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Understanding and Addressing Processing Speed Deficits in the Classroom

In the classroom, processing speed involves the ability to take in information, understand that information, and then formulate an oral, written, or physical response. For students with slow processing speed, this process can take much more time and energy.

What is processing speed?

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Processing speed refers to the pace at which you are able to perceive information (visual or auditory), make sense of that information, and then respond. In a manner of speaking, processing speed is simply the amount of time it takes to get something done. When a student has slow processing speed, certain academic tasks can take them longer than the average student. According to the coauthors of Bright Kids Who Can’t Keep Up, “processing speed does interact with other areas of cognitive functioning by negatively impacting the ability to quickly come up with an answer, retrieve information from long-term memory, and remember what you’re supposed to be doing at a given time” (Braaten and Willoughby, 2014, p.4).

There are three main components when considering processing abilities:

  • visual processing: how quickly a student’s eyes perceive information and relay it to the brain (such as reading directions or noticing a teacher’s hand gestures)
  • verbal processing: how quickly a student hears a stimulus and reacts to it (such as following oral instructions or participating in a discussion)
  • motor speed: how strong a student’s fine motor agility is, leading to academic fluency (such as filling out timed math worksheets)

In the classroom, processing speed involves the ability to take in information, understand that information, and then formulate an oral, written, or physical response. For students with slow processing speed, this process can be cumbersome, as it takes larger amounts of time and energy for each step to take place.

Common signs of slow processing speed

There are many signs that a student may have slow processing speed. However, processing speed deficits can occur in the context of an additional diagnosis. For instance, ADHD is often associated with slow processing speed (Butnik, 2013). Therefore, it is important that formal testing occurs in any situation where a student appears to present with processing speed deficits. These checklists highlight some of the common signs that might indicate a need for formal assessment by a trained psychologist.

Alleviating slow processing speed in the classroom

While there are numerous suggestions for interventions, working to reduce anxiety and slow the pace of the classroom are important factors. Anxiety, for the most part, plays a similar role in processing speed as it does with working memory: students can become anxious about the fact that they are noticeably slower than other students and are struggling to keep up in class. In addition, students’ anxiety can cause them to become slower in their processing, since their energy is being devoted to managing that anxiety rather than processing the information being presented. It is even suggested that anxious students will work toward perfecting the work they do complete, and these perfectionist tendencies, in turn, will slow down their output (Braaten and Willoughby, 2014, p.6). Therefore, implementing strategies and being aware of stressors is incredibly important for the success of students in the classroom.

How Does This Concept Connect To Landmark’s Teaching Principles™ ?

By understanding processing speed and how it can impact students in the classroom, teachers can showcase Landmark’s first teaching principle: Provide Opportunities for Success. When teachers understand the strengths and weaknesses of their students, instruction can be tailored to avoid frustration and allow for student success. Also, research has shown that the more a person completes a task, the more automatic (and quicker) the response becomes (Braaten and Willoughby, 2014, p.14). Therefore, in order to appropriately allow students the opportunity to participate actively and promptly, teachers must follow Landmark’s fourth teaching principle: Ensure Automatization Through Practice and Review.

Free Landmark Teaching Strategies

For more information on how to best address the needs of students with slower processing speed, please see the attached strategies.

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