I am not Incompetent! I just Need More Time….Nouha Johnson
In today’s school systems, students with learning disabilities are easily identified and teachers are able to put a plan in place to help them progress even before they start their learning journey. Slow learners however are much more difficult to diagnose as their characteristics are erroneously jumbled with that of learning-disabled pupils or -in some unfortunate cases- that of behaviorally problematic students. So when can we identify a student as a Slow Learner and how can we best help him/her improve?
Who is this learner?
A learning-disabled student is identified as a student with an often-above average intelligence with weaknesses in one or few definite learning areas. A slow learner is a different kind of student in that the learner has an IQ between 85 and 115 and has difficulty managing across the board. Although, a slow learner may seem intellectually challenged, they are not termed intellectually disabled (mentally retarded) until their IQ is officially under 70. A slow learner will display the following behaviors:
- Immaturity both social (preferring younger classmates) and linguistic (problems producing appropriate language)
- Frustration with the learning process. Slow learner tend to be anxious and if their needs are not met, they can respond aggressively (throwing tantrums)
- Understanding is severely hindered by their rather poor memory and their inability to multitask. They have difficulty generalizing acquired knowledge to other areas.
- Processing information is very slow. While slow learners work twice as hard as other students do, they can only move at a “snail’s” pace compared to others. Slow learners are looking at the information one piece at the time and trying to make sense out of what they see or hear and this can take a considerable amount of time.
What can you do?
- Adjust your expectation would be a good first step when dealing with a slow learner. Understand that slow learners will not perform as well as their peers and that they would require a lot more teaching, attention and patience to get ahead.
- Whenever possible afford this student a one on one session (while other students are working independently).
- Pair student with a peer he/she happens to like and give that peer specific and clear instructions.
- Do not be afraid to scaffold material and instructional methods to reach your student. Typically, slow students get rid of their “crutches” once they can work a bit faster (they are eager to fit in the group).
- Give your student “wait time” to provide them the opportunity to self-correct and to challenge them to “stick it out”.
Become your student’s champion
- Help your student learn how to get organized by using reminders (sticky notes on the desk). Have competency and interest appropriate reference materials handy.
- Teach your slow learner important skills such as pre-reading, during reading and after reading strategies. Use pictures and memory games to strengthen his vocabulary and inject some fun into learning. Yes, this is time consuming, but it will be well worth the effort once they succeed in joining the “flock”!
- Minimize homework; remember this student work harder than most and will need a long break to appropriately recover. If you must give homework, make sure that the task is simple enough (afford him a measure of success) and that he/she has a support system at home.
- Encouragements! Slow learners thrive on praise as they interpret this as a sign of an “unconditional” approval of their hard work. Enlist the help of their parents by asking them to do the same.
In conclusion, it is important to recognize that teachers are limited in what they can offer such learners; after all, teachers have the responsibility of many pupils all with relatively different needs. Therefore, an alternative to teacher’s support is an established educational plan devised by a qualified counselor, a special education teacher and a school administrator.
As a final point, slow learner can improve drastically if we optimize their learning environment. Meeting their needs a little every day, can go a long way in improving their capabilities, self-esteem and certainly, their true potential.
“Adversity has the effect of eliciting talents, which in prosperous circumstances would have lain dormant”. Horace could have spoken of a slow learner with this quote!