next might involve playing a tic-tac-toe chart, and, the next, having parents take a short video of the student speaking and then emailing it to the speech-language pathologist.

Otsu-Schechner and Hanson also do a lot of video modeling and video messaging, to give kids feedback, they said. For students who are able to pronounce the sounds correctly in lessons, but don’t carry that over to conversation, there are conversational activities to do with parents.

Students who work on the skills at home progress faster, Hanson said.

Some children can learn correct pronunciation just by being shown the right place to put their tongue to make a particular sound, Hanson said. But in most cases, she said, if a child gets to fourth or fifth grade without outgrowing one of these errors, it is likely to remain with them for life, unless they get speech therapy.

 

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