How Can Teachers Support Students with Slow Processing?

Author: Nicola Jones-Ford

Posted: 06 Dec 2019

Estimated time to read: 4 mins

Have you ever noticed when a student takes a longer time to get an answer, but you can see them working hard to get there? Perhaps you’ve read the educational psychologist report saying that the student has slower than average processing speed and wondered how this impacts the student’s learning?

In this blog I’ll be looking at how teachers can identify and support students who show signs of slow processing speed.

What is slow processing? 

We all have a different rate that our brains work at when dealing with information and tasks that are presented to us. The brain receives many thousands of inputs of information at any one moment. Students with slow processing may have difficulty processing all of these inputs, affecting what they hear, what they see or how their body moves. 

This difficulty is often compounded by other difficulties with storage and retrieval of information that will again slow the processing speed even more. So a student with slow processing difficulties can have one or a number of factors that are influencing how quickly they can process the learning in your classroom.  

For example, a student with slow processing speed, who also has dyslexia will find it even more difficult to sound their way through words and sentences than one who has dyslexia without slow processing speed.  

How to identify slow processing in students?

A student with slow processing difficulties...    

  • Is unlikely to keep up with the lesson pace
  • May seem confused often
  • When called on to answer a verbal question might not have an answer ready
  • Struggle to remember what the lesson earlier/yesterday was about
  • Might read slowly with poor comprehension
  • Find it difficult to keep up with peers on a social level as they can misread the subtle social interactions
  • Can have problems with planning and structuring what they need to do
  • Become overwhelmed when given too many instructions to process at once
  • May be very anxious in situations that change quickly or unexpectedly
  • Could be quite messy in their presentation
  • Find it difficult to check for mistakes, proof read or edit their work 
  • Appear lazy as they could be avoiding tasks that they know they are unlikely to finish
  • Become very anxious in timed activities
  • May have difficulty bringing the materials they need to complete a task
  • May never seem to finish completely any task given 
  • May look like they are not listening
  • Could take a very long time to make a simple decision like who are they going to work with from a choice of student X or student Y  


slow processing students

5 ways to support students with slow processing in the classroom:

Allow time to process 

When asking a student with slow processing a verbal question as part of whole class learning, a good way to help them be included is, call on them, repeat the question and tell them that you will be back them after student X and student Y have answered.  

In this process the student with slow processing will have been focussing on getting to their answer so is unlikely to have listened to others answers so they may repeat an answer that has just been given, this for them is most likely to have been new thinking, an easy way to support their thinking (and self esteem) if this happens is to say ‘you agree with student Y that …...’.  

Modified/differentiated tasks 

As the student takes longer to process their learning activities, if they have the same tasks as the majority of the class they can feel like they never get anything finished or achieved.  By modifying the learning and distilling the essential learning tasks/aims this will help a student with slow processing feel like they can complete their learning in line with others.

This can be as simple as providing sentence starters, writing frameworks, different expectations about the amount needed to be produced, use of a task planner (see below), examples of structures to complete the tasks within, less tasks and simplified instructions.   

Task planner/task checklist/to do list

Having a ‘to do’ list, where the essential tasks are simply explained with the ability to check them off, helps the student break down the lesson and not feel overwhelmed by the perceived ‘mountain’ of work they need to complete. The lesson becomes manageable for them and helps them to complete the essential learning for the lesson.

We’ve included a task planner template which you can download, for both primary and secondary students.  Example here…..

Create structure and routines 

Having a predictable structure in your lesson helps students with slow processing to feel that they know exactly what is going to happen next and reduces their anxiety levels. If changes in the ‘normal’ lesson structure are expected, try to give students with slow processing as much of an advanced warning as possible. This can also help to reduce any anxiety relating to lack of structure or change.

Use clear, simple, concise language

For a student with slow processing clear instructions are the most effective. Task explanations and feedback make it easier to access the lesson but also, this will help them to be as independent with their learning as possible.

We react to light in 50 milliseconds, recognize sound in 100 milliseconds, and think in 300 milliseconds.


Where can I find further support for students with slow processing? 

An educational psychologist can use a standardised test (generally WISC-V) to identify processing speed difficulties, this test can also look at working memory, verbal comprehension, visual processing and reasoning.    

As a teacher if you are concerned about a student who you think may have slow processing difficulties talk to the school’s SEND team who will be able to support you with further information, relevant training, individual specific hints/tips and additional ways in which to support the student further if assessment is necessary.