Teaching assistants, classroom assistants, learning support assistants, interventionists. What’s in a name? What does research tell us about their effectiveness in raising standards and how best can other adults be used to support teaching and learning?
The Education Endowment Foundation Toolkit, a meta-study looking at how to improve attainment of pupils doesn’t find much to celebrate in the use of teaching assistants in classes. However, it does states that there is a difference in effectiveness dependent on how teaching assistants are deployed. The EEF evidence suggests that overall teaching assistants do not have a dramatic impact on attainment but also that this is a result of how they have been deployed by teachers.
So, how can teaching assistants be used most effectively to impact teaching and learning?
Here are my five strategies for effective use of teaching assistants.
1. Plan for their use
Teaching assistants must feature in the planning for your session. It is essential to identify who they are working with, what activity they will be doing and the intended learning outcome. Always keep in mind that the focus is the learning. How is the teaching assistant developing the learning?
In planning for the teaching assistant make sure that there are no ‘dead’ times where their role isn’t specified. If you know you are going to be doing a whole class teach for twenty minutes does the assistant need to watch that or could they be usefully deployed in another activity? One effective strategy for times such as this is to have an assistant book. Any task that doesn’t necessarily need a teacher can be written into the book and if the assistant is going to be free for a few minutes they can check off tasks in the book.
2. Team teaching
One common complaint of teaching assistants is that they feel undervalued and often feel they have more to offer but are being directed to menial tasks. Team teaching is a great way around that and a way to ensure that a teaching assistant has real impact on learning taking place in the classroom. Discuss the lesson beforehand and define the roles. After the lesson provide time for a conversation that reviews the effectiveness of both the teacher and the assistant and note points to improve for future team teaching episodes.
Team teaching is also a great way to go if you have an assistant that lacks confidence or needs some teaching behaviours modelling.
When does your teaching assistant see the planning? The week before, the day before, the start of the lesson, or were they included in the planning session. Even if it is only a short session each week sitting down and running through the planning with the teaching assistant is a key way of improving their effectiveness in the classroom. Make that an open conversation and invite ideas. A second adult discussing planning with a teacher is a great way to challenge whether the planning is going to be most effective for all students.
4. Monitored responsibility
The more your teaching assistant is able to assume the role of teacher when working with pupils the more effective they will be in class. Teachers have a responsibility to develop their assistants and that involves responsibilities. Not devolving responsibilities to the teaching assistant but giving responsibilities and monitoring those responsibilities together. If you have had an assistant working with a target group in mathematics for a week expect that the assistant will be able to provide some feedback as to how effective the learning was and whether children need further intervention or support with those objectives. Evaluate the report together.
5. Value the teaching assistant
How you behave with your teaching assistant will directly affect their impact on learning within the classroom. Treating the assistant as a teacher, giving responsibilities and valuing their feedback will all help to improve their confidence and capabilities. On top of this however it helps in clarifying the status of the assistant with the pupils. The most effective impact is going to be achieved when the assistant is seen by the students as a key person for supporting their learning.
What strategies have you found to be most effective when working with teaching assistants in class?
Why not gift your teaching assistant a little something to show you appreciate the work they do in class?