Helping Your Slow Learning Child
By National Hall of Fame Educator Alan Haskvitz
Perhaps the greatest challenge to a parent or adult is a child who is a slow learner. These children do not fall into the category of special education, do well outside the classroom, and show no evidence of having a medical problem. They simply do not do well in school or a particular subject. In the days before formal schooling these students would carry on productive lives working and doing tasks that did not require extensive reading, writing, or math operations. However, today the emphasis is less on occupational learning and more on academic preparation. Thus there is a growing need for help to remediate these children to provide them the best possible opportunities in a changing world.

Having successfully taught for nearly 30 years in several states and countries two commonalities emerge when dealing with slow learners. The first is that they need extra time to complete tasks. This means that the parents must be willing to augment what happens at school regardless of how fruitless it might appear at times. Secondly, the child must be offered incentives that are appropriate. Depending on the child the best incentives are those where the family works together on a project such as building a model or attending a concert or game. The incentives should require delayed gratification so that the child learns patience and the importance of waiting to be rewarded.

The next area is proper nutrition. A child needs to have a breakfast. Period. Every study done points out that a quality breakfast and proper sleep are the two best ways to improve student performance.

With those two factors in mind, the next step for a teacher or parent is to search for lessons and other resources that make it easier to differentiate the curriculum and make learning more vital and relevant. To this end the special education sites on the Internet have some great ideas. It must be noted that this column is not dealing with those students that qualify for special education classes. However, the concepts that teachers use when dealing with these students are ideal for helping a slow learner once the student’s weaknesses have been diagnosed. In any one of my classes I have about ten percent who are slow learners so having a slow learning child is not unusual.


Here are some general characteristics of slow learners. Students may display some or all of these depending on their age and degree of problems acquiring knowledge at school. First, they are frequently immature in their relations with others and do poorly in school. Secondly, they cannot do complex problems and work very slowly. They lose track of time and cannot transfer what they have learned from one task to another well. They do not easily master skills that are academic in nature such as the times tables or spelling rules. Perhaps the most frustrating trait is their inability to have long-term goals. They live in the present and so have significant problems with time management probably due to a short attention span and poor concentration skills capabilities.
It should be pointed out that just because a child is not doing well in one class does not make that student a slow learner. Very few children excel in all subject areas unless there is great deal of grade inflation at that school. That is why it is essential that standardized tests scores be examined in depth by the parent or teacher to look for trends. Also there is a difference between a slow learner and a reluctant learner. A slow learner initially wants to learn, but just has a problem with the process. A reluctant learner is not motivated and can also be passive aggressive creating even more of a problem for teachers and parents through a ploy that involves non-cooperation. There is seldom anything wrong with the learning ability of reluctant learners.
To help slow learners here are some proven ideas for parents
Have a quiet place to work where the child can be easily observed and motivated.
Keep the homework sessions short
Provide activity times before and during the homework
Add a variety of tasks to the learning even if it is not assigned such as painting a picture of a reading assignment.
Allow for success
Ask questions of the child while they are working about the assignment
Go over the homework before they go to bed and before they go to school
Teach them 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 besides 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 assignments that are the most difficult first and leave the easier ones to later. Call it the dessert principle.
Don’t be overprotective. Students who have parents that frequently intercede in their child’s education are teaching that student that the parent does not respect their abilitites. If you do call a teacher make sure you are seeking a positive outcome. Remember that most teachers have dealt with numerous slow learners and have a vast amount 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 you child to exciting places where they can see where 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: 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 where they have to show the work three different ways.
Assessment: Shorter tests, oral testing, redoing tests, short feedback times, don’t make students compete
What to avoid: Cooperative learning that isolates the student and places him or her in a no win situation. Using a standardized test. Ignoring 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.
Resources for slow learners
Slow learners greatly benefit from yoga
It is always important for students to get proper nutrition and exercise. This article may be of interest in that Yoga calms the mind and body.

Autism-PDD Resources
This site offers information on treatment and, even the law, with a parent guide. Quite complete.

Kentucky Department of Education’s Behavior Site
Intervention ideas, jobs, and a forum. When a slow learner is frustrated they can become behavior problems. Here are some resources that provide suggestions to cope with this problem.

LD OnLine: Learning
Disabilities Information and Resources


National Center for Learning Disabilities
The Council for Exceptional Children
This large database has most everything from a job bank to resources. Start here.
Disability Accommodations
Strategies for varied disabilities, including speech, hearing, behavior, ADD and learning

KidSource: Disabilities
A large link site with ratings of those that are the most helpful.

Resources for Early Childhood Special Education

Very ValuableSpecial Education Resources on the Internet

Misunderstood Kids Outside the Box
Special education articles, resources,
news, and other features.

Email discussion groups
A little difficult to follow

Special Needs Opportunity Windows
SNOW is made specifically for special education teachers, this site
offers discussion, bulletin boards, a listserv, events and resources.

The law and special education

Technology Resources and Special Education

Special Education Award
There are several. Here are just a couple/

Alan Haskvitz has been selected as one of the best teachers in the United States by six different educational organizations. He has earned over 30 awards for his innovative teaching and has been featured on national radio and television numerous times as well as featured in books on improving education. His students have done extremely well winning major competitions in nearly every curriculum area. Haskvitz has taught at every grade level and every core subject in his nearly 45 years as an educator.