What is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare? –
No time to stand beneath the boughs
And stare as long as sheep or cows:
No time to see, when woods we pass,
Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass:
No time to see, in broad daylight,
Streams full of stars, like skies at night:
No time to turn at Beauty’s glance,
And watch her feet, how they can dance:
No time to wait till her mouth can
Enrich that smile her eyes began?
A poor life this if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.
While this poem was written during the early 20th century, it is a reminder to us today to slow down and pay attention to the world around us.
Our children must be good writers, astute mathematicians, and must perform well in language arts. We expect them to be good at problem solving, memorization, critical thinking and organization. In addition, they must follow instructions well, process data accurately, take good notes, produce exemplary work in both Hebrew and English studies – and do it all fast!
Is it any wonder that so many children do not measure up to the heavy expectations placed on their young shoulders?
Consider the case of Basya, an eleven year-old girl who is finding school increasingly difficult. She seems to easily lose the thread of class discussions, and is often confused when new material is explained in class. Instead of repeatedly asking for help, she tunes out and makes little effort at even trying to understand.
Basya reads well but very slowly. She requires instructions to be repeated in order to carry them out. She would rather take work to do at home where her mother explains and reviews the lessons. “My mother knows how to explain it slowly so that I understand,” she says.
Although children experience failure in any one of the broad array of subjects, a most frequent – if often undiagnosed – source of trouble that affects performance in almost every single academic area is the one Basya manifests: slow data-processing.
Achievement in school greatly depends upon being able to keep pace with the rapid presentation of information. During elementary grades, new facts and procedures are usually presented slowly and with lots of repetition.
Gradually, the pace accelerates. The quick processing of entirely new material is demanded with greater frequency during a child’s school years than during the career years of an adult!
Speed is vital for scholastic success. Students must be able to respond swiftly to rapid-fire quiz questions. They must think quickly on their feet during class discussions. They are pressured to grasp numbers, charts, pictures and other forms of nonverbal material with speed, as well.
There are many children who, like Basya, have difficulty processing material fast enough while they listen, read, or observe. Students like her may find themselves trying to digest the teacher’s first statement, while the teacher has gone on to a second or third idea which they have missed or heard only partially.
With a fragmented understanding of the subject matter, these students continuously find themselves at a disadvantage. As they struggle to keep up, them may experience frustration, mental fatigue and feelings of being overwhelmed. Apathy and loss of focus sometimes follow.
Very often, slow-processing children become discouraged and anxious in school, Here are some practical suggestions – adapted below – when assisting these children at home and in school.
Allot more time than usual for homework, but stagger the material, giving frequent breaks.
Place strong emphasis on review of the material, locating the point where comprehension was derailed, and repairing the “holes” in knowledge and understanding.
Parents should work on giving the child scanning, skimming and reviewing techniques while reading. It also helps a great deal to approach new material in small “chunk-size” capacities rather than as complete units.
Giving a child a time limit for reading a chapter, finishing a page of math or studying a diagram can help her improve her rate of processing. (Using an oven timer or alarm clock provides the child with the incentive of trying to “beat the clock.”)
In day-to-day living, parents can help children with slow processing by repeating directions and explanations. Family conversations may need to be deliberately slowed to ensure the participation of these children.
Teachers should watch for disorientation in children who are slow processors. Because note-taking and copying may be especially difficult for these students, teachers can provide them with handout materials which can be studied at a comfortable pace.
Give either more time or fewer questions on tests to children who process slowly. Allow them to take standardized tests without being timed.
When a slower pace of instruction will not bore the other students, a teacher should make a conscious effort to slow the rate at which he or she presents new material.
When an important lesson or review session is being given, the slow-processing child could benefit by using a tape recorder in class. This will allow him or her a second opportunity to process the information at a suitable rate.
To avoid embarrassing students with slow data processing, teachers can refrain from calling on them to respond to complex questions rapidly.
“Tailoring” the teaching style as well as the curriculum to accommodate the slow-processing child is standard fare in many classrooms, and many of the above suggestions may fall under the category of “common sense.”
Yet, all too often, we find classrooms being managed by teachers who are insensitive to the anxiety, and at times, panic, that children like Basya experience, when they becomes so lost they cannot event articulate what it is they do not understand.
Tuning in to these children, anticipating their disorientation and acting compassionately to reduce confusion, will bring parents and teachers closer toward attaining one of our paramount goals in education: that no child is left behind. And, perhaps if we all slow down just a little bit, we will be able to see more of the genius (and beauty!) around us.