The Arm Bump - Revised

This is a revised version of the blog post from  3/18/09. 

Here is a popular activity that helps fluent speakers understand a little bit about what stuttering is like. I led a group of about 20 teachers in this exercise.  I expected it would be the most effective way to engage them at the end of a school day. And we only had 30 minutes.

I began by asking them all to take out their #2 pencils. Seriously.

          Each teacher chose a partner sitting beside them. One partner wrote her name several times on a piece of paper. The other partner bumped the writer's arm several times as she was writing. The bumping needed to vary in pressure and timing so that the writer could not predict when it would happen or how it would feel. Teachers were laughing, talking,  and grumbling about messy writing....the first objective of the afternoon had been accomplished - they were engaged.

          Facilitated discussion followed: how did they like the writing? How did their fingers, hands, wrists, arms, shoulders or any other parts of their body react to being bumped? How did they respond emotionally... any anticipation anxiety? Did they try prepare for the bumping?

         This activity elicits physical tension in the fingers and hands of the writer. People tend to grip their pencils more tightly in anticipation of and in reaction to being bumped. They feel a range of emotions: annoyance, frustration, loss of control. One writer spontaneously grumbled, "I give up." I wondered – give up what? Trying to write smoothly or to write at all?

People who stutter tend to stutter when saying their own names, which can be very embarrassing. This is why the writers were asked to write their own names. They write for several minutes so as to experience the relentless nature of the bumping. Yet, after 5 minutes, they have the luxury of returning to their original state of fluent writing. Facilitated discussion guides the conversation to how a person responds to stuttering.

          In the 10 minutes reserved for questions, someone asked, "What can teachers do to help a child who stutters?" and I knew I had missed an important objective. The next presentation must include copies of Straight Talk for Teachers from the Stuttering Foundation of America for every teacher. We all still want a "How to..." list of directions. Please visit http://www.stutteringhelp.org/ for specific tips for the classroom.

          Update: 1.) Tell the bumpers to offer advice to writers during the activity, like “Take your time.” 2. ) After one partner writes and one partner bumps, ask the bumper what she observed in the writer. What did she think the writer was thinking and feeling. How did she think the writer was coping with having her arm bumped. Then, do a reality check. Ask the writer what she was actually thinking, feeling, and doing.

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.