Teaching Assistants (TAs) are an invaluable asset to every classroom. However, it is the responsibility of the school and the teacher to make sure they are well trained and know exactly what is expected of them. When fully informed and trained well, their help can greatly promote the rate students acquire skills, knowledge and understanding in all areas of learning and many aspects of personal development.
There are several ways TAs can fulfil their role effectively, but there must be time allocated on a daily basis for relevant and focused discussion and on a weekly basis for forward planning. TAs need to be confident that they too, can contribute and be involved in planning for all aspects of the curriculum. They also need to have a clear and full understanding of how the activities will promote learning. They must be flexible during activities so that the specific interests of individuals can be followed to accelerate the learning process.
Before students arrive, the TA must help the teacher set up the classroom and prepare the planned activities, making sure the appropriate resources are readily available. Simple, basic assessment documentation and/or checklists must also be on hand, so notes of important staging posts in students’ learning can be made throughout the day. This important information must be shared with the teacher at the end of each day to be used to inform future planning.
During whole class teaching, the TA must work in partnership with the teacher. The most effective place to be is sitting with the students and being involved in the focused learning process. This extra support helps students to listen more carefully to the teacher, to extend their concentration levels and to clarify any misconceptions.
During small group activity, the TA must sit with the students, make regular eye contact encouraging quality talk and interaction. Specific and relevant vocabulary must be targeted to increase understanding. Open questions, (Why? How? What would happen if?) which require students to think before answering, should be common practice and errors should be corrected sensitively. The TA should offer students time to think, sometimes providing clues. Modelling new skills often helps students understand expectations and develop independence by working out ways to undertake the activity for themselves. The TA must not do the work for the student.
The TA must focus on the learning objective within the task, but its completion is not essential. The encouragement and development of skills and new understanding are more important. In creative, oral, physical or written activity, every student’s work should be unique. A positive approach must be evident alongside honest praise and support. It is essential to engage in sensitive discussion about the students’ individual outcomes and encourage focused conversation.
- Allocate time every day for a short meeting between the TA and the teacher.
- Make sure that the TA is completely involved in a weekly planning meeting.
- Make sure the TA clearly understands what students are expected to learn and that s/he is involved alongside students during whole class teaching time.
- Ensure that the TA focuses on the learning objective and vocabulary development.
- Make sure that the TA understands that the completion of a task is less important than the skills, knowledge and understanding acquired.
Bosanquet. P, Radford. J and Webster. R (2016) The teaching assistant’s guide to effective interaction: How to maximise your practice, published by Routledge.
By: Gianna Ulyatt