‘I have a teaching assistant? What do I do now?’…Does this ring a bell?
Teaching assistants (TAs) are a valuable resource and the majority of teachers will work alongside them in the classroom. Their in-depth knowledge and experience should be a gift to hard-pressed teachers but EEF research has shown that many teachers do not, or do not know how, to deploy Teaching Assistants effectively in the classroom…
Few are better placed to demonstrate how to most effectively use TAs in a mutually beneficial way than Laura who, before becoming a Teach First participant, was a TA in her placement school.
Laura and her Year 1 class are accompanied by teaching assistants Fazarna and Malenka who, between them, have 17 years of experience working in the classroom. Laura, Fazarna and Malenka work together to impact positively on learning and establish a calm and nurturing classroom. How does Laura, with the TAs, create and maintain this effective team? Below are a few elements of this team-work that deserve to be shared.
- Laura, Fazarna and Malenka respect and support each other. Communication is key to this. At the start of the year, Laura gathers her team and they discuss how to best work with each other. She is not afraid to ask for feedback after lessons, appreciating the fact that her TAs can see what has worked well and what hasn’t. This open approach has the added benefit of assuring her TAs that she values their opinion.
- Laura is meticulously organised, not only in what she wants to do with the students, but also how she uses her TAs for maximum impact. She incorporates them into her planning. One of the biggest qualms of TAs is that they can go into a class ‘blind’. Laura, Malenka and Fazarna stay after school for 20-30 minutes and plan for the next day. They know not only the content of the lesson but also their specific pedagogical and support role.
- Laura outlined her long-term aims for her class with her TAs at the beginning of the year. After conversations with her LDO, Laura shares the specific strategies that she will use to implement these aims. Consequently, Fazarna and Malenka know and reinforce these aims. For example, in fostering independence Laura encourages her students to ‘magpie’ and ‘steal’ words from each other in literacy. Fazarna and Malenka echo this in their approach, they don’t ‘spoon-feed’ an answer to pupils, rather taking an active teaching role. In order to do this, teachers must let TAs know what their aims are and how they plan to achieve them.
- Laura, Fazarna and Malenka all take an active role in the classroom with autonomy to identify and address needs. For example, Fazarna and Malenka identify where there is need for interventions and conduct them independently, thus sharing ownership of the class with Laura. They are involved in group discussions and sit with children on the carpet, not only managing behaviour and maintaining pupils’ focus, but also encouraging discussion. When completing a writing task, Laura, Fazarna and Malenka each have their own table of students, and they rotate between tables every day. This ensures that all pupils in the class, especially EAL and SEN students, have exposure to three different teaching styles as well as access to teacher support when necessary.
To sum up, clear aims, effective communication, mutual respect, regular feedback, openness to review and shared purpose make the most effective use of teacher and assistant time and experience. A team is more than the sum of its parts.