Kids with slow processing speed often find studying, note taking, and completing homework to be long and arduous. While working slowly is not always problematic, it can be when it takes time away from opportunities to interact with peers. In addition to experiencing the frustration of spending so much of their time on schoolwork, these kids also miss out on what Daniel Siegel, M.D. describes in his book BrainStorm as the “essence” of adolescence. They have less time for generating an emotional spark, being engaged socially, meeting novelty, and undergoing creative exploration.
These are important hallmarks of adolescence, so it is imperative that parents and teachers not expect these kids to spend an excessive number of hours completing homework. Emphasizing skills rather than the amount of work that is produced or providing technology for more efficient note taking and engagement in effective study skills should be the focus of intervention. It is important to develop appropriate accommodations that can reduce the amount of writing for teenagers with slow processing speed, teach them how to use technologies that can enhance note-taking skills, and provide them with strategies that can maximize the benefit of study habits.
In order to target the best study-skills interventions for teenagers with slow processing speed it is important to understand what is slowing them down. A determination should be made of whether teenagers are having difficulty with the pace of taking in verbal or visual information or in the output of verbal, motor, or written information. This requires assessment of other factors that can impact study skills such as working memory; reading fluency and comprehension; poor, illegible, or slow handwriting; and difficulty with executive- functioning skills such as task initiation, time management, or organization. Many teens with slow processing speed have difficulty in more than one areas, but identifying the major difficulties that result in slow processing speed can help parents and educators to target appropriate interventions.
Keep in mind that certain processing-speed skills are more amenable to intervention and accommodation than others. For example, slowness in note taking can be readily addressed by providing a scribe or making PowerPoint notes or outlines accessible to students during class. Alternatively, students can learn how to use an app such as Notability that allows for taking brief notes while simultaneously recording and syncing the lecture to these notes so individuals can go back to complete their notes at a later time.
Here are some of the best strategies for improving study skills for teens with slow processing speed:
Teach effective study skills. Many students employ study skills–highlighting, rereading, and keyword mnemonics–that may not be overly helpful. For kids with slow processing speed, these methods may only result in more frustration. Kids with slow processing speed can benefit from learning skills such as elaborative interrogation, in which they ask themselves the question why and then attempt to answer it. Other skills could include practice testing, in which they quiz themselves, or distributed practice, which is essentially the opposite of cramming. To learn more about the best study skills for teens read this article.
Improve students’ study notes. Allow accommodations such as providing a scribe or giving access to a teacher’s PowerPoint notes. Other interventions could include access to a laptop or tablet to take notes (for teenagers who are expert typists) or the use of tools such as Notability or LiveScribe. Many great ideas for alternative note-taking styles for teens with slow processing speed can be found in the book Learning Outside the Lines.
Reduce reliance on reading fluency. Listening to audiobooks, using a text-to-speech program that reads textbooks, or providing more explicit directions as to what needs to be studied can be useful for slow readers. A tool such as Amazon Whispersync, which pairs an audiobook with an ebook while highlighting the text, can be helpful for reading popular books. Teens with reading-fluency issues, who have strong language skills do remarkably better when listening to audiobooks.
Recognize the need for breaks. An hour-long vigorous exercise break is almost always more helpful to improve memory and learning than an additional hour of studying for many kids, with and without processing-speed concerns. Other short breaks such as taking time for a healthy snack or going outside can be beneficial for effective study skills.
Improve executive-functioning skills. Many executive- functioning skills contribute to the efficiency of completing homework and studying. For example, improving teenagers’ skills in task initiation, planning, and time management can have wide-ranging benefits for their study skills.
Improve communication with teachers. The best teachers for teens with slow processing speed effectively communicate expectations for assignments and provide study guides that target areas for preparation. Teachers can furnish models of completed assignments and of well-executed answers to tests. Those who help students learn what to study by demonstrating the most salient points for learning are a good match for kids with slow processing speed.
Improve organizational skills. Teenagers who are able to become more organized can improve efficiency when they are able to find what they need for studying and completing homework. Reducing clutter and using organizational tools such as designated closet space and shelving can be helpful. Occasional reminders to organize backpacks and to use tools such as Google Drive to organize files can also improve processing speed.
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