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The Frustration Profile: Strong Verbal Skills with Slow Processing Speed

Glen* is a third grader who was brought to testing to determine the best teaching style for him.  Testing revealed that Glen’s overall intelligence and academic skills were in the Average range. However, great variability exists within the tests. Glen demonstrated excellent Verbal Comprehension skills, while his Processing Speed Index and Perceptual Organization Indexes fell significantly below his other indexes. Glen’s cognitive and academic skills are inhibited by his weak organizational skills and slow processing speed.

This is what I call the frustration profile. The child has a good vocabulary and is able to answer questions verbally, but due to difficulties with fine motor skill  (drawing/writing) it is very hard for him to write down his ideas.  Glen’s speed of processing is significantly lower than his verbal comprehension abilities, which cause him to need extended time in order to demonstrate his true abilities on any written assignment. Generally writing skills are the greatest academic weakness in a child with this profile.

Glen’s weak Perceptual Organizational skills make short structured writing tasks much easier for him than open-ended assignments without structure. Building language organization skills (the ability to mental manipulate ideas) will help him in projects that require him to structure the material independently.  Posing questions, researching answers, organizing information, and expressing ideas clearly are higher order thinking skills that depend on the ability to use language to analyze, compare, judge, and connect ideas.

In addition to limiting him in open-ended, abstract work, Glen’s organizational difficulty also restricts his good working memory for concrete material.  Because he does not easily organize ideas into related–thus memorable–chunks, the quantity of information Glen can store actively in mind while working on other steps in a complex task is limited.   As a result, his good memory skills quickly become overwhelmed, and multi-step problems become taxing for him.  In other words, while his basic memory function is fine, his difficulty categorizing verbal and visual information places undue stress upon it. Teaching Glen how to make information meaningful to him will facilitate his learning.

Another element in Glen’s challenges is his relatively less developed executive functions of plan and initiate, —the ability to start, plan, assess and adjust his actions and thinking.  As a result, problems with many steps or ones that require mid-process assessment and adjustments shake the self-confidence Glen has in more structured demands.   As he advances in school, more assignments will expect exactly this ability to structure and express material on his own.


Processing Speed

  1. Allow longer response time for Glen to:

  2. respond orally to questions in class

  3. complete seatwork assignments in class

  4. make decisions when offered a choice of activities

  5. Allow extra time for tests, usually time and a half.

  6. Shorten assignments so they can be accomplished within the time allotted.

  7. Provide copies of notes rather than requiring Glen to copy from the board in a limited time.

  8. Build Glen’s efficiency in completing work through building automaticity.

  9. Train Glen in time management techniques to become aware of the time that tasks take.

  10. Emphasize accuracy rather than speed in evaluating Glen in all subject areas.

  11. Replace timed tests with alternative assessment procedures.

  12. Provide a scribe or voice-to-text software to record Glen’s answers on tests to accommodate for slow writing fluency.

  13. Use test formats with reduced written output formats (e.g. multiple choice, True / False, fill in the blank) to accommodate for slow writing fluency.

Writing Skills

  1. Teach brainstorming, clustering and mind mapping skills.

  2. Teach editing skills.

  3. Allow the use of a computer.

Fine-Motor skills

  1. Use Retrain the Brain to build fine motor skills.

  2. Use Handwriting without Tears to enhance letter formation.

Visual-Perceptual Strategies

  1. Use of graphic organizers to depict information visually and increase his retention of ideas.

  2. Exercises to sharpen his ability to attend to visual detail and to express similarities and differences between images.

  3. Use the Snap Cubes and Visualizing/Verbalizing Programs to facilitate his ability to conceptualize and process visual information.

  4. This program focuses on strengthening a student’s ability to mentally manipulate objects, improving visual- spatial skills, and whole-part relations.

  5. Use logic puzzles to teach sequential thinking skills, cause and effect, and how to identify and provide missing information.

Executive Function/Memory Skills

  1. Build strategies to help him analyze, prioritize, and execute specific steps in a given assignment.

  2. Break down tasks and follow the order checking work along the way.

  3. Rehearse new information to help encode it.

  4. Use his verbal strengths to talk himself through tasks.

  5. Teach Glen strategies to help him recall information, such as PAR.

  6. 1. P= Picture it.

  7. 2. A= Associate it

  8. 3. R= Review it.

  9. Teach Glen to recognize common words for ordering a sequence of instructions, such as “first,” “next,” and “finally.”

  10. Teach Glen how to effectively follow written directions by underlining key words, numbering steps, and crossing off tasks when he has completed them.

  11. Teach Glen to use graphic organizers such as checklists and timelines for breaking down assignments, as well as classify and categorize information.

* Note: The student profile above is a composite of students with similar learning styles.

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