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There is the world of a difference between a Slow Processor and a Slow Learner. By definition a Slow Learner has low or impaired intellectual capacity. In contrast, a Slow Processor is on the general intellectual continuum. Once understood, slow processing can be one of the easiest learning deficits to work with. I call them my ’Thorough Thinkers’. The classroom pace simply moves too fast for them. It must be frustrating to constantly have your thought processes interrupted just when you were beginning to understand. It’s all about ‘pace’ - slow the pace and the opportunity to learn opens up to slow processors. They require no more consolidation than the average learner and are just as capable of abstract thinking.

Unlike slow processors, Slow Learners need practice, practice, practice: consolidation, consolidation, consolidation. For the Slow learner the name of the game is repetition and it is unlikely they will ever understand abstract thought. Slow Learners rarely compare their ability with others or exhibit the high level of frustration that other students with deficits are prone to.

  • Slow Processor
  • Slow Learner
Tab 1

Slow Processor
It's all a matter of timing - in the short term

George sat down for his first teaching session. I told him a joke to crack the ice - no response.

While getting the worksheet ready George started to chuckle, he had just processed the joke.

So long as I gave George time to process, he learned well. I rarely ever needed to repeat or recap what was learned.

The pace in classroom was just too fast for George. He proved to be an intelligent and astute student.

I call these students my 'thorough thinkers'.


Speak with a moderate voice. Leave a 'think space' between sentences.

Ask the student if he/she has any questions - allow enough time for them to think it through. Wait for a response, even if it's no, they have no questions.

Encourage the student to cue you when they are ready for the next piece of information or spelling word from the list.

If you get the speed right the rest is usually easy. These students, unlike slow learners have good to excellent retention and fall into the normal spectrum of intellectual abilities. You can find academic brilliance in this group that you won't find with Slow Learners.

Of course, it is possible to have a Slow Processor who is also a Slow Learner.

tortoise and hare

The story of the tortoise and the hare can apply to this group for they tend to display great tenacity and endurance.

Tab 2

Slow Learner
Lots of consolidation - over the long term

Mary was diagnosed with an IQ of 72. She is an inclusion student at the local state school.

The teacher had prepared the class for Mary's arrival and her first few weeks had been exciting. She was made a fuss of and 'included' as planned.

A few months later Mary was pretty much on her own. She had lost the support of her aide. Funding had run dry. She couldn't keep up with what was taking place in the classroom and forgot most of what she had been taught. She couldn't remember the rules of the playground games and was soon sitting on the sidelines.

I have a memory of a wonderful annex school,where the children were all just like Mary. The teacher was in tune with the pace of student learning. He understood the need for repetition and consolidation. His students learned at a slower pace, but they did learn and they did progress.

The children had friends who understood their jokes and were loyal to them.

Sadly, this annex was closed when the new 'inclusion policy' took hold.

Mary struggles along good-heartedly and accepts her limitations without question. She doesn't think to measure herself against the others in the class and this is a blessing. Will she learn to read and write? That is doubtful. In the annex, like most of the students there, the answer would be yes.

Mary may not have ever understood the concepts behind what she was reading but not because she couldn't read the words. She would read what she enjoyed at her level of understanding.

She also may not have been able to problem solve in maths but she would understand how to handle money and check her change.

Mary needed a learning environment that was in tune with her academic and social needs. An environment that prioritised and consolidated the skills she required to be 'included' in

As with all learning deficits, VAS levels can be a compounding factor.