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Slow Processing Speed: 5 Ways it Impacts Learning



Dear Friends:  The next two weeks I will be writing about processing speed. This week I will focus on how processing speed can be evaluated, the causes of a slow processing speed, and the 5 ways that a slow processing speed can impact learning. Next week, I will be sharing 7 powerful strategies for student success as well as reasonable accommodations in the classroom.

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Have you ever noticed that it takes some students longer to make sense of questions, generate an answer, copy from the board, complete a project, or get everyday tasks done? While some learners can quickly absorb information and complete tasks, others require a greater amount of time. Processing speed, or the speed at which an individual makes sense of incoming information from the senses and then generates a response, is a cognitive task that impacts learning.  


How Can a Student Be Tested for Processing Speed Deficits?
There are a number of psycho-educational subtests that measure processing speed such as Coding, Symbol Search, and Cancellation on the WISC intelligence test as well as Paired Cancellation and Rapid Picture Naming on the Woodcock-Johnson - Test of Cognitive Ability and Test of Oral Language. However, one must be aware of the fact that these subtests also measure other areas of cognition such as visual processing and making a fine motor response. Therefore, there is always the possibility that a student with poor scores on these subtests has, for example, visual processing or fine motor deficits that are pulling scores down. As a result, when interpreting these measures, it is important to rule out weaknesses in areas like visual processing and fine motor dexterity. It should also be noted that these subtests do not evaluate, for example, the speed of auditory processing or gross motor processing. Therefore, scores that suggest a slow processing speed should not be generalized to all areas of cognitive processing.


The Cause of Processing Speed Deficits:
When a student struggles with a slow processing speed, it may be caused by one or more sensory processing area such as visual processing, auditory processing, verbal reasoning, sequential processing, or motor processing to name a few.  What’s more, the cause of a delay can reside in any one or combination of the following sequences:
  1. Receiving and perceiving information through the senses.
  2. Making sense of that information in the brain.
  3. Producing a response or action.


How Does a Slow Processing Speed Impact Students?
  1. Students may miss important information if the stream of sensory input is at an overwhelming pace. For example, if a student cannot keep up with the flow of content, like a damn that is overwhelmed by a large rainstorm, information spills over one’s memory banks and remains unprocessed. As a result, notes can be sparse and understanding of concepts can be limited or incomplete.  
  2. Learners may take longer to complete homework. Unfortunately, for these students, school work can consume much of their free time and many can become overtaxed and overwhelmed.  
  3. Students may find it difficult to complete assignments and tests within the allocated time.  Because these learners need more time to process, many of them require extended time to show their true knowledge.
  4. Learners may struggle to keep up with a lecture and record the information as notes. Modern-day note-taking requires students to listen, read presentations, and write. If anyone of these processes is slow or labored, it can make the note-taking process extremely challenging.
  5. Students may find it difficult to reason with information when under time constraints. Some students just need more time to think about content, make sense of it and make personal connections.
  6. Learners may have a hard time keeping up with the flow and comprehension of both verbal and nonverbal communication.


I hope you found this helpful. Next week, I will continue on the topic of processing speed, and I will be defining 7 strategies for success. In addition, I’ll also be discussing reasonable schooling accommodations for those that struggle with this difficulty.
Dr. Erica Warren is the author, illustrator, and publisher of multisensory educational materials at Good Sensory Learning.  She is also the director of Learning to Learn and Learning Specialist Courses.

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