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The Importance of Identifying Slow Learners and How Teachers Can Assist Them to Perform Well Academically

Updated on September 2, 2019

Children don’t perform at the same rate in a class or school as whole. Each child performs differently from his/her peers since performance isn’t limited to excelling in exams marks or grades. However, some mechanisms have been into place in the education system to gauge which children need special attention (extra attention). One such group of children that need extra attention is slow learners.

Slow learners have received a bad reputation from the public as if it’s their own making. What many do not understand is that the slow learners didn’t will themselves to learn concepts at a slow rate. Therefore, it is paramount to understand why children learn at a slow pace and what adults, teachers and caregivers can do to help them improve in their academic studies.

Generally, there are three categories of learner levels: those who earn above average, at the expected level and below average. Slow learners fit the bill of children who earn below average. Nonetheless, it does not mean those who perform below average are stupid or fools as many adults may tend to label them.

Understanding why some children perform below average will arm an adult with knowledge why the children perform at such a level thus enabling the adults to brainstorm mechanics or techniques on how assist the children to perform better academically.


Who is a slow learner?

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

SPELD SA defines a slow learner as “a child of below average intelligence, whose thinking skills have developed significantly more slowly, than the norm for his/her age." It is observed that a slow learner, "will go through the same basic developmental stages as other children, but will do so at a significantly slower rate."

Amarillo ISD defines a slow learner as “a child who is too intelligent to be classified as handicapped, but is not able to cope adequately with traditional academic work. It is a term used for instructional purposes rather than labeling."

On the whole, average learners have an IQ of 85-115. 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). Healio states, “The slow learner is generally considered as a student who achieves a full-scare score between 70 to 85 (or 89) on formal IQ testing. This range of IQ is thus considered as a borderline intellectual disability (cognitive impairment) or low average intellectual disability These IQ scores are not low enough (less than 70) to place them in the mild cognitive impairment group (old term = mild mental retardation). Nor is there usually enough discrepancy between their IQ and academic ability to place them in the learning disabled group, as well.”

NOTE: Slow learners should not be confused with reluctant learners. A slow learner wants to learn and works hard to perform well but he/she never seems to reach the mark. On the other hand, a reluctant learner is a child who creates problems in class since he doesn’t want to learn. He is unwilling to co-operate with his/her teacher. A few reluctant learners have learning disabilities.


Characteristics of slow learners

  • They lack social skills making it difficult for them to interact with other children or adults. This is attributed to their low IQ levels. In addition, they don’t understand the rules of social engagement.
  • Even though they like talking to people, they find it difficult in starting 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 to learn with or do assignments together. On their own, they are unable to learn or complete assignments.
  • They have immature personal relationships.

  • They don’t have long-term goals. They always live in the present.
  • They perform poorly in examinations or tests.
  • They have low self-esteem.
  • They work on given projects or tasks at a slow pace.
  • They are not able to master skills.
  • They cannot do complex problems or tasks.
  • They have difficulty transferring what they have learned 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 difficult to think critically.
  • They tend to prefer the friendship or company of younger children.
  • Some slow learners have a problem with speech.

How Teachers Can Help Slow Learners to Perform Well Academically

Teaching is a demanding profession. It requires patience coupled with creativeness. If and when a teacher identifies 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 employ to assist slow learners.

  • The teacher should concentrate in praising the child’s efforts more than concentrating on praising his/her abilities. The teacher should let the slow learner know that his/her intellect is under his/her 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 the child’s self-esteem. If a slow learner realizes you're praising him/her for something he/she has not done well he will feel betrayed. You might lose the trust of the child.
  • 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. The teacher can decide to tell the child to sit at the front row which will make it easier to observe 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 to the child to assist the child in areas the child finds it difficult to understand or in completing an assignment.
  • The teacher should pay equal attention to all learners in the class. She should not ignore children who are slow learners because they might feel neglected and unwanted. Also, lack of involving the children in answering questions or writing on the board might further deteriorate the slow learner’s level of learning.
  • 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.

Children in a classroom
Children in a classroom | Source
  • A Slow learner knows very well he/she has a weakness when it comes to academic studies compared to his/her average learning peers. The child knows he/she does not perform well. A slow learner is sensitive and self-conscious of this fact. In addition, a slow learner has low self-esteem. Thus, the teacher should aim to boost the child’s confidence. She should encourage the child by reminding him/her that he/she is no less than others and can do better. In return, these encouraging words can boost the child’s morale to want to perform better. The best way to boost the child’s confidence is focusing on things the child is 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 any form of assistance from the teacher, other teachers and parents including therapists.
  • The teacher should not explain the slow learner's mistake(s) in front of the class. Instead, the teacher should call the child aside and explain to the child the areas he/she has made erred and correct the mistakes (revise) together with the child.
  • The teacher should not criticize and humiliate a slow learner in front of the class as it will further lower the child's self-esteem. This will lead to the child to drop-out.
  • The teacher should try to focus on areas the slow learner is good at or encourage the child to take part in tasks he/she is best at. The teacher should reward the child when the child has done the task or activity as required.
  • 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 games rules to a slow learner.
  • Above all, the teacher should be the best friend to the slow learner. It is hard for slow learners to express themselves fully to their caregivers, adults and peers. The people they can best rely on are the teachers.

Furthermore, it is important to note:

  1. Slow learners need topics to be explained in-depth. A teacher should explain a topic in great detail by providing plenty of examples.
  2. Teachers should set aside some time outside of the prescribed curriculum time to offer extra help to the slow learner.
  3. Teachers should be patient with slow learners.
  4. Leaving an encouraging note on every marked work you had assigned the children goes a long way in uplifting their self-esteem. Slow learners need a lot of encouragement.
  5. Teachers should request slow learners to sit at the front of the class. It becomes easier to monitor and involve them in various class activities such as answering questions.
  6. Slow learners need somebody they can reach to - a friend. The people they'll tend to trust more are teachers. Being friendly will enable them to open up to you which enable you to get to know them better thereby finding better ways to help them.


“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.”

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

See results

© 2014 Benny Njuguna


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    • Ben716 profile imageAUTHOR

      Benny Njuguna 

      6 weeks ago from Kenya

      Hahaha. Thank you. They appear to contradict each other but it is understandable their attempt to define who a slow learner is.

      I am working on an article about reluctant learners.

    • grabgooglesgoogles profile image

      Joseph Thomas 

      6 weeks ago

      I love how the Amarillo and Speld definitions of slow learners seem polar opposites. One would almost be forgiven for thinking that being labelled as an Amarillo slow learner were a complement! hehe

      I'd be keen to read more on reluctant learners if you have any resources?

      Interesting article, thank you! :)

    • Ben716 profile imageAUTHOR

      Benny Njuguna 

      23 months ago from Kenya

      Thank you mecheshier

    • mecheshier profile image


      2 years ago

      Great Hub!

    • Ben716 profile imageAUTHOR

      Benny Njuguna 

      5 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 

      5 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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