A letter to the teachers of English: 52How to deal with slow learners [Archives:2004/756/Education]

July 19 2004

Dr..M.N.K.Bose ([email protected])
Associate Professor of English,
Faculty of Arts, Ibb.

Dear Fellow teachers,
Sometime ago, a few teachers of English who attended a workshop were asked to make a list of topics for discussion they would like to be included in an in-service training programme. Of the several topics they have chosen, the one I have taken up for discussion in this letter had found a place in almost all the lists. Doesn't it mean that teachers are rally concerned with those who are called 'slow learners'? Call them whatever we want, they are comparably slow in their understanding their teachers and slow in producing answers as well. The problem of slow learners is a pan-world phenomenon and needs attention
There can hardly be any class without slow learners. If you remember, in one of my early letters, I categorized learners into three types, comparing them to sponges, chalks and bricks. The last category is that of slow learners. Psychologists have found several reasons for learners being slow in their learning process. There are also sociological and economic reasons for this phenomenon. Our job is to find the ways in which they can be helped to cope with the process of learning English.
Learner difference is a crucial factor a teacher has to keep in mind while planning and executing teaching. In fact, this is what makes teaching a challenge; however, there is a thrill in tackling this problem. There is nothing to despair or feel at a loss about it. Are our own children alike? What do we do about it? Don't we live happily with the differences? Then, why be unhappy about the learner difference in our classes? I am making a few suggestions as to how to deal with the slow learners, most of which have been found useful in my classes.
The first and foremost thing is that they need your affection and compassion; at no time should you make them feel they are slow learners at all, but you should not lose sight of the fact that they are slow learners. One way to treat them is to group them with others who are better learners and involve them in group activities, because there is a lot of merit for peer learning (learning from the classmates). A caution here is to see the other members in the group are cooperative and kind and not dominate them. Another way is to arrange special classes for them, without making it obvious that those who attend these classes are slow learners.
It is important that the exercises given to them are simpler than the ones given to others. Again this has to be done without making it obvious. How to do it? You can have several exercises of different difficulty levels and when you use them in your class, you can get the slow learners to answer the simple ones; when they answer them well, this will boost their morale and encourage them to participate more and more in the classroom activities. For example, there can be three levels of comprehension question based on a reading passage, say level A with easy ones, level B with difficult ones and level C with very difficult one.