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First Grader in Classical Chrisitan School with Slow Processing Speed

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    First Grader in Classical Chrisitan School with Slow Processing Speed


    I'm super new here and joined specifically to hopefully seek your collective advice on how best to meet the needs of one of my students. I teach first grade at a classical Christian school and I'm the first to admit I'm not exactly sure how to best help one of my little gals in the context of our whole class. She has not been diagnosed with anything as of yet, but we're about to have a meeting to suggest some testing referrals for her. She's very capable of doing the work in our class, but she's very very very s...l...o...w with every single thing we do. I finally started using google and everything I've read (granted...I'm google researching here) points to slow processing speed.

    I very much want to be able to help this sweet one succeed, but I really do not know how to modify things in a way that helps her to still gain mastery at the level we need her to in order to process to our second grade next year. If she were my own child I'd definitely say she's a great match for homeschooling as pacing doesn't matter nearly as much and she could really move at her own level. But as it is, she's in my school and so I want to see if I can help her make this work.

    We are fairly typical with curriculum choices at this level (Spell to Write and Read for spelling, Saxon 2 for first grade math, Shurley Grammar, and we do a lot of copywork for history/science). She's pretty good with with the spelling and her grammar understanding is decent for first grade (I really don't expect much mastery in this area - just laying a foundation for second grade). For the copywork, I've taken to giving her shorter passages or even fill in the blank versions where she only has to write a fraction of what the other kids are writing. It's really the Saxon timed math that is eating our lunch.

    Example: This week we took a timed math facts test of 25 facts of the -4 and -5 facts. 17 of my students completed this test in under 3.5 minutes (the Saxon standard). For Anna, I finally stopped her at 7 minutes and she had done 11 of them. This is consistent for her with these timed math drills. If I lift the time parameter, it just takes her forever and I do not want her spending an hour working on it. I know she's been super slow with the facts homework sheets that she's taken home.

    So I guess my question is what is a reasonable expectation for a child with slow processing speed? How do I give her similar material without bringing her to a frustration level or just checking out altogether? How do I help her meet the standard we have at our school for mastery, or do I adjust what that level should really be for her?

    If anyone is able to help me think through this, I would be super grateful.


    Good morning and welcome!

    We love to hear from classical Christian schoolteachers interested in helping struggling students. Thank you for this.

    Modifying the copywork seems to be helping. If she memorizes well, you might have her memorize the full passage but write only the shorter version. In this way she could recite any memory work orally but have a reduced written workload.

    You might conduct those dreaded timed tests in a similar manner. Find a method in which she can recall the facts more quickly: recitations in unison on the board, zipping through flash cards, or oral recitations of fact families. Sometimes when you use such methods for the struggling student, other students benefit as well. When you find something that works well for her, this can become the method by which she practices her math facts at home, rather than sending home facts homework sheets. As you mention, the goal is mastery of the facts. This can be accomplished with flexibility.

    You're already on the right track just by thinking through this for your student. When you refer for testing, be sure to include an assessment of processing in varied forms (visual, auditory, and writing fluency). You will want to determine whether a specific learning disability exists in processing or in written expression, or both. Then you will know how best to modify or accommodate her needs, but also where and how to work to strengthen those weaker areas.

    Have you read the second edition of Simply Classical? We offer an entire new chapter on classrooms, teachers, and special needs. Our recent article in the Simply Classical Journal highlighted some tips, one of which is this: Be sure to make notes of everything that works well for Anna this year. Then her second-grade teacher will know infinitely more than you knew when you began teaching this student.

    If your school has more struggling students than just your own, you might also spearhead an alternate program in reading, spelling, writing, or arithmetic. In this way a separate teacher could work 1:1 or in small groups to build such students' knowledge and skills. This may become increasingly important for Anna as she progresses through your school. Whether in a special program or partial homeschool program, Anna (and anyone like her) may benefit from a separate curriculum. Our Simply Classical Curriculum can alleviate the concern of classical schools and homeschools who do not know where to start.

    Regarding your last question, "How do I help her meet the standard we have at our school for mastery, or do I adjust what that level should really be for her?", if she is able to master the material without writing it, this may be considered mastery. You will need to work with your administration and with her parents to flesh out acceptable adjustments.
    Last edited by cherylswope; 03-02-2020, 10:15 AM.


      FWIW, this is why Rod & Staff is so amazing as a math program. When my eldest was in 1st grade, we had finished 3 years' worth of Montessori math lessons (ShillerMath), she had had 3 years of private Montessori school, and we had already started a half year of Saxon math 2. It was excruciating. She could NOT get those timed tests done because she had to figure out each problem as she came to it. She had not committed to memory any of the answers. She could actually take 10-15 seconds to answer a simple problem like 6+1. I am so glad we switched to Rod & Staff Arithmetic. She gradually started adding the math facts to her knowledge base and caught up in a whole summer. She went through Arithmetic 2 the next year, and she's doing even better in Arithmetic 3. This child needed constant, daily flashcard review of 20-30 minutes. At the advice of teacher from HLS, we spread out her addition and subtraction facts in mixed order on the dining room table (60) and had her beat her own time with a stopwatch three times in a row.

      I honestly thought my child had dyscalculia and dyslexia. But what a difference fact memorization made! The parents can quite affordably order the R&S Arithmetic 1 student workbooks from MP and see if this at-home practice works to augment what you're doing in school.

      First grade is a good time to get psychoeducation testing if the parents can afford it. Ours revealed incredible giftedness, which is the opposite of what I thought we'd find. It was almost like she was having to ignore all of the creative things her mind wanted to do with the letters and material when she went to simply copy a word. She largely grew out of this by 2nd grade.

      Definitely look into ADD with inattentivity. As a teacher, you can complete the BASC 3 assessment in concert with her parents to see if this is an underlying factor. Try to put aside what you think the internet suggests about this student and really let time flesh this one out with modifications that would work regardless of diagnosed outcome.
      Mama to 2

      Spring start MP1
      Summer start 5A

      Completed MPK, MP1 Math & Enrichment, MP2, 3A, 4A, SC B, SC C,
      SC1 (Phonics/Math), SC2's Writing Book 1