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The Importance of Identifying and Helping Slow Learners

Updated on May 13, 2017
Children at School
Children at School | Source

Not all children are the same. Each child performs differently at school. This is due to the fact each child has different ability and capability. This is the reason why for a child to perform well in school’s work, he/she would need guidance. This is only possible when the child is guided by an adult. Furthermore, an adult is able to identify the child’s weaknesses and try to help him/her to perform well in areas he/she isn’t strong while strengthening the areas he/she is strong. In essence, this is the work of teachers and parents/caregivers.

In school, not all children perform well as expected by teachers. Initially, a high percentage of children perform at an average level, a few above average and a few below average. Those who perform below average do not perform well in examinations and their progress in class work and assignments is very poor. In the end, these children find themselves labeled as stupid, lazy, stubborn and reluctant to learn.

However, it is not good to call children who perform below average as stupid and lazy. In fact, no child is stupid or a fool as a result of failing in examinations. There are many factors which lead a child not to perform well, not necessarily the child is lazy. Such type of a child is a slow learner.

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 the teacher or parent has identified whether the child is a slow learner, then the approach of teaching the child will be different from the way average 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.

SPELD SA explains a slow learner “is a child of below average intelligence, whose thinking skills have developed significantly more slowly, than the norm for his/her age. This child will go through the same basis 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."

Normally, 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).

They have a hard time grasping new concepts quickly even though they tend to work hard. They usually go out of their way to solve challenging mathematical calculations and subjects which are beyond their capabilities. They exhibit low self-esteem due to the knowledge they do not perform well. In the end, they may drop-out.

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 tends to create problems as he doesn’t want to learn, thereby he is not willing to co-operate with his/her teacher. When it comes to studying they create problems as they don’t want to learn. A few reluctant learners 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.

  • 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.

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.
  • They have 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 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 use to help slow learners do better in the performance of assignments, tasks and examinations.

  • 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 focusing 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 teachers and parents including therapists.
  • The children should not explain the mistakes the slow has made in front of the class. Instead, the teacher should do so or express his/her concern to the slow learner in private.
  • 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 they're good at 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.

Furthermore, it is important to note:

  1. Slow learners need topics to be explained in-depth. A teacher should ensure he explains in great detail a topic with 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. It is best if teachers ensure slow learners sit at the front of the class. It becomes easier to monitor the slow learner and to involve him more in answering questions.
  6. Always be a friend to them. It is the most important ingredient a child will thank you in years to come. Being friendly will enable them to open up to you.


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.”

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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    • emilywilsonn profile image

      emily 5 months ago from united kingdom

      “If a student is a particularly slow learner, this can present a problem for the teacher as he must allow him time to grasp the material without slowing the progress of the rest of the class. one can get assignment assistance If your current student load contains a child who needs a little extra help or perhaps just extra time, the way in which you deal with the student and his needs could play an important part in determining how academically successful the child ultimately ends up becoming

    • mecheshier profile image

      mecheshier 13 months ago

      Great Hub!

    • Ben716 profile image

      Alianess Benny Njuguna 3 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.