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Help for slow learners

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Characteristics of slow learners

In general, slow learning students may display some or all of these characteristics, depending on their age and degree of problems acquiring knowledge at school. 

  • First, slow learners are frequently immature in their relations with others and do poorly in school.
  • Secondly, they cannot do complex problems and work very slowly. 
  • They lose track of time and cannot transfer what they have learned from one task to another well.  
  • They do not easily master skills that are academic in nature, such as the times tables or spelling rules.
  • Perhaps the most frustrating trait is their inability to have long-term goals.  They live in the present, and so have significant problems with time management probably due to a short attention span and poor concentration skills.

Remember, just because a child is not doing well in one class does not make that student a slow learner.  Very few children excel in all subject areas unless there is great deal of grade inflation at that school.  So it’s essential the parent or teacher examine in depth standardized tests scores to look for trends.

Also, slow learners differ from reluctant learners.  A slow learner initially wants to learn, but has a problem with the process.  A reluctant learner is not motivated and can also be passive aggressive, creating more problems for teachers and parents through non-cooperation.  Reluctant learners seldom have learning disabilities.

Proven ideas to help slow learners
  • Provide a quiet place to work, where the child can be easily observed and motivated.
  • Keep homework sessions short.
  • Provide activity times before and during homework.
  • Add a variety of tasks to the learning even if not assigned, such as painting a picture of a reading assignment.
  • Allow for success.
  • Ask questions about the assignment while the child is working.
  • Go over the homework before bed and before school.
  • Teach how to use a calendar to keep track of assignments.
  • Read to the child.
  • Use my “Three Transfer” form of learning, in which the student must take information and do three things with it beside reading.  For example, read it, explain it to someone else, draw a picture of it, and take notes on it.
  • Be patient but consistent.
  • Do not reward unfinished tasks.
Challenge the child

Have the child do the most difficult assignments first and leave the easier ones to later. Call it the dessert principle.

Don’t be overprotective. Students whose parents frequently intercede at school are teaching that they do not respect their child’s abilitites.  If you do call a teacher, make sure you seek a positive outcome.  Remember most teachers have worked with numerous slow learners and have plenty of experience.  However, sharing your child’s strengths and weaknesses could make the school year more beneficial for all concerned.

Contact the teacher if there is a concern.  Calling an administrator solves nothing, as the teacher is the sole legal judge of academic success. 

Take your child to exciting places where they can see academic success is important.  A trip to a local university or community college, a walking tour of city hall, a visit to the fire station or a behind-the-scenes tour of a zoo are highly motivating.

Examples of interventions for slow learners

Environment: Reduce distractions, change seating to promote attentiveness, have a peer student teacher, and allow more breaks.

Assignments: Make them shorter and with more variation, repeat work in various forms, have a contract, give more hands-on work, have assignments copied by student, have students use “three transfer” method.

Assessment: Use shorter tests, oral testing, redoing tests, short feedback times, don’t make students compete.

What to avoid: Don’t use cooperative learning that isolates the student and places him or her in a no-win situation or standardized tests.  Definitely don’t ignore the problem.

What to encourage: Grouping with a patient partner. Learning about the child’s interests. Placing the student in charge. Mapping, graphic organizers, and hands-on work. Using Bloom’s taxonomy of tasks to make the assignments more appropriate.

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