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The Importance of Identifying and Helping Slow Learners

Updated on January 29, 2017
Children at School
Children at School | Source

Every child is unique. Each child has a different ability and capability. Not all children are the same. Every child can be able to perform well, if not very well, in a given area or project.

A child needs somebody mature who would be able to guide him/her, identify any weakness in the child, and be able to help the child perform well. In essence, this is the work of parents and teachers.

However, in many classes, not all children perform well. There are few who perform below average. They do not perform well in examinations and their progress in class work and assignments is very poor. In the end, they have ended being labelled as stupid, lazy, stubborn and reluctant to learn.

These claims are not true. They are not valid because the people who have called them such have not taken time to find out why they behave that way. Why do they perform poorly, below average?

Therefore, there is a need for parents and teachers to find out whether their children and/or learners are slow learners. This is because when a teacher or parent has identified whether a child is a slow learner, then the approach of teaching the child would be different from the way normal learners are taught.

Who is a slow learner?

A slow learner is a child or pupil who is able to learn educational skills but a rate and depth below average as compared to the child’s peers or average learners in the class.

Normally, learners have an IQ of between 85 or 115. Nevertheless, learners who have an IQ below 70 are termed as having intellectual disability. A slow learner has not reached the level of being termed as having intellectual disability (mental retardation).

Slow learners do not need special education because they do not have a medical problem. It is only they do not perform well in school, in a given project and their learning progress is very slow.

They have a hard time grasping new concepts quickly even though they tend to work hard. Actually, they work harder to solve difficult problems like mathematical calculations way beyond their capabilities. They know they are not performing well and tend to have low self-esteem. In the end, they may stop altogether continuing their learning in school. They drop-out of school.

It is imperative to note a slow learner is different from a reluctant learner. A slow learner wants to learn and work hard to perform well but they never seem to reach the mark. Their processing of concepts and/or tasks is slow. On the other hand, a reluctant learner is a child who does not want to learn. Reluctant learners tend to create more problems for parents and teachers as they do not want to co-operate. The majority of reluctant learners don’t have learning disabilities.

Characteristics of slow learners

  • They have a hard time maintaining social interactions and social skills. This is attributed to their low IQ levels. Also, they don’t understand the rules of social engagement.
  • They like talking to people but they are not the first ones to start a conversation. This is attributed to their shyness which stems from low self-esteem.
  • They find it difficult maintaining friendships.
  • It is hard for them to understand simple skills, for example, taking turns in performing a particular project or task.
  • They are poor in mathematics and find it hard to solve mathematical problems.
  • Their reading and comprehension is poor.
  • Their thinking and reasoning capacity is poor.
  • They have poor memory and auditory processing.
  • They have short attention span and lack focus.
  • Their response time is slow.
  • A slow learner needs somebody so he/she can learn and do assignments together. On their own, they are unable to learn or complete assignments.
  • Has immature personal relationships.

Education Minister, John O'Dowd is pictured walking with pupils through the recently created outdoor conservation area at St Patrick’s Primary School in Crossmaglen
Education Minister, John O'Dowd is pictured walking with pupils through the recently created outdoor conservation area at St Patrick’s Primary School in Crossmaglen | Source
  • They don’t have long-term goals. They always live in the present.
  • They perform poorly in examinations or tests.
  • Has low self-esteem.
  • They work on given projects or tasks at a slow pace.
  • They are not able to master skills. At other times they may not master skills which are educational in nature e.g. timetable.
  • They cannot do complex problems or tasks.
  • They have difficulty transferring what they have learnt 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 hard to think critically.
  • They tend to prefer the friendship or company of younger children.
  • Some slow learners have a problem with speech.

Do you believe there is a need to label children as slow learners, mentally retarded or reluctant learners?

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Ways Teachers Can Help Slow Learners to Perform Well

Teaching is a profession that demands understanding and patience coupled with motivation and creativeness. It is not an easy profession especially for early childhood education (pre-primary) teachers and primary school teachers both at lower and upper level. It is full of challenges.

