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Characteristics of slow learners:
1. Functions at ability but significantly below grade level.
2. Is prone to immature interpersonal relationships.
3. Has difficulty following multi-step directions.
4. Lives in the present and does not have long range goals.
5. Has few internal strategies (i.e. organizational skills, difficulty transferring,
and generalizing information.)
6. Scores consistently low on achievement tests.
7. Works well with "hands-on" material (i.e. labs, manipulative, activities.)
8. Has a poor self-image.
9. Works on all tasks slowly.
10. Masters skills slowly; some skills may not be mastered at all.

Interventions to meet the needs of the Slow Learner

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• Reduce distractions by providing a quiet, private place to work.
• Emphasize strengths. Use lots of praise and reinforcement frequently.
• Make lessons short. Limit the working time and have several short
work periods rather than one long one.
• Add variety to the academic routine. Do active things and use
educational games, puzzles, and other techniques as much as possible.
• Work on material that is somewhat challenging but allows success.
Work that is too hard or too easy is a turn-off.
• Make learning fun and comfortable. Your positive attitude is very
• Encourage your child to talk to you. Ask what he did in school. Ask
what was the best part of his/her day. Ask questions about the TV
shows he/she watches. Talk about what he/she has heard, done, and
plans to do. Communicate with your students.
• Go over his/her daily work to reinforce the learning. Slower learners
need repetition.
• Provide meaningful, concrete activities rather than abstract.
• Give short specific directions and have your child repeat them back to
• READ! Set an example by reading yourself. Read to your child and
have your child read to you.
• Work closely with the teacher to help strengthen academic areas that
are weak in school.
• Stress the importance of education.
• Encourage your child to explore areas of interest to him/her. Career
opportunities often come from these interests.
(Source: Material supplied by University of Central Florida, School
Psychology/Counselor Education Programs--Dr. Carl Balado.)

Proven ideas to help slow learners

• Provide a quiet place to work, where the child can be easily observed
and motivated.
• Keep homework sessions short.
• Provide activity times before and during homework.
• Add a variety of tasks to the learning even if not assigned, such as
painting a picture of a reading assignment.
• Allow for success.
• Ask questions about the assignment while the child is working.
• Go over the homework before bed and before school.
• Teach how to use a calendar to keep track of assignments.
• Read to the child.
• Use my “Three Transfer” form of learning, in which the student must
take information and do three things with it beside reading. For
example, read it, explain it to someone else, draw a picture of it, and
take notes on it.
• Be patient but consistent.
• Do not reward unfinished tasks.
Challenge the child
Have the child do the most difficult assignments first and leave the easier
ones to later. Call it the dessert principle.
Don’t be overprotective. Students whose parents frequently intercede at
school are teaching that they do not respect their child’s abilitites. If you do
call a teacher, make sure you seek a positive outcome. Remember most
teachers have worked with numerous slow learners and have plenty of
experience. However, sharing your child’s strengths and weaknesses could
make the school year more beneficial for all concerned.
Contact the teacher if there is a concern. Calling an administrator solves
nothing, as the teacher is the sole legal judge of academic success.
Take your child to exciting places where they can see academic success is
important. A trip to a local university or community college, a walking tour
of city hall, a visit to the fire station or a behind-the-scenes tour of a zoo are
highly motivating.
Examples of interventions for slow learners
Environment: Reduce distractions, change seating to promote attentiveness,
have a peer student teacher, and allow more breaks.
Assignments: Make them shorter and with more variation, repeat work in
various forms, have a contract, give more hands-on work, have assignments
copied by student, have students use “three transfer” method.
Assessment: Use shorter tests, oral testing, redoing tests, short feedback
times, don’t make students compete.
What to avoid: Don’t use cooperative learning that isolates the student and
places him or her in a no-win situation or standardized tests. Definitely don’t
ignore the problem.
What to encourage: Grouping with a patient partner. Learning about the
child’s interests. Placing the student in charge. Mapping, graphic organizers,
and hands-on work. Using Bloom’s taxonomy of tasks to make the
assignments more appropriate.

A child can be considered an underachiever in school and can be grouped

under a generalized classification much too easily. One child cannot be
grouped with a group of underachievers and be placed under one certain
classification and this happens much too often in our schools. A teacher
needs to be able to be aware of very specific and very personal problems
that can cause a child to be considered an underachiever or a slow learner.
The confusion on this topic needs to be reduced in our schools. Some
teachers are just too quick to identify and also to attempt to correct learning
disabilities without the proper training or knowledge on the subject.
There are general categories into which most teachers will tend to group
each child who is a slow learner. The classifications will be made according
to the likeness of a child with each group.

