Speed of processing refers to how fast a student can react to incoming information, understand it, think about the information, formulate a response and execute that response. Students with a slow pace of processing are much slower in performing these actions.
It is important to note that speed of information processing is not the same as intelligence. A student can be very bright but process information slowly.
Students with speed of processing issues frequently also have difficulties in shifting and dividing attention, in memory and retrieval tasks and on tasks that require cognitive flexibility.
From a neurological perspective, speed of information processing can be influenced by numerous different factors. For example, it can be affected by neurotransmitters in the brain and their balance, by the myelin coating of neurons that speed transmission, by the size of synaptic spaces (unusually large synaptic gaps slow information processing), by the organization of neural networks that support a concept or procedure and by the efficiency of the frontal lobes in organizing and directing information flow.
Students with a slow pace of processing do better when tasks are routine and when instructional activities become as routine or automatic as possible. It is important for teachers to ensure that all components in the instruction routine are well understood. The pace of instruction and interaction should be as rapid as the student can process – no faster than the student can tolerate. It is also helpful to provide appropriate pauses between the presentation of separate units of information. Students with slow pace of processing issues often have organizational problems or sometimes the organizational problems cause the slow pace of processing. Advance organizers are particularly helpful and can be as simple as a checklist or outline of the task or a graphic organizer that illustrates the sequence of activity or task.
Many times spoken language comes too fast for students who process information slowly. It is also extremely difficult for a student with a slow pace of processing to listen and write at the same time. This is divided attention which is basically the ability to attend to and handle two or more tasks at one time. Examples of this include taking notes while listening or carrying totals while adding the next column in math or getting materials together while trying to listen to instructions at the same time. Multitasking is extremely difficult for a student with a slow pace of processing. It is essential that teachers and parents verify that students have understood instructions or other information before proceeding to new information. This could be accomplished by asking the student to repeat instructions or to summarize new information.
It is also important to note that students with a slowed pace of processing are likely working much harder than their peers whenever they manage to keep pace with the rest of the class. As a result, they are more likely to experience both cognitive and physical fatigue that in itself will interfere with learning.