Classroom Strategies – Slow Processing Speed and Academic Performance

How does processing speed impact academic achievement?

Students with slow processing speed often cannot keep up with their peers on math minutes, struggle to take complete notes, are likely to be among the last to finish tests and quizzes, and may experience difficulty in following multi-step directions. Students with slow processing speed may also be overwhelmed by modest amounts of homework. They’ll likely need more time to master new content and may have difficulty contributing to group projects. Reading a passage quietly, taking tests, writing sentences, or completing math problems can be painful. Slow processing can mean homework takes hours, rather than minutes, to complete.

Kids with slow processing are frequently very capable, appearing to parents and teachers to be highly intelligent (because they are). But they have trouble showing what they know in a timely manner. Often they are mistakenly labeled lazy or unmotivated. Slow processing speed often leads to frustration and low self-esteem in students, but an understanding teacher and effective classroom accommodations and strategies can dramatically improve performance.

In the classroom, processing speed involves the ability to process information quickly without requiring a significant amount of deep thinking. Individuals with slow processing speed require more time than their peers to make sense of the information with which they have been presented. For example, children with slow processing speed may take a long time to make decisions and/or have difficulty performing tasks within a time limit. Difficulty with processing speed may also involve delays in inputting information into the brain, internal processing and thinking, and output of an answer.

It is important to note that children with slow processing speed may not necessarily have difficulty with comprehension or have lower intelligence than their peers. Because delayed processing speed can prevent children from demonstrating their knowledge in time (or at all), it is important that parents and teachers help these kids to identify themselves as capable learners.

Here are some strategies to help kids with slow processing speed reach their academic capacities and maintain their motivation to learn in the classroom:

With elementary school children, find a teacher who matches the child’s style (e.g., one who does not view the child as being lazy or who does not place too much value on quickness). Teachers who  can recognize a child’s strengths in the context of the child’s  slow productivity can be powerful in motivating a slow processor to work hard in school.

Pair a slow processor with other students who move at a moderate pace and have a patient demeanor.

Do not give too much information too fast. Slow down speech,  particularly when giving instructions.

Share notes such as lecture notes, PowerPoints, and models of a completed assignment.

Improve a child’s attention and focus through movement, regular activity, exercise, and preferential seating placement.

Identify technologies such as Siri, Notability, and Google docs that can help kids with slow processing speed. Use typing, dictation, time-management apps, and task organizers that engage attention. However, technology alone is inadequate and requires training to apply these tools to improve processing speed.

Encourage tutoring and extra academic support when necessary.


Featured image: Flickr user Wellspring Community Schools.

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