Assisting “Slow Learners” in the Primary Education System

Slow Learners
How do I help “slow learners”? This has been the most frequent question asked by teachers as I worked with them to improve their teaching skills during professional development workshops. There are also many parents who wonder if their children are “slow learners” and what they can do to support them in their journey of learning.

In order to support a “slow learner”, it is important to first understand who a “slow learner” is. A slow learner is a person who displays prolonged learning difficulties and whose performance at school is generally below that of their age-mates. Furthermore, the “slow learner” takes considerably more time to understand taught concepts, and requires more time and specific interventions to acquire skills compared to their peers. They learn best on a concrete to abstract continuum.

There are various causes of “slow learning” in students. Some of the factors that cause “slow learning” may include but are not limited to low intellectual abilities. In addition, personal factors such as a prolonged illness, frequent absenteeism, or poor cognitive skills can also contribute to slow learning for students. Poor nutrition,  shortage of sleep,  unfavourable family dynamics or parents having a poor attitude towards education,  large classes,  poor quality teachers, frequent changes of school, fatigue due to long distance between school and home are some of the main environmental factors that may contribute to students being “slow learners”. Emotional factors such as a poor relationship between a teacher and student, lack of self-confidence, learned helplessness, subject specific anxiety, fear of self-advocacy may also contribute to students being “slow learners”.

It is very important to identify “slow learners” early in order to close gaps in their learning. They can be identified using various assessments specifically in mathematics and language. Also, other identification methods include daily classroom observations of learning skills and behaviours, diagnostic, formative and summative assessments of  student's performance by their teachers. “Slow learners” may also benefit from assessments by child psychologists or psychometrists, speech and language pathologists, occupational therapists or physical therapists. 

Interventions that can be put in place by teachers to support “slow learners” include but are not limited to the following:

  • Providing Guided groupings by supporting the student in small sized student groupings of 5-6 students with similar abilities;
  • Providing continuous feedback to the student and teaching them how to apply teacher or peer feedback consistently;
  • Chunking work so that the student is not overwhelmed by a heavy workload;
  • Cross-curricular integration to make learning more engaging;
  • Use of timers to help student become more aware of the time the have available to complete a task;
  • Scaffolding lessons by breaking up student learning into chunks;
  • Teaching the student self-advocacy skills;
  • Providing visuals around the classroom and manipulatives;
  • Providing hands-on assignments such as experiments in science and math tools to make learning more concrete;
  • Leverage technology as a doorway to instruction and to improve academic skills;
  • Relate learning to real-life scenarios and future careers;
  • Include games in lessons that relate to content being taught;
  • Some students may require frequent breaks when learning;
  • Providing positive reinforcement by rewarding students for small successes to encourage them rather than focusing on reprimands for lack of understanding;
  • Provide extra time to complete tasks;
  • Preferential seating closer to the teacher or front of class;
  • Avoid comparison between learners or negative labels that lower a student’s self-esteem;
  • Identify student’s strengths and use them to demonstrate their skills.

Look out for more 21st Century teaching strategies in our next issue, and visit our website at to access our resources, workshops, and consultancy services. 

Teaching For Success provides extensive training in professional development and consultancy services in the education sector, for primary and secondary schools, and tertiary colleges. Our aim is to equip educators through professional development, to cognitively engage students in their learning, to prepare them to compete in the 21st century global economy.

Free Resources:

Strategies for Slow Learners

How Can You Teach Slow Learners?