Slow processors in a language class

slow processors in a world language classroom

In our work as teachers, we will have slow processors in our classes – along with fast processors and average processors. What does this mean and how can we help these students?

What is a slow processor?

We all process information at different speeds. Some of us can take in new information, process the information and determine what our response will be very quickly while others will need extra time to process the same information. In any class we will have a combination of students who need extra time mixed with those who quickly “get it” and want to move on. This can be frustrating for everyone – the slow processors may feel as if they are holding everyone else back while the fast processors may become bored and frustrated with those who are holding them back.

It is important to recognize that while being a slow processor may be a reason for students not accomplishing tasks within a given amount time, there may be other reasons. A student who chooses to watch videos in class or play games or is causing disruptions rather than working may or may not be a slow processor – but without a conversation with the student and parent(s), it may be hard to say.

Slow processing can be related to other issues – 40% of slow processors may also have language impairments. Boys are more likely to be slow processors than girls, and many students who are slow processors are able to receive services under an IEP or 504 plan.

How can world language teachers help slow processors?

One of the most important things a teacher can do is accept that students who are slow processors likely cannot change their processing speed. They will take longer to do a task, so if it is a task that they may be able to accomplish in fewer attempts, there is no reason for them to do the same number as other students. A student who takes 10 minutes to answer 3 questions while other students are answering 6 questions may not be a problem – if those 3 questions allow the student to learn the material.

As processing speed is not a reflection of intelligence, it is quite possible that the slow processor may understand the material just as well after 3 questions while a fast processor might need 6 questions to master the same material!

Sometimes repetitive content practice can help slow processors to improve their processing speed. Games on sites such as Quizlet, Blooket and Gimkit can allow students to play a game at their own pace while building the neural connections to memorize vocabulary and phrases. These sites can be perfect for all-class activities so long as the goal is time rather than points. If you set the timer for a game on Gimkit or Blooket, the fast and slow processors can all enjoy the game at their own speed.

One game that might be particularly useful is the “gold coins” game on Blooket. This game allows competitor to swap and steal coins from other players, so even slow processors have a chance to win the game as long as they keep playing. Playing these games on a regular basis can help slow processors as they won’t have to learn new tasks – they will become familiar with how the games work and be able to focus on the topic rather than the rules and tasks of the game.

When doing CI activities, much of the instruction is oral and you will need to make sure that all processing speeds are allowed the time to digest the instruction. When asking questions, it is very easy for fast processors to dominate the conversation by answering before other students have had the chance to process the question. One tactic is to tell students that you will ask the questions, then count to a number, then repeat the question and allow students to answer at that time.

How it feels to be a slow processor

I personally am a very fast processor. My colleagues that I have worked with have frequently commented that before they’ve even had a chance to understand what the task is, I’ve already started working on a solution. This is something that can be challenging to me – and it is something that I remind myself each morning when working with my students.

One solution that I’ve found helpful is to try something that is challenging and that I am not good it – hockey. I’m not an athlete and after 10 years of playing hockey, I’m still not very good at it. I almost never catch passes and I’ve scored maybe 8 goals in 20 seasons. But I still enjoy it, I get exercise from it, and it is a humbling reminder of what my students who may not find learning languages easy are going through. I’m a “slow processor” when it comes to physical tasks, so this helps me to think of what my students might be going through.

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