Drill, Baby, Drill!

No, this isn’t an opinion piece on the merits of off-shore oil rigs or natural gas fracking!  The kind of drilling that I am advocating is the good, old-fashioned “50 – 100 repetitions per session” drill that we learned way back in Articulation 101.

In my 20 years as an SLP, I have done it all in therapy:  arts and crafts projects, cooking lessons, theme-related books and activities, and games of every description.  For language therapy, those hands-on experiences can be invaluable in developing listening, following directions, vocabulary, grammar, pragmatics, and problem-solving.  For artic therapy, sometimes not so much….

There’s no question that we need to keep students engaged and motivated, and I’m all for games that are super-quick to play and that maximize the amount of time a student is actively producing his sound(s) at whatever level he is working on.  I’ve posted some of my favorite ways to use materials and games on this blog under “Therapy Tips and Techniques:”  see “Maximizing Responses and Repetitions,” “Expanding the Stick Game,” and “Quick and Easy Therapy Games,” to name a few.  But I always caution student clinicians and new SLPs against getting caught up in materials and activities that are cute and clever and fun, but that take time away from the goal of the session, which should be to provide as much practice with auditory training, motor movements, and self-monitoring as possible.  It is for this reason that, while I find many apps for my iPad to be excellent for language development, I am mostly disappointed with apps for articulation.  They are just too slow!  I still use them, but only in the final minutes of a session, after drilling the student with “old school” auditory bombardment, articulation cards, a flashlight & mirror, tongue depressors and straws, and score cards for self-rating productions as “acceptable” or “try again.”

smartpalate_system-1This is not to say that I am anti-tech.  Far from it!  I am just wrapping up a trial with a palatometer from CompleteSpeech, and found it to be exceedingly helpful in providing the students with the visual and tactile information they needed to achieve improved production on those dreaded laterals and vocalic /r/ sounds.  Sessions would typically begin with drill using the palatometer to establish place and manner for their target sound, then drill without the SmartPalate, to see if the student could maintain improved production without the visual feedback.  If production degraded, we went back to the palatometer for additional practice before the session ended to reestablish the place and manner.  If the student was able to maintain or come close to the target without the SmartPalate, then we ended the session with an artic app on the iPad.  In my view, the palatometer blends cutting-edge technology with “old school” drill and practice — the best of both worlds.  If you are in a setting that would support using this technology, by all means, do it!  You can learn more about this technology by visiting CompleteSpeech.com.   The experience with the palatometer definitely benefited my students, and also made me a better SLP, as I learned a lot from the visual information it provided and will be able to use that information to help future students correct their sounds, even if we don’t have the technology to use.

The emphasis on drill, drill, drill has contributed greatly to my students’ success, whether or not they used the palatometer and whether I see them in traditional 30 minute sessions weekly or in a “5 Minute Kids” delivery model. Indeed, drill is what “5 Minute Kids” is all about, and is also key in RtI (Response to Intervention).   I know that various programs have differing criteria for what age to take on a student with /r/, /s/, and other sounds, but I would strongly argue for taking students earlier rather than later.  As I learned at the ASHA Schools Conference, the “evidence” in “evidence-based practice” is not just what researchers have reported.  The evidence can come directly from our own experience.  I may seem “old school” to some, but my “move ’em in, drill-drill-drill, then move ’em out” approach seems to be working. In the past 5 years, I haven’t sent any artic students up to the middle school;  I don’t see any 5th graders for artic therapy this year;  and of the five 4th graders that I have, three will be dismissed next month.

The take-away message:  High-tech or no-tech, you just can’t beat the results you’ll get with “drill, baby, drill!”  For my /r/ therapy drill materials, please visit my page atTeachers-Pay-Teachers.

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One thought on “Drill, Baby, Drill!

  1. Pingback: Tools for That Pesky “R”: Some Old, Some New | Speaking of Speech Blog

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