The Label of ‘Slow Learning’
I want to talk to you today about the label of slow learning. For some children, they do not keep up with their peers in any aspect of their development and those children may be referred to as a slower learner or they may be given some other more formal label which implies a certain disability in their ability to learn.
I’m going to make a suggestion that where possible we give young people a little bit of space to be able to catch up with the things that we expect them to have already learned by the age or stage that they have reached. I cannot juggle but if I practised enough, I could probably do it. Imagine if you have a young person who is just about getting by with the stuff that they’re learning like they’re just only managing it and then you the parent or their teacher comes along and puts a bad ball into the mix. Can you imagine? For some young people, they are too busy sorting out the first problem to have another one starting on top of it and to be expected to cope with that one too. What can happen at times is that they freeze up and we find that young people freeze up in their learning because their brain is trying to catch up on what’s already happened.
Depending on their life circumstances, there may be a variety of reasons why this is happening to them. Some of those reasons will require a great deal of exploring for you to be able to figure out what’s going on and I’m not saying we need to kind of let them off the hook from being able to catch up and learn to the standard that they should be but we can perhaps deliver things in a slightly different way or give them a little bit more space or understanding so that we don’t put quite so much pressure on them.
Think about it this way – Have you ever been making a cake and you get to the part where you need to sift the flour? Now your sieve, obviously, it has little holes in the bottom where the flour is going to filter through. But have you ever done it where you’ve packed in so much flour all at the same time in the top of the sieve but instead of it trickling through and dusting out the bottom of your sieve it just sits there in the sieve and it doesn’t move?
It sits there like it’s completely clogged up because there’s so much stuff that’s coming, it’s packed it in so tightly. It doesn’t give a chance for the information to filter through to the other side. Imagine that there is a child who perhaps they were premature as a baby this can have an impact on them for many years. We quite often forget about that because they have appeared to have caught up in all other areas of their development but for a child who is born prematurely, they might be a little bit behind in some of their areas of development and so they have that effect like I just demonstrated with the juggling or talks about with the sieve.
There is so much coming in that the information gets compounded and then they get stuck and maybe go into a kind of brain freeze with it. But similarly, a child who speaks more than one language, you know, language especially the English language is a tricky enough thing to process already. If you have a young person who goes home and speaks a completely different language after a day of speaking English in school and you notice that they are slowly responding it’s because they’re thinking about what you’re saying in a completely different language. They may be translating stuff to themselves in their head.
It can be difficult to focus on maths if you’re still mastering physical development. It can be difficult to master coordination if what you’re still focusing on is the development of language. Therefore, I think we need to be cautious about considering young people to be slow at learning, in particular areas because in my experience very often there is something behind that there’s a reason why if you have a young person who is experiencing some kind of trauma at home or they recently had a bereavement then we would expect that that’s going to have some kind of impact in other areas of their life and if what you’re seeing in education is that this young person struggles socially. It might not be because they lack social skills. It might actually be because at this moment in time their brain is already busy juggling other things!
The original version of this article was written by Gemma Bailey, director of
It was republished and rebuilt with additional content by NLP4KIDS PRACTITIONER IAN DAVIES