How To Help A Slow Learner?

Today we’re talking about a child you and I have probably met more than once back in our learning years. Let’s call him Aryan. He’s a good kid. He loves going to school. He’s great at sports and drawing and enjoys all the extracurricular activities there. However, when he’s in class he tries hard to learn quickly like his peers, yet he takes much longer. His teachers reach out to his parents, telling them Aryan can’t seem to catch up with his studies and might need help. His parents have high expectations of him and can’t understand why their little boy is struggling. They think he needs a better school, a different environment. So that’s what they do, only to find themselves in a similar situation a few months later. Aryan is distressed. He feels sad about not being as bright as his friends. He feels ashamed about failing his exams, especially when he is trying so hard. Thankfully a teacher suggests getting an assessment, one that reveals Aryan is a Slow Learner. This means Aryan has borderline or close to average intelligence. He can learn but at a much slower pace than others his age. He can attain basic education and with the right intervention can cope with regular schooling.

Aryan is not alone. Any educator will tell you that they have come across many slow learners in their experience. Yet, very often their struggles go unseen and they are wrongly labelled as dull or lazy.

Education, in India especially, is no easy task. Right from the word go, students inevitably fall into the rat race. Academic challenges put a huge strain on children and parents as well. The pressures of school work, the level of instruction, and the depth of subjects can leave even the “brightest” students scrambling. One cannot fathom the challenges it puts on students who don’t learn at the same pace as their peers.

What does a Slow Learner mean?

Slow Learners as the term suggests are individuals who learn academic skills at a rate and depth below that of their peers. We must understand that the term “Slow Learner” is not a diagnostic term but used to identify a student who while having the intellectual capacity to learn and acquire knowledge needs more time and repeated instruction to do the same.

An important factor that affects slow learners is also the approach to teaching. Unfortunately, a major part of our education system adopts a uniform approach to teaching children, regardless of their interests or style of learning. It is important to understand that all children have the ability to learn and that it is important to know the way they learn to help them grow and attain their potential.

Myths about Slow Learners

It’s time to bust some myths about slow learners.

First things first. Slow learners are not a kind of learning disability. Often slow learners are mistaken as individuals with a learning disability. This is incorrect. Learning disabilities as the term suggests is a disability, unlike slow learners. We will address Learning Disabilities in our future posts. For now, we need to understand that slow learners are ones with a learning problem and not a type of learning “disability”.

Another common myth is that individuals who are slow learners have an intellectual disability or that their Intelligence quotient (IQ)  is very low. However, studies have shown that slow learners achieve a full-scale score between 70-85 on formal testing. Individuals with an IQ score of less than 70 would be considered as individuals with a mild cognitive impairment which formerly was referred to as mental retardation. However, most slow learners do not meet the criteria for cognitive impairment, even though they learn at a slower pace than average students. It must be noted that the curriculum in schools is mostly aimed at average students with a mean IQ of 90-110.

Some of the characteristics we see in Slow learners are:

  • Take much longer to learn a concept and are unable to retain old information
  • Reasoning skills are delayed, which makes it difficult to learn new concepts
  • Often assumed to be dull as they don’t learn at the same pace as their peers
  • Go through the same developmental stages as children of their age but at a slower rate
  • Experience difficulty in transferring information learnt in one area to other areas or applying skills based on information acquired previously.
  • May have trouble concentrating or a very limited attention span. They tend to daydream a lot
  • Socially, they might be viewed as immature and lacking judgement. They may feel more comfortable in the company of younger children or even be loners.
  • Emotionally, they can be moody and very sensitive
  • They work very slowly and can’t learn on their own

How to Help Slow Learners:

Slow learners might face challenges in understanding certain concepts, and more commonly those that require higher-order reasoning. However, one has to remember, these children have the capacity to learn and only need a different approach to being taught various concepts. They require more time, possibly repetition and a variety of resources.

It is crucial to recognise a Slow Learner, so they can receive help and an approach to learning that works for them. This onus lies on parents and teachers that interact with the child. Slow learners are almost always aware that they are struggling to catch up with their peers and about the academic challenges they face. Not only can this be frustrating for them, but it can negatively impact their self-esteem and confidence. This wrongly convinces them that they are incapable of learning while the contrary is true.

Here are some ways you can help a slow learner.

1.Patience:

It is crucial that parents and teachers avoid negative remarks like calling them dull, or slow that’ll only further affect their self-esteem and demotivate them. As they require more time than usual to understand even simple concepts, tutors must be patient with them as they navigate learning.

2.Praise:

Give them plenty of praise even at achieving the smallest goals to motivate and keep them going. Celebrate the small victories with appropriate rewards.  

3.Repetition:

Slow learners need plenty of repetition, more than what children typically need while learning new concepts and also to retain old information. They need to hear the information repeatedly to absorb the concept.

4.Set smaller goals over an extended duration:

Break down concepts into smaller ideas and allocate plenty of time to achieve each step.

5.Give them opportunities to experience success:

Give them tasks you know they can complete with ease. This will build their self-esteem and confidence.

6.Advocate inclusion:

Slow learners often feel excluded from their peers and suffer emotional and psychological distress as a consequence. They might also look for ways to avoid school as they can find it very taxing on them. Encourage their peers to include them in games and discussions, to make them feel an equal part of all activities. Ask questions to the class, so they can answer the question aloud, which will act as a repetition too.  

7.Peer tutoring:

Learning can happen at a much easier pace when the learning material is explained in the language and level of the child. The best way to do this is to have peers study together. This will also facilitate inclusion and a child is more likely to feel accepted by their peers.

8.Foster healthy study habits:

This is true for every learner but slow learners could benefit more from these habits. A quiet place to study, proper lighting, minimal distractions, daily reading etc.

9.Figure out their approach to learning:

Some children respond better to audio and visuals, instead of reading material. Get creative in teaching them various concepts. Include their likes and interests, needs and experiences in the learning material. This helps keep them engaged for longer periods.

10.Set realistic expectations:

Especially when it comes to timelines, goals, quantity of learning material, set expectations based on the child’s abilities. Do not compare them to their peers and insist they catch up. Give preference to learning that happens orally, through interaction and reading instead of written education.

11.Get creative:

Use a variety of resources to teach concepts. Make it interactive, hands-on and unique to their interests and skills. Frequently vary your instructional technique.

We must remember at all times that children who are slow learners are capable of learning although at a slower pace. They need specialized teaching and tutoring to help them understand concepts that might come much faster to other children. Believing in their abilities, being supportive of their efforts and giving them the right skills and techniques can make academic life much easier and interesting for them.

If your child needs help with developing learning skills, reach out to us at Tactopus. Our experienced therapists can guide you in helping your child.

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