In her latest post, Zoe Enser (@GreeboRunner) explores how direct instruction approaches can support pupils with ADHD and others with limitations in working memory.
I recently had the opportunity to attend a CPD session on ADHD delivered by our area Ed. Psych. This is a condition which I encounter on a daily basis and is something, having started my teaching career in the SEND Department, which I feel quite knowledgeable about.
However, this session raised quite a few interesting points about the condition being related to Executive Functions in the prefrontal cortex of the brain, and how we, as educators, can support students who are experiencing these difficulties. Much as with development delays in reading, writing or numeracy, ADHD is a developmental delay in how students focus on, organise and process information. None of this is new information, but perhaps due to some of my recent exploration of the theory of cognition, it struck a different cord. Isn’t part of the answer sitting amongst the aspects of good instruction we have been hearing so much about recently?
Here is my thinking:
- Students with ADHD (diagnosed or with similar traits) struggle with remaining focused. We know how frustrating it is for us, and for them, but perhaps coming back to the Rosenshine Principle ‘introduce material in small steps’ would be a useful approach. Breaking information or tasks into small, manageable pieces is something which I have certainly seen time and again listed amongst the strategies for students with SEND, but I hadn’t really drawn the two ideas together fully. Asking direct questions to check understanding and reengage students in their learning can also be a powerful tool here.
- Not only are there issues with focus but working memory can often be an issue for this group. Therefore, as we introduce material in ‘small steps’ we need to make sure that we use aspects of dual coding to capture what they are learning about or through ‘modelling’, diagrams or even simply writing a keyword on the board, we know this can support the working memory for all students.
- Scaffolding students’ work, before moving them onto more independent practice, something I have explored previously here, is essential for all. The more difficult the task, then more scaffolding, or scaffolded attempts, will be required. It may be this group need more of those stepping stones, both to help break that task down and retain focus and to enable them to achieve success along the way. Sadly, we know many students who present challenging behaviours or have developmental delays can often lack in self-belief as they are so used to being ‘behind’ their peers. The principles of instruction give us yet another way we can support them to achieve alongside everyone in the class and have opportunities to reflect on the progress they have made, essential when considering regulating their own learning.
- Which brings me to self-regulation. The regulation of learning, behaviour and emotions are all extremely difficult for students who have this kind of developmental delay. The classroom may not be the only place where these issues can be addressed, with pastoral support being invaluable, but there is an opportunity here to explore how metacognitive approaches could support this group even further. Just as with students from disadvantaged backgrounds, this group could benefit disproportionally from some direct metacognitive instruction, so we need to model it, plan for it, and return to it frequently. We may be primarily focusing on our subject, but a toolkit to support self-regulation may turn out to be significant here. Certainly this is an area I am keen to explore further with all students.
- Whilst we are teaching students about the ways they can regulate their learning through metacognition, we can support them by how we organise the information they are given. Planning to review and recap, build up knowledge over a period of time, and help them to organise and capture it in a clear way could be extremely useful. Oliver Caviglioli talked about how our knowledge is organised into a hierarchy within our schemata. If students struggle with this, then we can support them by taking away the guess work as to how to do this. Cornell notes, use of dual coding again, and other structures could prove invaluable and us modelling this process may support students towards achieving this themselves.
As with all students and indeed any learning need, students with ADHD are an immensely diverse group, who will respond in many different ways in their day to day interactions and learning. However, the simplicity of some of the processes of direct instruction, in terms of knowing what stage you are at in the learning process, having clear routines of modelling and scaffolds and detailed links to the different stages, might be significant in moving the learning forward for this group in my classroom. I’m no expert of course, and I am not suggesting for a moment that good ol’ Rosenshine is suddenly going to be the way to support all learners and magic away any barriers they might encounter. But these strategies, coupled with a quiet, calm, focused, and supportive learning environment, are something I will be continuing to explore and reflect on in the coming months.
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