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Identifying & Assisting Slow Learners

Not all children grow and develop at the same rate. The lack of uniformity in their growth and development is influenced by several constituents, both internal and external environmental factors.

With this understanding, people should be cautious in labelling slow learners as 'dumb' or 'stupid' because it's not true. Slow learners are willing to learn, and they exert extra effort to excel in their academic studies however they don't reach the desired level.

Parents, teachers, caregivers and other adults have a role to play in assisting slow learners to perform at the required standard in their studies and progressing well in the three stages of child development - physical, psychological and social development.

"Most people think that if their child is a slow learner, it makes him incompetent, or he is not trying hard enough. Neither is true! One of the hardest things for parents to accept is that their child is a slow learner. When dealing with a child who struggles to learn, you can take steps to help make his life easier," states First Cry Parenting.



Who is a slow learner?

A slow learner is a child who is able to learn educational skills but at a rate and depth below average as compared to the child’s peers - average learners - in the class.

SPELD SA defines a slow learner as “a child of below average intelligence, whose thinking skills have developed significantly more slowly, than the norm for his/her age." It is observed that a slow learner, "will go through the same basic developmental stages as other children, but will do so at a significantly slower rate."

Amarillo ISD defines a slow learner as “a child who is too intelligent to be classified as handicapped, but is not able to cope adequately with traditional academic work. It is a term used for instructional purposes rather than labeling."

First Cry Parenting defines the term as "a child that hits his developmental markers at a much slower rate than compared to his peers."

Generally, there are three categories of learners: above average, expected level (average) and below average. Slow learners fit the bill of learners whose performance is below average. Nonetheless, it does not mean those who perform below average are stupid or fools as many adults may tend to label them.



Slow Learners and Reluctant Learners

Slow learners should not be confused with reluctant learners. A slow learner wants to learn and works hard to perform well but they never seem to reach the mark.

On the other hand, a reluctant learner is a child who creates problems in class since he doesn’t want to learn. He is unwilling to co-operate with his teacher.

It is worth noting a few reluctant learners have learning disabilities.

Characteristics of slow learners

The following are signs a parent, guardian, teacher or an adult can look out for to determine whether a child is a slow learner.

  1. They lack social skills making it difficult for them to interact with other children or adults. In addition, they don’t understand the rules of social engagement.
  2. Even though they like talking to people, they find it difficult initiating a conversation. This is attributed to their shyness which stems from low self-esteem.
  3. They find it difficult maintaining friendships.
  4. It is hard for them to understand simple skills, for example, taking turns in performing a particular project or task.
  5. They are poor in mathematics and find it hard to solve mathematical problems.
  6. Their reading and comprehension is poor.
  7. Their thinking and reasoning capacity is poor.
  8. They have poor memory and auditory processing.
  9. They have short attention span and lack focus.
  10. Their response time is slow.
  11. A slow learner needs somebody to learn with or do assignments together. On their own, they are unable to learn or complete assignments.
  12. They have immature personal relationships.
  13. They don’t have long-term goals. They always live in the present.
  14. They perform poorly in examinations or tests.
  15. They have low self-esteem.
  16. They work on given projects or tasks at a slow pace.
  17. They are not able to master skills.
  18. They cannot solve complex problems or carry out complex tasks.
  19. They have difficulty transferring what they have learned from one assignment to another.
  20. They lose track of time.
  21. They have problem with time management.
  22. They are slow in forming relations between words and phrases.
  23. They forget quickly.
  24. They lack innovation and creativeness.
  25. They find it difficult to think critically.
  26. They tend to prefer the friendship or company of younger children.
  27. Some slow learners have a problem with speech.

How Teachers, Parents and Other Adults Can Help Slow Learners to Perform Well Academically

Teaching is a demanding profession. It requires patience coupled with creativeness. If and when a teacher identifies a child performing below average, he should devise ways of assisting the learner to perform at the expected level.

Parents, caregivers and other adults can devise their own ways of helping their slow learning children by gaining some insight in the following different ways teachers use to assist slow learners in their class.

