“Slow learners” are students whose pace lags behind that of their classmates. They don’t qualify for special education, and they typically receive only limited accommodations. As years progress, these students fall even further behind. This results in frustration for students and teachers alike. In many cases, behavior problems result. Before teachers can help these students, they must recognize the conduct issues that invariably surface. A teacher’s preparedness and positive approach can help to keep such students from falling through the academic cracks.
Many teachers instinctively lean toward only one instruction mode, typically
visual or auditory. When the approach doesn’t suit a slow learner, his mind wanders and he becomes distracted and stops listening to the teacher. These students generally need interactive, hands-on experiences. Additionally, if a teacher has slow transitions between activities, distracted students lose focus and have trouble getting back on task.
Many students who have fallen behind academically fear failure and embarrassment. When their self-confidence lags, they appear apathetic, even though this is not really the case. A self-preservation mechanism kicks in, causing them to give up before they fail.
Misery loves company. When boys and girls feel incompetent, they look for allies. They attempt to persuade peers to join them in mischief. They make jokes in an effort to get laughs and sidetrack the intentions of classmates.
We all want attention. When slow learners don’t get the positive attention they’re seeking, they settle for negative attention. Rather than raising their hands to speak, they blurt out whatever comes to mind in order to get a reaction. Their responses are often inappropriate and relate in no way to the subject matter.
If a student has delayed academic skills, she may also lack the social presence expected of her age group. She could have trouble communicating with and being accepted by peers. She might resort to intimidation or bullying. Some students even destroy the property of their peers.
Boys and girls who are slower learners may spontaneously leave their desks. This generally happens at inappropriate times, such as when the teacher is engaged in a direct lesson. Their pent-up energy gets the best of them. They have short attention spans and can’t tolerate a lengthy concept explanation.
Refusal to Participate
Slow learners often have trouble accepting authority figures. Due to prior negative encounters, they may view the teacher as the “enemy.” Repeated reprimands that they may have received cause them to withdraw even further. I recall one extreme case in my class: a student flatly refused to do a thing — he was very quiet, but wouldn’t even pick up a pencil. My efforts to involve him were in vain. The principal’s response to me was that he couldn’t take action unless the boy “was disruptive or prevented others from learning.” That was school district policy. We can’t always help them if they don’t want to be helped.
Of course, every slow learner is unique; they don’t all fall into these behavior patterns. If a teacher wants to help slow learners, she first needs to be able to recognize these behavior patterns for what they are.
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