Mental processing speed is the speed in which we absorb information, start to understand it and begin putting it to practice. Everyone has variations of processing speed and it is NOT a measure of how clever a person is. Some of the cleverest people in the world can have a low processing speed yet their knowledge retention is extremely high. The information being “processed” can be visual, auditory or kinaesthetic.

Mental processing speed is particularly important. Helping your student increase processing speed is worth the effort. Processing influences auditory comprehension, perceptual organization, and planning and learning ability. Following auditory directions, completing assignments, reading fluency, writing speed, math fluency, and most importantly self-esteem. A student can feel pressure to always feel like they need to perform faster affecting their self-esteem negatively. But it can be improved!

Mental Processing Speed

Slow processing speed seems to occur in many different situations, but the most common associated conditions are probably ADD / ADHD, dyslexia, premature birth or other birth stress or toxic exposure. Also people that are strong spatial thinkers seem to have slower processing speed style perhaps because brain wiring that favors nonverbal over verbal thinking. Students with sensory processing disorder also often have very slow processing speeds. A very low Processing Speed Index usually means slowness in visual scanning, decision-making, and motor output.

Processing speed is not necessarily a fixed cognitive ability. An individual with no limiting conditions can improve their processing speed by developing metacognitive strategies (methods to help individuals discover the ways in which they learn best). This is best done in childhood and adolescence as this is when the brain is making its most solid connections, allowing the signals to travel at higher speeds.

Below I am going to look at some of the many ways that we can help our students (and ourselves) improve cognitive processing speed. It is important to note that these are just a select few of the methods commonly used and if these don’t work, don’t give up!

Aerobic Exercise

Doing short bursts of exercise before learning something difficult helps to wake the brain up. It does this by providing much needed oxygenated blood to the axons which is essentially the wiring that sends information signals in our brains. 30 seconds of jogging on the spots, a short run, 10 jumping jacks, etc is a brilliant way of getting the brain ready to absorb that tricky new information.

Change the method of learning

If it seems that a student is having a tough time learning from a worksheet, book, etc. – switch it up. Some learners have a tough time taking in written information and can learn much faster through auditory or kinaesthetic (hands on) learning.

Short repetitive bursts

Learning can be an arduous task for some pupils. Some might have trouble concentrating, others just might find the subject matter boring! Whatever the case, learners have been shown to absorb more information in the first 10 minutes of a lesson than they can in a whole hour. So, by keeping learning fresh, snappy and short students are far more likely to take in that much needed subject matter.

Mental Processing Exercises

I have written a blog post that has 10 different exercises that can be used to speed up mental processing. Click here to read quick and easy activities that can be used during one on one time with students or even in a small group.

You can read about more tips here.

Symbol Speed

A quick activity that you can use to warm up daily is to use a symbol speed activity. Student must go through a group of symbols and search for the target symbol. Symbol Search involves processing speed and improves visual scanning. There is also an activity in the packet that has students marking symbols as quickly as possible which also helps tie processing speed to fine motor output.

Visual discrimination and processing speed are important for littles before they even start being taught how to read and write. Here is an activity that I think is useful for young learners. They will cut out the symbols and find their match and glue it down as quickly as possible. After being proficient with the symbols they move on to letters.

Interactive learning

With the advancement of technology, there are lots of classrooms with interactive whiteboards, iPads, etc and these can both help students have more fun with learning and the teacher can make learning suit the needs of individuals. Spending time watching a short, informative video can really allow some learners to absorb information they wouldn’t have from a worksheet, where an app can provide the same retention for another student.

Pick your time

It is important to recognise factors that impact an individual’s ability to learn. These can be simple things such as tiredness during sessions at the end of the day or sluggishness after eating lunch. Whatever the case try to pinpoint these factors and avoid introducing difficult new information during these times.

Encourage healthy eating

Be it a fruit tasting session or a “learning picnic” (in which students are encouraged to bring a healthy snack to share while they do some group learning) students who have a healthier diet, should have a healthier brain.

Healthy Competition

Health competition can involve any type of game in which you compete with yourself, someone, or even a computer to complete a task as quickly as possible. The point is to try to do it faster! Remember the point with these activities is to beat the time!

Some ideas you can do with your class are:

  1. Quickly unscramble a word or sentence.
  2. Solve a maze.
  3. Say the alphabet backwards.
  4. Say the months backwards.
  5. Listen to videos and audio at 2x speed.
  6. Say tongue twisters as fast as you can then try to beat the time.

Students need to be taught to be aware of their thinking and also be given the tools to help them improve it. I hope this blog post helped you to understand the importance of mental processing speed and how to improve it with your students.