Students with slow processing speed can struggle in class in lots of ways. That might be trouble keeping up in class, participating in discussions, or staying focused.
Processing speed on its own may not be enough to qualify students for an IEP. But that doesn’t mean they can’t use classroom accommodations anyway.
Here are some strategies teachers can use to help kids with slow processing speed.
Giving instructions and assignments
- Check in from time to time to make sure the student understands the lesson.
- Give the student extra time to respond to questions in class.
- Give simple written directions, and speak slowly when giving oral directions.
- Use graphs and other visual aids and explain out loud what they mean.
- Provide a checklist or rubric at the beginning of the assignment with details about how the project will be graded.
- Find ways to engage the student’s interest in lengthy assignments. (This can help motivate the student to finish the assignment.)
- Shorten repetitive assignments. Example: Let the student do only the even-number problems.
- Reduce the need for handwriting. Examples: Use fill-in-the-blank questions or allow work to be done on a computer.
- Limit the amount of time spent on daily homework assignments and have parents or caregivers sign off on any unfinished portions.
- Grade the student work based on mastery of information rather than on work completed.
Introducing new concepts/lessons
- Give an outline of the lesson or notes for students who don’t write fast enough or who have trouble multitasking.
- Use text-to-speech software and books with audio to help the student to see and hear the words at the same time.
- Use multiple means of presentation to reinforce new concepts.
Addressing trouble with focus
- Use nonverbal signals to engage a student who seems to be losing focus.
- Encourage the student to email questions or concerns later if it’s hard to come up with them during class.
- Provide a quiet space for tests so the student can talk through the questions without disrupting others.
- Give extended time for tests.
- Offer a chance to improve grades by letting the student correct test answers and explain the process used to correct them.
- Reduce distractions by using blank pieces of paper to cover all but one of the questions on a worksheet.
- Encourage active reading by letting the student use a highlighter or sticky notes.
Building organization and time management habits
- Create daily class routines and stick to them.
- Break down big assignments into smaller pieces with more deadlines.
- Show what a completed project looks like before the student begins.
- Establish clear starting points for tasks rather than just giving a due date.
- Give the student an extra set of textbooks to keep at home in case they’re often forgotten at home.
Keep in mind that having slow processing speed has nothing to do with how smart students are. It’s just that the pace at which they can take in, respond to, and use information may be a little bit slower. Accommodations give them the support they need to show what they know.
Do you have a student who you think has difficulty with processing speed? Explore a one-page fact sheet to get basic information on slow processing speed.
Are you wondering why your child doesn’t always struggle with processing speed? Find out how processing speed can vary from task to task.
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About the author
About the author
Amanda Morin is the director of thought leadership at Understood and author of “The Everything Parent’s Guide to Special Education.” She worked as a classroom teacher and early intervention specialist for more than a decade.