Traditionally IEP and 504 plans are the means by which students with ADHD and other learning differences are able to receive accommodations. Typically, this means sitting close to the teacher to improve focus and reduce distractions; added time on tests to compensate for slow processing and organization difficulties; reducing the amount of homework to compensate for slow processing speed; getting notes in advance to help with poor working memory, organization struggles and other problems. Depending on the child’s plan, they may have lower work expectations, be placed in an alternative education classroom, or have support in the form of tutors, structured study halls, or executive skills classes. Many students with ADHD do not receive any accommodations; either because they don’t require them or for other reasons.
While reading an article about “scaffolding” assignments (https://iplantoplay.com/2p0CvMu) it occurred to me that when teachers use basic organization strategies in their teaching they improve every student’s ability to learn at a higher level. For students with ADHD scaffolding a lesson can address challenges they often have with working memory and organization.
“Scaffolding is breaking up the learning into chunks and then providing a tool, or structure, with each chunk.” For instance, introducing a project through conversation, addressing the various aspects -such as topic, higher level concepts, characters, relating it to previous learning– and giving specific steps to complete the assignment.
Using tools such as templates, outlines, and mind maps to help organize information can help students to get started and organize their work process and product. These tools also reduce the load on working memory- freeing the student’s mental resources to engage in higher level creative work.
Scaffolding is different than accommodations (which the article refers to as “differentiating instruction.” Accommodations sometimes reduce the work load and expectations of the student. Scaffolding gives more structure and tools to organize the learning and assignments so that the student can achieve at higher level than they are currently.
Scaffolding helps students to move into their “Zone of Proximal Development.” The zone of proximal development (ZPD) has been defined as:
“the distance between the actual developmental level as determined by independent problem solving and the level of potential development as determined through problem solving under adult guidance, or in collaboration with more capable peers” (Vygotsky, 1978, p. 86).
Vygotsky believed that when a student is in the ZPD for a particular task, providing the appropriate assistance will give the student enough of a “boost” to achieve the task.
Scaffolding is like acclimating the student to the ideas you are asking them to learn. You introduce the concepts- give them a framework to understand them, talk about the ideas, and give tools to seek more information and organize it in a meaningful way.
Rather than asking less of students with ADHD and other learning differences, give them strategies to improve their learning. Every student can benefit.
I’ll be talking more about the ZPD, organization, working memory and other executive skills in future posts.