• Question: Individual differences - in the book 'Battle Hymn of the Tiger Teachers', the staff describe a situation where they acknowledge special learning needs, but do not 'pander' (sic) to them. Instead, they assert that kids who struggle more will need to put in more effort, and they therefore hold them to the same standards as any other children in any given lesson and for homework. They do so with additional support (where necessary) but they *never* differentiate within the classroom or treat students differently in a lesson because of their specific learning difficulties. (An example to illustrate this is that if an SEN student gives a wrong answer or lets their attention wander - in a situation where ADHD would normally be the excuse - they will be given a demerit just like any other student.) They believe this mirrors real life, where the world won't make allowances but expect you to meet the same standard as everyone else if you want to be considered their equal (for example in the competitive workplace). Whether or not I agree with their approach, their reports of (SEN and other) students making several years' gain in reading (and other skills) through their intervention programs (such as after-school reading clubs) are interesting. Is there any research evidence to say that this approach - rather than differentiating in the classroom (which they believe contributes to teacher burnout) is effective?

    Asked by Abena to Richard, Nicola, Lorna, Kathryn, Jacob, Emma, Emily, Courtenay, Camilla, Brian on 22 Mar 2018.
    • Photo: Courtenay Norbury

      Courtenay Norbury answered on 22 Mar 2018:


      I don’t know of any research on this particularly. From what you describe it is hard to know whether it is the lack of accommodation, or the extra hours of training up skills that could contribute to the success! I would certainly want to see a trial before adopting this kind of practice. Not ensuring students are following lessons could lead to children become disengaged (or worse) – some kids just won’t ‘get it’ without additional support.

    • Photo: Kathryn Asbury

      Kathryn Asbury answered on 23 Mar 2018:


      I haven’t read this book but, having enjoyed Amy Chua’s Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, I will add it to my list (thank you for the tip). Like Courtenay I am not aware of any research on this specific issue. All I can really say is that making reasonable adjustments to facilitate the learning of children with SEND cannot be considered to be ‘pandering’ any more than installing a ramp would be ‘pandering’ to a child in a wheelchair. So, I fundamentally disagree with the basic premise and worry about the levels of stress this approach could induce in some children (although I have no problem with after school reading clubs that are open to all!). For both genetic and environmental reasons it is much harder for some children to learn and do certain things than it is for others and, in my view, there is always an argument for taking each child’s zone of proximal development into account.

    • Photo: Richard Churches

      Richard Churches answered on 31 Mar 2018:


      ADHD is one of the most common behavioural disorders, affecting about 6% of children and 3% of adults worldwide. The high prevalence means that in any classroom you could find yourself with more than one pupil diagnosed with the condition. In addition to structural changes (Ellison-Wright et al., 2008), neuroscientists have found a number of changes in brain function (e.g. altered connectivity (Cortese, 2012)). Different criteria are used by medical professionals to diagnose ADHD. DSM-5 describes two different types of symptoms: (1) inattention and (2) hyperactivity. However, there are three different types of ADHD that may be diagnosed:

      1. Inattentive – mainly or entirely attention problems with few or no hyperactive or impulsive symptoms.
      2. Hyperactive-impulsive – mainly or entirely hyperactive or impulsive symptoms with few or no attention problems.
      3. Combined type – both types of symptom are present with no single dominant type.

      Interestingly, this means that it is possible to have the majority, or even all, of the symptoms under one heading, which means it is possible to have ADHD without significant attention problems. It also means that two children in your class with ADHD may present with completely different symptoms, making it all the more important to consider their individual needs. The consequences of ADHD are known to be far-reaching with higher risk of learning, behavioural and emotional problems as well as poorer schooling, lower occupational status (Doggett, 2004) and a greater risk of a variety of physical and psychiatric conditions (Hodgkins et al., 2011).

      Given how varied individuals with ADHD may be in terms of their symptoms and treatments, it should not be surprising that an effective classroom strategy for one child may not work for another child with the same condition. A recent analysis of various studies looking at different classroom interventions assessed the effectiveness of three different types of intervention (Gaastra et al., 2016):

      1. Antecedent-based intervention – an intervention that manipulates antecedent conditions, such as the environment, task or instruction (e.g. seating, music, tutoring, choice making, computer-assisted instruction).
      2. Consequence-based intervention – an intervention that uses reinforcement and punishment to alter the frequency of target behaviour (e.g. praise, reprimands, prizes, privileges, response cost).
      3. Self-regulation intervention – an intervention aimed at the development of self-control and problem-solving skills to regulate cognition and behaviour (e.g. self-instruction, self-monitoring, self-reinforcement).

      The researchers found that all three types of intervention could be effective in reducing disruptive behaviour; however, the strongest positive effects were obtained for consequence-based and self-regulation interventions, suggesting these would be a good place to start. Importantly, this work showed that the interventions have positive effects on the classmates of children with ADHD without affecting the rest of the class (providing the teacher is trained in the techniques).

      Cortese, S. (2012) ‘The neurobiology and genetics of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), what every clinician should know’. European Journal of Paediatric Neurology, 16(5), 422–433.

      Ellison-Wright, I., Ellison-Wright, Z. and Bullmore, E. (2008) ‘Structural brain change in attention deficit hyperactivity disorder identified by meta-analysis’. BioMed Central Psychiatry, 30(8), 51.
      Doggett, A.M. (2004) ‘ADHD and drug therapy: is it still a valid treatment?’ Journal of Child Healthcare, 8(1), 69–81.

      Gaastra, G. F., Groen, Y., Tucha, L. and Tucha, O. (2016) ‘The effects of classroom interventions on off-task and disruptive classroom behaviour in children with symptoms of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder: a meta-analytic review’. PLOS ONE, 11(2), e0148841.

      Hodgkins, P., Montejano, L., Sasané, R. and Huse, D. (2011) ‘Risk of injury associated with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder in adults enrolled in employer-sponsored health plans: a retrospective analysis’. Primary Care Companion for CNS Disorders, 13(2), 11425–11429.

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