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Understanding 'Slow Learners' And Giving Them The Right Support

Surabhi Verma Surabhi Verma 4 Mins Read

Surabhi Verma Surabhi Verma


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Slow learners need special care when they are taught something. Here are some useful tips that will come to your aid when teaching slow learners.

Pre-schooler to Teen
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Understanding 'Slow Learners' And Giving Them The Right Support

Ravi is in Class 1. He wears thick glasses and has unclear speech. He is social and enjoys interacting with other children, loves his music lessons, and can draw as well. But, in academics, he requires the help of the school counselor.

Ravi has been diagnosed as a 'slow learner' and needs extra help in school. But, a 'slow learner' is not a diagnostic category; it is a term that is used to describe a student who learns necessary academic skills at the rate and depth which is below average when compared to same-age peers. This is because, on a standardized IQ test, the score of the child is in the 70-80 range, which is below average intelligence. Thus, as in Ravi's case, a child who is a slow learner needs more time, more repetition, and extra help to grasp new concepts.

Pinky is another 10-year-old 'slow learner' studying in class 3. Although she tries to interact with other children, most of the time she sits alone in the class and struggles to complete her work during the extracurricular activities period. She gets easily distracted and tends to move around in the class, disturbing other children. The class teacher finds it difficult to handle Pinky since instead of completing her work, Pinky puts her head down and pretends to go to sleep. Sometimes, she lies down on the floor or runs out of the classroom.

Social skills deficits

Most slow learners enjoy making friends but have difficulty in maintaining social interaction and lack social skills. Most slow learners face difficulties because of their lower IQ levels, because of which they are not able to understand the rules of social engagement. This immaturity may be due not only to limited mental abilities but also because of lack of experience, poor health, or poor speech habits that further retard growth. These children like talking to people but are not able to take the initiative—their low self-esteem makes them withdraw from social interactions.

They sometimes appear immature in interpersonal relationships. They may find it difficult to keep friends, as they do not understand some simple skills like taking turns. There may be very few children who are willing to play with them. Many normal children are not patient enough to explain the rules and help the special children when they do not understand. In Ravi's case, he can manage with the help of the school counselor. However, Pinky's teacher is all alone and being without any guidance, finds it very difficult to manage Pinky in a class of 35 children.

Learning problems

Ravi and Pinky both struggle to keep up with the class syllabus. They both require assistance and continuous support from the school counselor and the class teacher. Many slow learners have difficulty planning for long-term goals. Completing a task within the given time frame is a major issue. This happens because the children get easily distracted and do not have internal strategies which can equip them to work on the task at hand. Due to this, they sometimes work very slowly and have difficulty taking multiple instructions. Reasoning skills are typically delayed, which makes it difficult for them to understand new concepts, and they require a lot of support.

Take the case of Mary who is also a slow learner. She faces criticism from her class teacher, who once told her parents - "Mary is not interested, no matter how hard I try to involve her in the classroom, I have 39 more children in the class. I think it will be better if she is sent to a special school."

Such negative feedback has led to poor self-esteem and low confidence in Mary. To hide these problems, Mary throws many tantrums in class, thus confusing her teacher. The teacher, who never understood Mary's fundamental problem as a slow learner and what it implies, becomes less and less inclined to do so with each progressive tantrum. She finally gives up altogether.

Helping the 'slow learner'

We have been working with slow learners in our organization, and it is a long process. There is no cure for the difficulty and intervention is a continual process. The children can make progress and can cope with their studies through the support provided. The experience is very rewarding, especially when a child has been written off by the teachers and is then able to perform well. Then the happiness on the child's face is the biggest reward that the parents and the therapists can get.

Creating awareness among teachers as well as parents about this problem is a major step in the intervention program designed to deal with the problem. The teachers and the parents must modify their expectations according to the capabilities of the child. They must motivate the child so that he also develops the confidence to try hard to do the best he is capable of. Teachers and caregivers must encourage other children to interact with the child so that the child gets positive role models and also gains through peer learning.

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