Readers of this blog will remember that I was given the opportunity to use a palatometer from CompleteSpeech for several months with 8 of my elementary school students (click here to read that post). The palatometer consists of a SmartPalate that fits inside the mouth and is connected to a computer with special software that displays the user’s tongue contact with the palate. I found this technology to be quite effective with my students, not only because it provided them with visual feedback about tongue position and movement, but because it also provided me with that same insight into what the students were doing wrong and what they needed to do to correct their production. I can honestly say that I learned as much as the students did, and that knowledge has helped me improve the articulation skills of other students, even without the palatometer. Still, I know that some of my students would progress more quickly if they had visual feedback, but budgets are tight and I had to return it at the end of the trial.
For many vocalic /r/ students, the problem is two-fold: both the vowel and the /r/ are distorted. This is especially evident on those pesky final /r/ sounds. Treatment requires a lot of ear training, so the students can discriminate the differences that subtle changes in mouth shape and tongue position/tension create. Treatment also requires visual information (yep, the trusty old flashlight and mirror still work!), lots of verbal descriptions and imagery, and sometimes even rather invasive tactile input. And — there’s no getting around it — lots of drill, drill, drill (see my blog post “Drill, Baby, Drill”). To this end, I created a packet of step-by-step /r/ materials, available on TeachersPayTeachers. Still, for some students, the vocalic /r/ remains elusive.
Imagine my delight when I received a copy of VowelViz, an app by CompleteSpeech, the same folks who make the SmartPalate palatometer! This app for the iPad is available on iTunes for $29.99 and is worth every penny for my students who are working on vocalic /r/. Here’s how it works: As you vocalize any vowel or vocalic /r/, your production appears as a “comet”-like streak (as least, that’s how one student described it) on a graphic of high, mid, and low vowels. The goal is to get that “comet” within the target vowel quadrant (or “neighborhood,” as named by another student). You model, so the students see the target area and path your production makes on the graphic, then they try to duplicate it.
With VowelViz, the students can first work on correct vowel production, which usually doesn’t take very long at all, as they generally have correct production of the vowel except when paired with the /r/. Then move to /er/, the essential vocalic /r/. My students work tirelessly through 30 minute sessions, competing with themselves and their speech partners to get their “comet” in the “neighborhood” of the target vowel and /er/ sound. Using the Tongue Elevators exercise from my /r/ program with VowelViz was especially illuminating, as the students could see the “comet” move up, elevator-like, toward the goal of /er/. And when a student comes very close to a final /r/ but then lets it sag into a schwa, the visual of that comet sinking down is right there on the iPad! Talk about motivating and instructive feedback!
I have lots of great artic and language apps on my iPad, but VowelViz is in a class by itself. Thank you, CompleteSpeech, for providing afforable and effective visual feedback for /r/ therapy!