Helping Slow Learners: Implications for the Classroom (page 2)

By — John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
Updated on Jan 14, 2011

Treat Failure As a Natural Part of Learning

If you want to increase your intelligence, you have to challenge yourself. That means taking on tasks that are a bit beyond your reach, and that means you may very well fail, at least the first time around. Fear of failure can therefore be a significant obstacle to tackling this sort of challenging work, but failure should not be a big deal.

My first job after college was in the office of a member of Congress. I didn't see the Big Boss very often, and I was pretty intimidated by him. I remember well the first time I did something stupid (I've forgotten what) and it was brought to his attention. I mumbled some apology. He looked at me for a long moment and said, "Kid, the only people who don't make mistakes are the ones who never do anything." It was tremendously freeing—not because I avoided judgment for the incident, but it was the first time I really understood that you have to learn to accept failure if you're ever going to get things done. Michael Jordan put it this way: "I've missed more than nine thousand shots in my career. I've lost almost three hundred games. Twenty-six times I've been trusted to take the game-winning shot and missed. I've failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed."

Try to create a classroom atmosphere in which failure, while not desirable, is neither embarrassing nor wholly negative. Failure means you're about to learn something. You're going to find out that there's something you didn't understand or didn't know how to do. Most important, model this attitude for your students. When you fail—and who doesn't?—let them see you take a positive, learning attitude.

Don't Take Study Skills for Granted

Make a list of all of the things you ask students to do at home. Consider which of these things have other tasks embedded in them and ask yourself whether the slower students really know how to do them. For older students, if you announce that there will be a quiz, you assume they will study for it. Do your slower students really know how to study? Do they know how to assess the importance of different things they've read and heard and seen? Do they know how long they ought to study for a quiz? (At the college level, my low-performing students frequently protest their low grades by telling me, "But I studied for three or four hours for this test!" I know that the high-scoring students study about twenty hours.) Do your slower students know some simple tricks to help with planning and organizing their time?

These concerns are especially important for students who are just starting to receive serious homework assignments—probably around the seventh grade. There is a period of adjustment for most students when homework is no longer "bring in three rocks from your yard or the park" and turns into "read Chapter Four and answer the even numbered questions at the back." All students must learn new skills as homework becomes more demanding—skills of self-discipline, time management, and resourcefulness (for example, knowing what to do when they're stumped). Students who are already behind will have that much more trouble doing work on their own at home, and they may be slower to learn these skills. Don't take for granted that your slower students have these skills, even if they should have acquired them in previous grades.

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