Researches conducted in Tanzania regarding learning mathematics have shown that pupils learn at different rates. There are fast learners and slow learners. The fast learners are able to grasp what is taught without much assistance from the teacher. On the other hand, the slow learners who form the majority consistently require the teacher’s ability to explain the concepts in a friendly manner and using simple examples. They also need learning aids.
Slow learners may be identified by their achievement, teacher observation, reading ability, readiness level or other means. They generally fall below average in one or of these areas. They may have many things in common, but each has a unique set of strengths and weaknesses.
Studies show that slow learners are capable of learning complex motor and verbal skills. Their retention may be similar to that of young children of the same mental age. Over -learning may be required to ensure retention. Complex problem solving may be too difficult to slow learners but they can memorize simple, factual material and learn to apply basic facts. Teaching skills such as how to be an effective consumer, businessman/woman, entrepreneur and other life skills may be appropriate.
Special consideration has to be given to ways of arousing interest of the slow learners who may follow non-examination courses. Such pupils, more than others, need a teacher with sympathetic understanding of their difficulties who is able to sense and respond to the level of their mode of thinking and whose outlook is not restricted by subject boundaries. They need simple practical work planned in relation to their ability so that they are able to achieve results, and, for this work, they should be given a full share of the school’s facilities for practical work in mathematics-even, if need be, at the expense of their abler contemporaries. While they are having experience of this kind, the purpose and the relevance of the need for giving special attention for basic processes, not previously understood, may become clear, and they may gain satisfaction and confidence from success.
Throughout, enjoyment of mathematics should be fostered as being good itself, as well as in creating good attitudes to work. It is this way that the slow learners gain, through their experience, some ability to identify the problem which exists in a given situation and, with the help of computational help perhaps, to solve it. Such progress is founded on understanding rather than on routine practice. There are however, degrees of understanding and, when the pupil is ready for it, practice strengthens understanding as well as consolidating technique.
The development of the power to interpret information, use imagination and make judgements, draw upon facility in spoken and written language. Weakness in the use of mathematics as a language is often closely linked with weakness in reading and in verbal communication. To compensate for this, the teacher needs to draw on every possible form of diagrammatic representation as well as the use of models and films/videos or film- strips. These can all help to give a feeling of effectiveness and so add to self respect. Some teachers have made good use of tape-recorders, radio and television programmes in communicating mathematics to slow learners.
Slow learners find it difficult to visualize space. It is very difficult for them to interpret a three-dimensional object presented in a plane. A plane is in two-dimensions. Think of how a sphere is presented in a two- dimensional paper. It is not possible to distinguish it from a circle. A circle is a two-dimensional representation of the locus of points that are equidistant form a fixed point in a plane. Instead of drawing a sphere on chalkboard and telling the learners that it is a drawing of a sphere, the sympathetic teacher should show to them a spherical object such as an orange, water-melon or football.
Books should also be developed for the slow learners. These books should be simple enough for them to read without much assistance from their teachers. They should contain a lot of illustrations and simple examples. They should also be attractive to incite the learner to read them. Exercises should be graded to start with simple to relatively more difficult ones.
When you recognize slow learners in your classroom, allow for practice, drill and repetition only after a concrete understanding of concepts has been developed. Practice is important and should follow the concrete development of concepts. It should be applied in practical situations and should contain provisions for transfer. Transfer of learning is difficult for slow learners, but may be accomplished if it is incorporated into the lesson. Such children can retain and apply skills when they have transferred and practiced them.
Slow learning is caused by many things such as mental and physical problems. There might be children in your classroom with physical or mental handicaps that need your help. Do not ignore them. You may even go to the extent of starting a resource room for them. This is a very taxing exercise but it is rewarding to the devoted teacher.
lThe writer is a former mathematics professor at the University of Dar es Salaam