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How to manage slow-working students in your classroom

Students experience learning differently. Some may be able or willing to solve tasks on time, but others may struggle to do so. Teachers will always have students who can’t finish tasks in due time, find it challenging to focus throughout a class, work slowly or inconsistently, or have difficulties following multi-step directions.

Since the beginning of formal education, teachers have been trying to accommodate all students in their classrooms to the best of their knowledge.

If you have slow-working students in your classroom and want to help them catch up and reach milestones, you should first make sure to rule out any possible psychological barriers that could affect their processing speed or other cognitive issues.

Next, you should devise an intervention scheme that is structured on the three As principle:

  • Accepting means that the students need to feel accepted in the learning environment and teachers can provide them a safe place for growth;
  • Accommodating refers to the due diligence a teacher has to exercise to provide a suitable learning environment for all students;
  • Advocating implies the support teachers offer slow-working students throughout their learning journey. It also involves other stakeholders, such as parents and the community, who can also support students. 

Read more: Why building school-community partnerships is the way forward

Helping the slow-working students in your classroom

I’m sure you’ve tried your best to keep your students on track, but sometimes having some peer input can help. Here are the most common ideas I’ve gathered from fellow teachers you can implement in your classroom to help you manage slow-working students:

Reduce distractions and create awareness

Students work well in various environments, but some need quiet places. Observe your students and reduce distractions if and when you see fit. This helps students stay focused on the task at hand.

You can also help them become aware of what distracts them the most and write those moments on post-its. It will not work for everyone, but some students will focus better if they can identify what causes the distraction.

Read more: Teaching students how to manage digital distractions

Acknowledge students’ struggles

Students need encouragement whenever they succeed, but most of all, when the progress is not significant or the results are not noticeable. It’s up to us to pay attention and encourage our students through all the moments of their learning process.

Moreover, students may experience struggles or concerns that make them work slowly. You can let them know it’s OK to feel overwhelmed, scared, or embarrassed. They should be able to embrace their feelings, accept them and consider them a starting point in their learning journey.

Use a timer

A timer can be a wonderful tool when you have slow-working students. It will allow them to be more aware of the time they have left to complete a task and make them feel in control. Also, it helps keep students connected to the present moment.

Break down tasks

Complex tasks can be hard to manage for some students, so you can try breaking them down into bite-sized pieces for students to solve easier without losing their focus, providing them a chance to feel a sense of achievement through achieving small steps.

As a result, they gain confidence in their ability to finish tasks and they will tackle challenges with more ease.

Provide an estimated time for each activity

Let students know beforehand how much time they have available for tasks in general. If the activity you ask them to do has multiple tasks, assign time for each so students can organize their time.

Read more: 5 Principles of effective instruction adapted for online teaching

Work with checklists

Although checklists can be stressful at first, after overcoming the many tasks or steps of an activity, students can see what they have to do and how much time they have to finish. When students cross out the things they manage to finish, they can focus on the remaining ones and organize their time efficiently.

Model the activity and provide clarifications

Give your students clear instructions and repeat them in simple sentences to ensure comprehension and then show them how to solve the tasks. When you provide a model, students see the task is achievable, understand the requirements and have more confidence.

Alternate between different task types and difficulty levels

Students get distracted quickly, so varying between types of tasks, degrees of difficulty and length will keep your students engaged and in anticipation of what’s next.

Breaking the routine is also essential to create the element of surprise, which maintains your students’ motivation and engagement.

Provide extra time to finish tasks

Personalize the tasks or adapt the timing of a task according to your students’ needs. Give students extra time to increase the likelihood of success. On the flip side, make sure you provide equal attention to early finishers to keep them active and avoid boredom. 

Assign a helper

When struggling students receive help from a peer, they bond and pay attention to their explanations, increasing comprehension and task completion.

You can ask an early finisher to help the slow-working students. Both will be satisfied to have worked together, the helpers for making themselves useful and acting as a teacher and the slow-working students for managing to finish the tasks in due time.

Offer rewards

Students react positively to any type of reward, so make sure you have something prepared just in case. If you’re using a learning platform during class, they can receive badges and points. However, you can also use small rewards such as colored pencils or the chance to represent the class in school events or activities.

Students become more involved in tasks when they look forward to something. And we are all good at anticipating what gets our students excited.

Read more: 3 Gamification principles for a gamified learning environment 

Involve the parents

Parents are a key element in students' progress. Parents can support teachers in providing the best learning conditions for everyone. Creating routines at home to help students complete tasks in less time will contribute to the students' progress through practice.

To sum up

All classrooms are different, yet these ideas can help teachers manage slow-working students. Some of the elements of success are recognizing distractors, becoming more organized, and not giving up. You should remember to give clear instructions, model the tasks, alternate between different activities, and divide larger tasks into smaller ones with a set time for each. As a result, students will feel accepted and supported and work to improve their understanding and completion time.