First, we need to realize that all children who are performing under their
grade level are not necessarily underachievers. A lot of schools feel that all
children should be exactly at the same level in each class and this is not
true. Sometimes they will think that the children in this classification of slow
learners are not capable of achieving at their chronological grade level.
Sometimes, from the first grade on to other higher grades, a child just
hasn't mastered the basic skills of learning. These children can get
frustrated and even convince themselves that they cannot learn. In this
instance teachers need to work with these students to teach the basic skills
necessary for learning at the rate of normal student for his age.
There are some children that have problems with language development. A
lack of language development can cause a child to be a slow learner. It is of
much importance to see if a child has grown in the art of language and
reading achievement, if not teachers need to work with these students to
bring up their language levels so that they can reach maximum
achievement in their class.
Some children have cultural disadvantages as they may come from homes
where, for example, the parents are not speaking English and are speaking
another language. They can be known as culturally disadvantaged as they
do not have essentials necessary for learning. In this instance teachers
need to work with the students so that they can achieve and not be doomed
to a failed and frustrated attitude. If this is left undone, then as the years
pass there will be more and more problems in learning coming from cultural
disadvantages in the home.
There may not be enough challenges in the particular classroom to hold
some chhildren's interest and they become bored and don't reach their
potential. A lack of challenge can bring a child down to below the level of
the classrooms. Teachers need to be on the alert for this type of
classification of underachiever as they will need to provide work that will
stimulate them.
Other children may be of average capacity and be expected to achieve at a
higher level of learning in the classroom. These children at times are
incapable of achieving past a certain level for a child their age and this can
lead to frustration and failure in the classroom. Teachers need to be aware
of these children and not try to push too much on them in the way of
learning in the classroom.
Children sometimes can be considered and classified as reluctant learners
as these children will make good grades on tests but cannot function daily in
the atmosphere of the classroom. Sometimes these children will not be
motivated to learn and teachers need to be able to draw out these children
and just get them motivated. Remedial help is sometimes used to get them
motivated and to learn to the level of the others in their grade level.
Students needs to be identified that can profit from remedial and corrective
teaching. Sometimes teachers will not provide this remedial and corrective
teaching in their classroom and this needs to be changed. If professional
judgment indicates that this special remedial and corrective teaching is
necessary then a child should have this provide to help him.

¨ How is “learning disability” defined?

Learning disabilities is a general term that refers to a
heterogeneous group of disorders manifested by significant
difficulties in the acquisition and use of listening, speaking, reading,
writing, reasoning, or mathematical skills.
These disorders are intrinsic to the individual, presumed to be due
to central nervous system dysfunction, and may occur across the
life span. Problems in self-regulatory behaviors, social perception,
and social interaction may exist with learning disabilities but do not,
by themselves, constitute a learning disability.
Although learning disabilities may occur concomitantly with other
disabilities (for example, sensory impairment, mental retardation,
serious emotional disturbances) or with extrinsic influences (such as
cultural differences, insufficient or inappropriate instruction), they
are not the result of those conditions or influences (National Joint
Committee on Learning Disabilities, 1990).
¨ Can you translate that please?
Learning occurs in 5 steps:
§ acquiring information through the senses
§ determining what the information means
§ storing the information in memory
§ retrieving the information appropriately
§ using the information effectively
Someone with a learning disability has a glitch in one of those steps.
(Warner, 1988). This glitch may also underscore related problems (e.g.
inappropriate or absent social skills, sensory or physical deficits).
These related problems are not part of the learning disability, but may
accompany it. (Brinckerhoff, Shaw, &
McGuire, 1993).
§ The question “What is a learning disability?” may actually be a
different question for different faculty members, but
remember that learning disabilities are NOT hypothetical
constructs, they are REAL and last a lifetime.
§ Individuals with learning disabilities have at a minimum,
average potential
§ Impairments exist in their learning processes, NOT in their
learning potential.
§ Because of the heterogeneity of LDs, and that individuals may
react to their disabilities in different ways, performance may be
poor in some classes yet quite good in others (Vogel & Adelman,
¨ What does the law say?
There are two laws that were developed to protect the rights of
people with disabilities.
1. Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 states that
no otherwise qualified individual with a disability be denied
access to the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination,
under any program or activity receiving federal financial
2. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)(effective since
Jan 26, 1992) is very similar except that the ADA applies not only
to institutions, but in most cases, to any private or public
§ According to the law, then, faculty are not volunteering to help
students with learning disabilities, but fulfilling an obligation. The
term “otherwise qualified individual” means that the student DID
meet admissions requirements for the college or university, and
the institution is now committed to making reasonable
accommodations (Vogel & Adelman, 1993).
§ Reasonable accommodations may encompass specific teaching
mechanisms or evaluation standards that enable success without
compromising the standards of the coursework.
Unfortunately, regulations and guidelines regarding who is eligible
for services differ from state to state and are prone to change,
depending upon funding. So although the law says that the LD must
be documented, how a learning disability is defined and how that
documentation is compiled may be quite different in different
colleges and universities.
¨ Types of learning disabilities
Broadly categorized, learning disabilities include
§ Language-based disabilities
dyslexia (reading)
dysgraphia (writing)
dyscalculia (calculations and math facts)
language deficits (difficulties in articulation, recalling
expressive words, elaborating similarities and differences, or
identifying and using appropriate verb tenses)
§ Sensory-perceptual disabilities
Visual (e.g., judging distance from an object, visually
determining the difference between two objects, identifying
figure against competing background--including reading a line
of text in a book, copying information from the board, etc.)
Auditory (e.g., detecting sounds over background noise,
processing verbal instructions, sequencing, fatigue from
listening to lecture material)
§ Executive and cognitive disabilities
Attention deficits (e.g., inability to concentrate, remain on
task, budget time)
Memory deficits (e.g., inability to engage in rote
memorization such as facts, tables, dates, etc.)
Reasoning deficits (e.g., unorganized or non-logical
thinking, inability to properly prioritize tasks, difficulty with
application of new material)
Spatial organizational difficulties (e.g., problems with
compass directions, right and left, up and down, ahead and
behind, over and under, etc.)

