12 Dec

Smart but slow – About improving speed

My student in year 11 is an extremely competent student and his main issue is speed. I am trying to get him talking aloud and this is helping clear his thoughts a bit but he still pauses for too long in between steps. I will often have to prompt him for the next step to keep him going. His mother told me he has dyslexia and that this is the main reason. Any suggestions to help with the speed issue?

Regarding his speed, here are a few things that may help:

•    Get him to do practice tests against the clock and under test conditions. This is essential, without practicing with the stress of time limitation it is impossible to develop the skill of thinking accurately while thinking quickly.

•    Even get him to do chapter reviews or previous topic exercises from his text book or previous tests that he has done. Each time set a time limit for the test so that while he’s doing it (in his own time) he is necessarily racing against the clock. He will need to learn to balance speed with accuracy of thoughts this way.

•    Also, set rewards/punishment for the percentage of questions that he answers correctly on these timed tests so that it will cost him something if he underperforms. When there’s more at stake students care more and try harder (often unconsciously).

•    Also, find out what it is that he takes so long to do. Is it time on remembering formulas? On understanding the question? Try to isolate what weakness in thinking skill is responsible for the time wastage so you can focus on it.

It is hard to be more detailed without further examination of this student’s specific weaknesses. Often it seems as though “speed” is the problem when really it is just a symptom of another problem. Certainly, this situation suggests that your student does not know his work well enough.

Consider: would he have trouble answering basic addition or subtraction questions? Times tables questions? Probably not. If he knew the content thoroughly enough then speed would come naturally. The more familiarity we have with a thought or logical concept the quicker we can process that thought. Practice, practice, practice.

In this particular situation it would also be advisable to ensure that his dyslexia is not used as an excuse for underperformance or a justification for low grades and struggle. All students struggle sometimes.

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