  1. The teacher should concentrate in praising the child’s efforts more than concentrating on praising his/her abilities. The teacher should let the slow learner know that his/her intellect is under his/her control. Also, praise the child for overcoming challenges and taking accountability for his/her work. However, be careful not to offer insecure or dishonest praise as it may further lower the child’s self-esteem. If a slow learner realizes you're praising him/her for something he/she has not done well he/she will feel betrayed. You might lose the trust of the child.
  2. The teacher should find an appropriate location in the class where he can easily observe the learner especially at the front row, close to his desk. From observing the child, the teacher will find appropriate ways of helping the child.
  3. Do not reward the child if she/he has not finished an assignment or task. Let the child do the hard assignments first then the easier ones later.
  4. The teacher, in consultation with the school management and parents of the child, can provide extra classes to the child. This will involve revisiting topics the learner hasn't understood or working together on an assignment.
  5. The teacher should pay equal attention to all learners in the class. She should not ignore children who are slow learners because they might feel neglected and unwanted. Also, lack of involving the children in answering questions or writing on the board might further deteriorate the slow learner’s level of learning.
  6. The teacher can make use of reference books, audio-visual aids and graphic displays including online materials to help the slow learner. Record of progress of the slow learner should be maintained as it will help track the progression of the learner.
  7. The slow learner is self-aware he/she has a weakness in excelling in academic studies compared to his/her average learning peers - the child knows he/she does not perform well. Additionally, a slow learner has low self-esteem. Thus, the teacher should aim to boost the child’s confidence. She should encourage the child by reminding him/her that he/she is no less than others and can do better. In return, these encouraging words can boost the child’s morale to want to perform better. The best way to boost the child’s confidence is focusing on things the child is good at.
  8. The teacher should try to maintain an open relationship with the learner. This will create a bond between the teacher and the learner and will enable the child to be able to accept any form of assistance from the teacher, other teachers and parents including therapists.
  9. The teacher should not expose the name of a child who erred in a class exercise or homework in front of the class, irrespective whether the child is a slow learner or not. Also, the teacher shouldn't criticize or humiliate a child in front of other learners. This might further deteriorate the child's self-esteem if the child happens to be a slow learner. This might lead the child to drop out of school.
  10. The teacher should try to focus on areas the slow learner is good at or encourage the child to take part in tasks he/she is best at. The teacher should reward the child when the child has done the task or activity as required.
  11. The teacher should try to persuade other children to treat the slow learner with understanding. This is because not many children have enough patience to try to help or explain things such as games rules to a slow learner.
  12. Above all, the teacher should be the best friend to the slow learner. It is difficult for slow learners to express themselves fully to their caregivers, adults and peers. The people they can best rely on are teachers.

Furthermore, it is important to note (though some of the points are repetition):

  1. Topics need to be explained in-depth. A teacher should explain a topic to a slow learner in great detail by providing plenty of examples.
  2. Teachers should set aside some time outside of the prescribed curriculum time to offer extra help to the slow learner.
  3. Teachers should be patient with slow learners.
  4. Leaving an encouraging note on every marked work you had assigned to the class goes a long way in uplifting their self-esteem. Slow learners need a lot of encouragement.
  5. Teachers should request slow learners to sit at the front of the class. It becomes easier to monitor and involve them in various class activities such as answering questions.
  6. Slow learners need somebody they can reach to - a friend. The people they'll tend to trust more are teachers. Being friendly will enable them to open up to you. This will provide you with an opportune to learn more about them, and arm you with various tactics to use to assist the.

Finally, as a teacher or parent, "Encourage activities other than school work to help your child cope with the stress of study. Find hobbies that interest him and encourage him to participate. Realize that it is more likely that your child will start losing confidence in his abilities as a result of his difficulty in performing at school; excelling at an activity will make him feel good about himself. Thus if the child is good in painting or dance, the parents and the teachers should encourage the child to participate in these activities," states Surabhi Verma who works with children with special needs.

© 2014 Alianess Benny Njuguna


Alianess Benny Njuguna (author) from Kenya on September 04, 2019:

Hahaha. Thank you. They appear to contradict each other but it is understandable their attempt to define who a slow learner is.

I am working on an article about reluctant learners.

Joseph Thomas on September 03, 2019:

I love how the Amarillo and Speld definitions of slow learners seem polar opposites. One would almost be forgiven for thinking that being labelled as an Amarillo slow learner were a complement! hehe

I'd be keen to read more on reluctant learners if you have any resources?

Interesting article, thank you! :)

Alianess Benny Njuguna (author) from Kenya on November 23, 2017:

Thank you mecheshier

mecheshier on October 22, 2016:

Great Hub!

Alianess Benny Njuguna (author) from Kenya on June 08, 2014: are right. Teachers should make use of multi-sensory approach to learning also considering they are best placed in identifying the needs and weaknesses of every child in their classrooms. And finding better ways of helping them improve as the way you stated.

Denise W Anderson from Bismarck, North Dakota on March 31, 2014:

Children vary widely in their ability levels. Research has shown that when teachers use a multi-sensory approach to learning, they are able to help those who are struggling in the classroom. It is easy for these children to fall through the cracks when they do not qualify for special education services.

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