§ Defective social skills

Discriminating visual cues and other forms of body language.
Comprehending the emotional content of speech (prosody).
Deciphering the meaning of constructive criticism, sarcasm,
or other types of humor.
(Based on information from Project T.A.P.E., College of Education, Northern
Illinois University)
¨ What ISN’T a learning disability?
There are a number of other developmental problems that can be
confused with learning disabilities.
§ Slow learners might look as if they have learning disabilities,
but in reality, their less-than-average learning ability doesn’t
qualify as a true learning disability.
Slow learners generally have difficulty in all or most aspects of
learning. On the other hand, their ability is high enough that slow
learners can be easily distinguished from individuals with mental
§ Attention Deficit Disorder (with or without Hyperactivity)
also may be confused with a learning disability. However,
students with ADD are more likely to be restless, disorganized,
easily frustrated, and so on. These behaviors might interfere with
learning, but they are not the result of a learning disability.
§ Students with traumatic brain injury may resemble students
with learning disabilities so much that it is almost impossible to
distinguish the difference. However, there are likely to be other
conditions that are concomitant (health, emotional, or physical
Teaching Strategies that Work
What MUST a faculty member do?
When necessary a faculty member must:
¨ Permit a student extra time on an exam, and/or permit a student to take
the exam at an alternate location.
¨ Assist a student in finding a student who will volunteer to take notes
¨ Allow a student to use auxiliary aids in class such as a sign language
interpreter, a laptop computer to take notes, or a calculator for math
¨ Allow any accommodation that the Disability Specialist at your institution
deems necessary for an individual student
What should a faculty member NOT do?
¨ Provide special accommodations to students who have not provided
documentation for their disability
¨ Provide accommodations not required by the student’s disability
¨ Grade students with disabilities differently, or expect lower quality work
¨ Disclose a student’s disability to other faculty or students
¨ Directly ask students to disclose a disability (unless they are directly
asking you for accommodations)
What CAN a faculty member do to help students with Learning
Disabilities (and everyone else)?
¨ Include a statement in your syllabi inviting students who need
accommodations to contact you
§ Students who need accommodations will feel more
comfortable approaching you if they have been invited to do so
¨ Provide all students as much time as they need to complete exams
§ Students who suffer from test anxiety perform better without
time constraints
§ Students with disabilities may be able to take the exam with
the rest of the class if there are no time constraints
§ It encourages accuracy and careful work
¨ Teach study skills specific to the textbook and format of the class
§ Many students have never been taught how to study
§ Students often ignore textbook aids like chapter summaries and
tables because they assume they aren’t helpful
§ Students will better understand what skills will help them succeed
in your class
¨ Allow students to tape your lecture
§ Students who have trouble keeping up with notes can pay
attention during class, and then take notes on the taped lecture
¨ Provide variety within each class period (lecture, overheads, videos, voice
inflection, moving around, personal experiences, discussion, questions)
§ Students with attention problems need variety to keep them
§ All students will be more interested in the material and retain it
§ Note: Be careful not to jump around or get off track in your efforts
to keep students interested—organization is critical
¨ Ask questions that assume that some people need more explaining (How
many people want to hear this a second time? Which parts need more
explaining? What questions do you have about this?) and allow plenty of
time for students to respond
§ Students often assume they are the only ones who don’t
§ Students with disabilities benefit from repetition
¨ Provide both oral and written instructions for assignments, and ask them
which parts need more explaining
§ Many students are stronger at auditory processing, others are
stronger at visual processing
§ Some learning disabilities are specific to auditory or visual or
§ All students benefit from hearing it more than once
¨ Ask students to write down their own example or a definition in their own
words, then walk around and provide immediate feedback
§ Coming up with their own example makes the information more
meaningful and concrete
§ It gives students time to process the information
§ It gives immediate feedback to the instructor and to the student
¨ Teach definitions for words used in textbooks and in lecture—including
those you think they should already know—by writing, explaining, and
§ Some disabilities may result in below-average vocabulary
§ Many students may have only a vague idea of what some words
§ Students will understand what they are reading/hearing much
¨ Provide multiple means for student participation (asking questions in
writing as well as verbally, participating in on-line discussions, etc)
§ Some students cannot form questions or comments quickly
enough during class discussions
¨ Preview your lecture/class material with an outline, and make connections
to previously presented information
§ It aids students in note-taking
§ It helps students anticipate important points
§ Students may not intuitively make connections, even those that
may seem obvious
Do not expect less of students with learning disabilities, do not have
a special grading scale for them! The primary ingredient to success
is respect.