Nicki Bailey Houston County Teacher of the Year

Nicki Bailey, a speech pathologist and teacher at Webb Elementary School, works with kindergarten students on pronunciation at the school on Thursday.

This year’s Houston County “Teacher of the Year” winner Nicki Bailey, a Webb Elementary speech instructor, earned the title with a new approach to teaching speech to young students.

TAG Teach is a tool successfully used to teach surgery skills, golf lessons, gymnastics, occupational therapy, and functional skills for special education students. Bailey has been implementing the tool to teach communication, an area where data has not been studied until now.

She thought to herself, “I have these students and they need some motivation and so I’m going to use this.”

TAG, standing for “teaching with auditory guidance,” uses a device called a tagulator, which is essentially a clicker with binary settings: one click for a correct response, two clicks for an incorrect or no response.

Learning with the clicker has been proven to show more automaticity in learning skills that require muscle memory like tying your shoes or doing a back flip. Bailey is proving the usefulness of the tool in the realm of speech language pathology.

“Speech is a lot of motor memory,” Bailey said. “So, to do it with more automaticity, it just helps them and builds their self-esteem and makes them feel more confident and they’ll be out of speech quicker.”

The tagulator removes the need for constant verbal instruction and correction, and replaces it with positive auditory feedback.

Research shows that children, in other areas of study, are learning quicker and have better generalization of a skill. Bailey wants to collect data to share with her colleagues at the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) national conference.

“This is so exciting,” she said. “If they used this, it would help their students so much.”

In her own speech classes, filled with mostly special education learners, she motivates students with teaching through teaching with games, use of the TAG teach system, and rewards of small pieces of candy.

Her TAG research is showing positive results and faster adoption of phonics, pronunciation, and speaking skills. She said her kids love the learning style and positive reinforcement.

Preliminary results show that without the tag, students performed more inconsistently. With the tag, students are much quicker and show consistent improvement and adoption of learning word sounds.

One student, who showed difficulty in pronouncing “double r” words -- two consecutive words with “r” sounds -- scored 66 percent without the tag. With the binary feedback, the student scored 100 percent.

Bailey is the only speech-language clinician in the state of Alabama to hold the distinguished title of ASHA Board Certified Specialist-Childhood Language Disorders.

As a child, she developed a love for teaching, often making her brothers and cousins play students in her classroom where she assigned work sheets she received from her teachers.

In college, however, she was influenced to study accounting, a generally higher-paying field of study. After three years of college, however, she switched gears to pursue her passion in elementary education. During her studies, she was exposed to speech therapy in special education and felt led by God to pursue that career path.

She earned a master’s degree and a doctorate in speech pathology from Nova Southeastern University, in Broward County, Florida, and has been teaching for 24 years in special education.

She was honored by Houston County Superintendent David Sewell at the Feb. 11 school board meeting and will represent the Houston County district, one of 10 districts, as a runner for the regional “Teacher of the Year” award.

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