As many of us have discussed, the line between a slow learner
and a child who qualifies for special education services and the services
available for each seem to be backwards. Many, as well as myself,
have said, “It doesn’t seem right that a child who is low in one area gets
the help they need, but a child who struggles in all areas receives no
special services. In researching the topic of a slow learner, I have
found this to be correct. However, there are a number of things we,
as teachers, can do to accommodate the slow learner in our own classrooms.
First, let’s define a slow learner. A slow learner is difficult to identify because he/she is no different in appearance and can function normally in most situations. He/she usually has normal physical dexterity, has adequate memory, and possesses common sense. The fact that a slow learner possesses these qualities sometimes is why parents find it difficult to understand how their child can be a slow learner. What they need to realize is that, although the child has these qualities he/she does not necessarily have the ability to do school work.
Common characteristics of a slow learner are: their measured intelligence is 75%-90% of the average child, the ability to read comes about a year later than most, and the rate at which they learn is 4/5 to 9/10 that of the normal rate. Abstract thinking is difficult for a slow learner and their attention span is short. A slow learner reacts slower than average, self-expression is awkward and self-esteem is low. It is hard to figure things out themselves, especially if given multiple step instructions. Most slow learners function below grade level in all subject areas and generally score consistently low on achievement tests. It may appear that slow learners are not capable of learning however, Servio Carroll wrote, “slow learners are handicapped in the regular classroom to approximately the same degree as students with average abilities when competing with gifted students.” They are able to learn although the mastery of skills comes much slower.
On a national level not much is done to accommodate the slow learner. No special services are provided nation wide, nor are there services provided at a state or district level. It is up to the teachers and parents to provide the help needed for slow learners to progress. School psychologists are available to give advice and inform teachers and parents of strategies to use to assist slow learners. However, the service is provided by the classroom teachers. We are fortunate enough in our school to have a SAP (Student Assistance Program) Team who works very hard at looking for new strategies and resources to help teachers with slow learners.
Today a teacher is likely to have three to five students who are slow learners. So it is very important that we take the time to learn how to accommodate these students in our classrooms. The goal of helping a slow learner is not to get them performing at grade level, but to get them performing at their highest level possible. This level is different for all students, whether they are a slow learner, average or above average However, once told that a student does not qualify for special education services, it is left up to us to help the child with only the help of the SAP team. Sadly, we are not alone. Someone needs to reach out to these students and there are numerous strategies and interventions we could try. A few things I have tried in my own room are the use of volunteers, peer tutoring and reducing the amount of work required. Volunteers are a must. We do not have the time to give students the one on one help that many need. The added adults in the room make it easier to give attention to those who need extra time or instruction. The volunteers shouldn’t be used to give initial instruction, but to reinforce what has already been taught. Peer tutors are great to use in addition to volunteers. Sometimes by simply placing the right students together in pairs or group situations you can utilize peer tutoring without drawing attention to the slow learner. Last, I will reduce the number of spelling words or math problems to name a few, because this reduces the level of stress and is less likely to overwhelm the student.
There are several other strategies that are useful. Computers are great to use in the classroom. Computers never tire or get interrupted making the drill and practice more effective and fun. It is important to allow the student time to get out of his/her seat to let off energy and relieve a little stress. A classroom that utilizes centers is good for this. In giving instructions you should say the child’s name or touch them before giving the direction, write the directions on the board or paper for each child to keep, and ask that the student repeat the direction orally. This helps to reinforce the direction and gives them something to refer back to if they forget. Once the student turns in the work or answers orally, provide immediate feedback. This assures the student of their answer or allows them to correct the answer and keeps them on task. The hardest, and probably the most important, strategies is to provide three or four hours of academic work. Slow learners are not efficient learners and therefore require more hours of academic instruction to keep pace.
Remember, it is up to us to determine who is a slow learner and to do our best to meet the needs of slow learners in our classrooms. There are no special services available for them. So in order to effectively meet their needs we have to educate ourselves and keep the lines of communication open with the parents.
Lowenstein, David Ph. D, Understanding and Helping the Slow Learner. http://www.clubtheo.com/momdad/html/dlslow.html
Shaw, Steven R. Ph. D, Academic Interventions for Slow Learners. http://www.nasponline,org/publicationscq285slowlearn.html
Carroll, Servio, Accommodating the “Slow Learner” in the Classroom. http://www.aas.ru/Academics/counselor/teach/slolrner.thml
Author unknown, Field Guide to Slow Learners. http://school.clattenburg.com/sped/slowlearner/html