If and when a teacher has identified a child performing below average, then the teacher should try to find ways of guiding and helping the child to perform well. The following are some tips teachers can use to help slow learners do better in the performance of assignments, tasks and examinations.

Nick Clegg with pupils from Mount Stuart Primary School, Cardiff
Nick Clegg with pupils from Mount Stuart Primary School, Cardiff | Source
  • Slow learners know very well they have a weakness as compared to their peers. They know they do not perform well. They are sensitive and self-conscious of this fact. Also, they have low self-esteem. It is up to the teacher to build up confidence in them.The teacher should encourage them by reminding them they are no less than others and can do better. In return, these encouraging words can boost their morale to want to perform better. The best way to boost their confidence is focussing on things they are good at.
  • The teacher should try to maintain an open relationship with the learner. This will create a bond between the teacher and the learner and will enable the child to be able to accept help from the teacher, other teacher sand parents including therapists.
  • A teacher should not to explain the area of their mistakes in front of the class or teachers. The teacher should try to explain the area of mistake or concern in privacy.
  • Criticizing and humiliating them in front of the class is not the best way-forward. It will further lower their self-esteem and they might end up dropping-out of school.
  • The teacher should try to focus on areas or encourage them to take part in tasks they are best at, and reward them when they have done the task or activity well.
  • The teacher should try to persuade other children to treat the slow learner with understanding. This is because not a lot of children have enough patience to try to help or explain things such as rules to a slow learner. Even to play, interact and do activities or assignments together.

  • The teacher should concentrate in praising their efforts more than concentrating on praising their abilities. It is important to encourage the slow learners that their intellect is under their control. Also, praise the child for overcoming challenges and taking accountability for his/her work. However, be careful not to offer insecure or dishonest praise as it may further lower their self-esteem. They will know you are just ‘playing them fools’ when they know you are praising them for something they didn’t do well. You will lose your trustworthiness.
  • A teacher might find it appropriate to provide a quite place to work. This will help the teacher to easily observe, encourage and find better ways to help the child.
  • Do not reward the child if she/he has not finished an assignment or task.
  • Let the child do the hard assignments first then the easier ones later.
  • The teacher might find it appropriate to provide extra classes so she/he may be able to help the slow learner(s) in areas of concern.
  • The teacher should pay equal attention to all learners in the class. This is because slow learners might feel neglected and unwanted.
  • The teacher can make use of reference books, audio-visual aids and graphic displays including online materials to help the slow learner. Record of the progress of the slow learner(s) should be maintained as it will help track the development of the learner.
  • Above all, the teacher should be the best friend to the slow learner. It is hard for these slow learners to express themselves fully to their parents and peers. The people they can best rely on are the teachers.


In conclusion, “There is only over one justification for labeling a child with a specific tag. That is to ensure that the level of service and support provided to that child is markedly improved,” and;

“Learning difficulties is a general term used to describe a difficulty with learning a subject but it is not severe enough to be considered a disorder. Those with learning difficulties across all subjects are considered slow learners. They do poorly in schools but are not eligible for special education. The severe ones may exhibit symptoms of delayed mental development.”

Education Minister with pupils, Chair of Board of Governors Dr John Maginness (L), Principal Maura Dolan and Monsignor Eamon Martin (R) during the official opening of newly amalgamated Holy Family Primary School in Omagh
Education Minister with pupils, Chair of Board of Governors Dr John Maginness (L), Principal Maura Dolan and Monsignor Eamon Martin (R) during the official opening of newly amalgamated Holy Family Primary School in Omagh | Source

Useful Links

The following links might prove useful to teachers, parents and the general public on the importance of identifying by noting the characteristics slow learners possess and how to help them to perform well. (SPELD SA) (School Psychologist Files) (Kidspot) (Education Awareness and Research by Sultan Muhammad)


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    • mecheshier profile image

      mecheshier 6 months ago

      Great Hub!

    • Ben716 profile image

      Alianess Benny Njuguna 2 years ago from Kenya 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 profile image

      Denise W Anderson 3 years ago from Bismarck, North Dakota

      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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