Scaffolding Slow Bloomers!
When a child is born, his parents have high expectations from the child that he will be able to hold his own in family, school and society. But not every child meets these expectations. This causes worry and frustration among parents, school administration, and disappoints the child as well along with her teachers.
Not only in our institution but in many other schools, principals, teachers as well as parents have to face the challenges of having children with low academic standing and performance.
Our school, this year as a special initiative has taken up the concerns of children with below average cognitive levels whom we call ‘Slow Bloomers’. The term ‘Slow Bloomers’ in pedagogical sense is used to label children having below average cognitive abilities but whom we cannot classify as disabled learners. Any child having compromised learning outcome in the general classroom setting for a prolonged time not only develops a low esteem towards his/her academics, but for his school system, with fellow learners which subsequently and progressively results in— getting into social and behavioral problems and ultimately forcing parents to hold back the child in the same class, change the school or drop out.
Definition and Prevalence
Nationwide slow learners occupy not more than approximately 10 to 14 percentage of children. Slow learners are the children who have specific learning levels and styles and therefore have special learning needs which arise out of their sensory, intellectual, and psychosomatic or socio cultural diversities and differences. Thus slow learners are not a disabled category but a diagnostic category of children.
Identification of ‘Slow Bloomers’
Identifying children having borderline intelligence must be done on the basis of child’s academic and non academic performance, his learning difficulties in vertical and horizontal levels using the child’s carefully recorded anecdotal evidence, parents’ feedback, and assessing problems in child’s individual learning styles. This helps the teachers at school and parents at home to find ways to support his /her learning at desired pace and strength. However, considering Bloom’s taxonomy of learning domains in the general classroom scenario, the following learning difficulties of the slow learners can be seen –
Difficulties at Cognitive Level
- They have low mental abilities, cannot write their responses, fail to classify, compare, contrast, etc.
- They lack problem solving skills, fail to decide, and lag behind others in academic performance.
- They lack innovation and creativity, find it hard to think critically, are unable to form opinions, and cannot focus on problem areas.
- They lack appropriateness and exactness, cannot exhibit and justify their opinions, fail to express logically.
Difficulties at Affective Level
- They skip work, show unpreparedness to given tasks, delay tasks, assignments, do not bother to listen, and lag behind in developing values, hobbies, interests and attitude.
- They face difficulty in answering questions, respond and communicate.
- They fail to find value in learning experiences; have negative approach towards learning and schooling.
- They fail to manage time and information; have low logical sense and opinion; do not easily understand the sequence or pattern of information or instruction provided.
Difficulties at Psychomotor Level
- They find it difficult to perform curricular or co-curricular activities, lack hand and head coordination.
- They have extremely poor kinesthetic or tactile skills, fail to communicate through actions and gestures, and cannot learn better with visual aids.
- They fail to perform in sports, dramatics, recitation and other action related skills.
- They have low esteem in art and craft, have poor handwriting, and can hurt themselves while using tools, etc.
Misconceptions About Slow Learners
In a traditional Indian school set up there is a common belief among some teachers, administrators as well as parents that children with struggling learning level have very low intelligence and are ‘problem learners’. In fact, the case is opposite. Various researchers, psychologists, and progressive schools working on slow learners have practically proved that through regular and changed teaching-learning tactics even slow learners have shown significant improvement in academics.
Strategies to Help Slow Bloomers
To meet the challenges of learning of the slow learners, in our school we have tagged on comprehensive and integrated teaching–learning plans to mitigate the learning gaps of this group of children. This year our school teachers as well as management have chalked out special interventional pilot programmes and case study projects and strategies to rescue the children from slow learner trap.
Chunking the Curricula and Lessons into Discrete Elements
Working memory of slow learners is small and they cannot easily handle new information. Slightly large or extensive information swamp the sequential working order of their memory. Since they have deficit readiness and background knowledge therefore they need to be taught in small convenient short sessions along with practice on the same information and skills.
In our school, we have divided our programme of study into weekly modules and teachers decide class wise the content to be taught alongside assignments, activities, project work, assessments, etc to be conducted in horizontal and vertical curriculum arrangement.
Develop Core Hobbies
Gardening, drawing, writing poems and stories, dramatisation, sketching, paper folding art (Origami), model making, pottery and many more are engaging and participatory activities in school. A well identified and planned hobby development programme for slow learners as a co-curricular activity provides an effective experiential learning routine, within or outside the school itself.
A hobby can enhance the children’s well-being and can give more meaning to their lives.
Pairing the Learners with Peer Mentoring
In the current educational set up peer mentoring has been seen favourably by educators and pedagogical researchers. A well planned and laid out pairing of the slow learners into smaller groups and observing them with peer mentoring will increase their interest and curiosity. Pairing and peering will have other benefits, like removing peer pressure, instilling spirit of participation, leadership and responsibility, building confidence by doing and getting away from learning inhibitions.
Linking Academic learning to real-world experiences
The terms ‘Learning by doing’, ‘authentic learning’, ‘learning by hands on experience’ are synonymous terms used to describe learning in which learners are actively engaged. Authentic learning typically focuses on real-world problems and find their solutions using role-play, exercises, problembased activities, case studies and through actual participation. The learning environments are inherently multidisciplinary. For example, making a sparrow house, repairing an instrument or tool, making a working model, preparing a balanced diet menu, setting up books in the library, doing survey work in the school or neighbourhood.
Use Alternative Testing Options
‘Everybody is a genius but if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree it will live its whole life believing it is stupid’, stated Albert Einstein highlighting the need for understanding individual differences. Testing by teachers working on slow bloomers in an alternate setting with fewer distractions and hurdles can ease the stress level of students and remove test anxiety. While testing the learning of slow bloomers the following strategies can do wonders:
- Drawing and colouring pictures, matching words, figures, sums, etc.
- Arranging the sequence of events, processes or points based on prompts provided.
- Drawing or labeling a diagram, finding answers in a given grid, circling the odd or similar items, think and answer, etc.
- Shortened tests or answer choices. To a student with attention problems, having three possible choices instead of four can make a world of difference.
- Giving the test during several sessions, with just one page per session, can also lead to less overwhelmed students. l Allow the use of notes during tests or allowing opening books during test (OBT).
I would like all the members of the teaching fraternity to remember that children need their love, patience, compassion and care to blossom. They need your helping hand to grow and fill your school garden with beauty and fragrance. As the ongoing month is just the beginning of the New Year, it is the time to make resolutions, shape our profession and groom ourselves to come up to the expectations of our school, parents and children.
While preparing another set of learning material for our school’s slow bloomers I tried to knit together some words to make this acrostic poem on ‘Slow Bloomer’ –
Supple though stunted but sure to up and set to stand, Leaning to learn, firm to raise their answering hands,
Offspring of generation next,
striving to do their best,
Willing, to be perfect champs of generation next.
Be their best friend, guide and caretaker,
Love and teach tenderly, be their path maker,
On to them put your best, ignite their minds,
Oblige them to make the song of their brand,
Mar their failures and raise their hopes,
Enlighten their quest to leap for progress,
Raise them up to reap their own success.
Ashok Singh Guleria teacher of 19 years standing, is a post- graduate in English Literature. He writes on pedagogical issues and children’s behavioural concerns. Currently, he is the Head of Department of English and Academic coordinator cum Teachers’ Trainer at the Akal Academy Group of Schools, Kajri U.P.