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Slow Learners: How to Identify & Assist Them Perform Well, Academically

There are three types of learners in a formal educational setting: above average, average, and below average. Majority of students fit the average category. A few are considered above average learners whilst others, such as slow learners, are grouped under the below average category.



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.

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."

School Psychologist Files describes a slow learner as "student who has the ability to learn necessary academic skills, but at a rate and depth below average as same age peers.."

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



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, academically, but they never seem to reach the expected mark.

On the other hand, a reluctant learner is a child who creates problems in class since they don't want to learn. One of the characteristics that identifies a student as a reluctant learner is their unwillingness to co-operate with their teacher.

Characteristics of slow learners

The following characteristics can aid you in identifying whether a child is a slow learner. Slow learners might not exhibit all of these characteristics.

  • They lack social skills. This disadvantages them as they find it difficult to interact with other children, or adults. In addition, they don’t understand the rules governing social engagement.
  • 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.
  • They find it difficult maintaining friendships.
  • It is challenging for them to understand simple skills, for example, taking turns in performing a particular task.
  • They are poor in mathematics and find it hard to solve mathematical problems.
  • Their reading and comprehension skill is poor.
  • Their thinking and reasoning capacity is poor.
  • They have poor working memory and auditory processing skills.
  • They have short attention span and lack focus.
  • Their response time is slow.
  • A slow learner needs somebody to learn with or do assignments. They find it challenging to learn on their own, or complete assignments.
  • They have immature personal relationships.
  • They don’t have long-term goals. They always live in the present.
  • They perform poorly in examinations or tests.
  • They have low self-esteem.
  • They work on given projects or tasks at a slow pace.
  • They are not able to master skills.
  • They cannot solve complex problems or carry out complex tasks.
  • They have difficulty transferring what they have learned from one assignment to another.
  • They lose track of time.
  • They have problem with time management.
  • They are slow in forming relations between words and phrases.
  • They forget quickly.
  • They lack innovation and creativeness.
  • They find it difficult to think critically.
  • They tend to prefer the friendship or company of younger children.
  • Some slow learners have a problem with speech.

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

  • 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.
  • Teachers should set aside some time outside of the prescribed curriculum time to offer extra help to the slow learner.
  • Teachers should be patient with slow learners.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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. Consequently, you will learn more about them, and this will enable to devise different techniques to better assist them.
  • Never tire repeating a concept again and again, again. It takes time for a slow learner to grasp a concept, and remember it (without being reminded repeatedly). It requires patience.
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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 Nairobi, 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 Nairobi, Kenya on November 23, 2017:

Thank you mecheshier

mecheshier on October 22, 2016:

Great Hub!

Alianess Benny Njuguna (author) from Nairobi, 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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