Helping Slow Moving Students

Do you have slow-moving students in your classroom? Do you know the students who take forever on each assignment? Should you just collect their work (but they’ll fail) or give them extra time? What about the early finishers? How do you keep them occupied? How do you help these students who need more time?

Do you have slow moving students? These slow learners can really make teaching frustrating, especially when you aren't sure what to do. These strategies help teachers with their "turtles" without having to fail them in the process.

Strategies for Helping Slow-Moving Students

In a classroom with a wide variety of learners, you are bound to have students who are turtles and those who are the hares. When it comes to assisting the slow-moving students, consider one (or more) of the following:

1.) Consider all the possibilities.  Evaluate your student and take note if there is an underlying reason for this slow-moving behavior. Perhaps the student is moving slowly because he or she has a learning disability, processing issues, ADD, or anxiety. Perhaps the student can’t concentrate because of the noise (or even lack of noise) or can’t see well. Another possibility is the student has a fear of failure or is a perfectionist. The student may just be goofing off. The best way to determine this is by evaluating and observing the student. Take note of how often the student is off task, know their history, and involve the parents to see what information you can gather. Involve the help of other staff members and consider requesting a 504 from the child study team. You do not need a medical diagnosis for this. With a 504 plan, students who truly need extended time and small groups can receive it.

2.) Know the student.  One of the best things you can do to help any child is to know them well. Know their interests and learning style. When you know a student’s learning style, you can adjust your lessons in a way that is engaging and motivating. Also, when you know the student, you will know if they are struggling with that internal drive to make everything just perfect or if it’s a lack of confidence issue.

3.) Use a timer.  Slow moving students sometimes need to be motivated by actually seeing how much time they have left. One way you can do this is by using a visual timer. You can use one that you project for the entire class, or you can use individual timers for students. These timers help students see exactly how much time is remaining before the assignment is due.

Do you have slow moving students? These slow learners can really make teaching frustrating, especially when you aren't sure what to do. These strategies help teachers with their "turtles" without having to fail them in the process.

If the assignment is long, you can also provide students with something similar to the Pomodoro Technique, where students work for a set number of minutes, such as 20 and take a 5-minute break. Then, they would return to working for 20 more minutes.

If you have taught that particular assignment/activity before, you can give the student an estimated amount of time it should take to complete it. Consider writing this on the board for all students.

4.) Strategize with, not for.  Students who are slow may look for you to do things for them, and/or it may be tempting to jump in and “help” them out by doing a few extra problems. This is definitely not a good idea; We want students to become independent learners. Instead, consider modeling think alouds that teach problem-solving skills. This means teaching students things like skipping problems that they aren’t sure of, crossing out things, coming back to problems later, and understanding that if they did their best work, it’s good enough. This helps students see that our work isn’t always “perfect” when we do it the first time (helps those perfectionists and those students who fear failure!).

Also, consider talking students through the problems. Start with having students read you the directions, then move into the problems. Ask them what they think they should do first and explain to you why. This helps you determine their level of understanding. Sometimes it’s simple, such as they just didn’t read the directions (how many times has that happened!) or a foundational skill issue.

Visualization is another great strategy for students who move slowly. Some students need to first visualize and then draw what they are thinking before they work on their task. Check their learning style to see if this is necessary or if a student needs to answer problems orally.

5.) Motivate.  One way to motivate students is through the use of rewards. This could be something as simple as moving around the room and placing a sticker or star on student’s work that has been completed or providing students with reward coupons. I use to provide my students with cards that I would punch out for the longest time. Once the card was full, they could pick from my “treasure” box. Other motivations could include free time, Makerspace time, or earning a ticket to place in a jar for a weekly drawing. Don’t forget your lessons and activities should also be engaging enough to motivate.

Another option is creating a “Must do, Can do” list. Create a list of items your students must complete and then when they finish, provide a list of options they can choose from on the “can do” list. The trick is, your “can do” list must be very appealing so students are very motivated to finish the “must do” list so they can work on the “can do” list.

6.) Beat the Teacher.  One fun way to engage your slow-moving student is to play a quick round of Beat the Teacher. Pull up next to the student and complete the same activity (or similar activity). This competitive edge may be just enough to help your student move a little faster. It depends on your student. However, watch for possible errors. It may be something you do not want to continue in the future.

7.) Assign a buddy.  Consider assigning your slow-moving student to another student around the same academic level that moves a bit faster. Have that student help encourage and model moving faster. Sometimes just working with another person can help a student stay focused and move along the pace. (But for some students it actually makes them more off task… this goes back to knowing your student.)

8.) Modify Work.  Some students need their work modified. The point of completing work is to help you determine your students’ level of understanding and to help your students reinforce their understanding. You don’t necessarily need your students to complete 50 problems to determine that they understand. You can modify the work by simply having students complete a few of each type of problem. If they get any wrong of a particular type, then provide them with a few more. Another option is to cover up some problems so that there are less on the page. This helps it appear as though there are fewer problems and not as overwhelming to the student. Another option is to break large tasks down into smaller chunks.

Not all students learn at the same pace, but ultimately they all learn. We want to have high expectations for all children and it starts by believing in them. We need to expect all students, even the slow-moving students, to achieve their highest potential and not just write them off as slow learners. These students need time to understand and apply the knowledge that is presented to them in their specific learning style that is engaging and motivating. Your instruction should be differentiated, rigorous, and include key strategies (such as the ones above) that help support all students so that their self-esteem doesn’t take a beating and that they can begin to rebuild their confidence.

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Looking for activities for your early finishers? You can read some great ideas here.


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