Improving the slow learner

Career & Education

Improving the slow learner

Dr Karla Hylton

Sunday, February 02, 2020

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The ability to learn, as with most things, falls within a spectrum. Children learn at different rates. In the classroom there will be many average learners, a few quick learners and a few slow learners. The term 'slow learner' is not a diagnosis; rather, it means that your child's pace of learning is a little behind others of their age and grade level. This student is still very capable of learning; it just takes a little more time.

I personally dislike the use of labels, but for the sake of this article I will use the term to refer to those children who need extra help (excluding those with learning disabilities).

A slow learner typically has difficulty with higher-order thinking or reasoning ability, which likely makes learning new concepts more challenging. If the majority of a class has already grasped the concept, this presents obstacles to the slow learner as the teacher may jump ahead in the lesson.

It is important to note that slow learners typically do not have a learning disability and they most definitely are not mentally retarded — they simply need extra support. If your child is a slow learner it does NOT mean that he is incompetent, dumb or not trying hard enough. This is not true. The most common characteristic of slow learners is their limited attention span. These students also have the characteristic of 'fear of failure', often times due to pressure from parents and/or teachers. The fear of failure is so great that they give up on even trying because they feel that they are not good enough.

The greatest factor for any child's academic success is motivation and encouragement. Teachers and parents must work together to lift up slow learners. As educators, we cannot only be focused on the 'fast' learners at the expense of the 'slow' learners. It is our job to build confidence and to support all our students.

Slow learners have the same potential as the 'bright' students. Encouragement can potentially change the entire landscape and positively influence the whole personality of the child.

The following strategies can be employed in improving the slow learner:

• Building a relationship

Prioritise the relationship between teacher and student. Create a safe environment where trust is foremost. Teachers must show empathy and warmth to all students. A personal rapport should be established. A teacher's encouraging smile to a slow learner who lacks confidence can actually be more valuable than the verbal instruction.

• Use effective praise

Use encouragement and positive words to fuel students' desire to learn. Do not be sarcastic; sarcasm has no place in the classroom. Praise the effort and praise with sincerity.

• Promote independence

While you will serve as a guide, be careful not to make your student wholly dependent on you. Allow the learner to make mistakes and then point out how and why these errors were made.

• Encourage a growth mindset

Discourage the notion of 'giving up'. Remove this from your students' vocabulary. Get students focused on learning one step at a time through extra support and scaffolding. Do not focus inordinately on poor performance, rather persuade your students to strive again.

• Hold high expectations

Whether your student is a slow or fast learner, it is necessary to have and to make known that you have high expectations from every single student. It is important that all students sense that you care and that it is important to you that all students succeed. Your belief in their capacity to do well is invaluable.

• Frequent feedback

Slow learners require detailed and recurrent feedback to correct and guide them in the right direction. Slow learners respond favourably to frequent reinforcement of small segments of learning. Return homework and tests in a reasonable time frame.

• Incorporate different modalities of teaching

A mixture of audio and visual materials such as films and videos will enhance the learning experience of the slow learner, providing variation in gaining knowledge. Playing learning games and engaging in interactive tasks are also recommended activities.

• Make classes relevant

Let students see how the lesson content relates to the world around them. These real-life scenarios strengthen learning.

• Teach study skills and good work habits

You can improve learning by teaching good study strategies. Discover the child's preferred learning style and provide tips to promote good study habits. Teach your student how to take good notes and how to read actively.

• Tutoring

If necessary, small-group tutoring can provide the extra assistance needed to build confidence in slow learners.

Dr Karla Hylton, UWI lecturer in biology, is the author of Yes! You Can Help Your Child Achieve Academic Success and Complete Chemistry for Caribbean High Schools . Reach her at (876) 564-1347, or .

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