Teaching assistants: 5 tips to add value and improve learner outcomes

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Teaching assistants (TAs) can make up more than a quarter of school staff and have many different responsibilities. TAs can add value to your teaching and make a huge difference to your learners.

Teaching assistants now make up 28 percent of the school workforce, and schools are increasingly looking at the added value TAs can bring to pupil progress.

The non-statutory Professional Standards report, released in 2016 suggests that a TA should:

  • Raise the learning and attainment of pupils
  • Promote independence, self-esteem, and social inclusion
  • Give help to allow pupils to access the curriculum

In your classroom, your teaching assistant will probably have a huge range of different responsibilities including supporting children and administrative tasks. In such a busy working environment, it can be hard to make sure they’re having maximum impact on learning.

Here are five top tips to help your TA add value to your practice and make a difference to your learners.

1. Plan time to work with all children

Every learner needs quality time with their teacher. Before the school week starts, think about all of the ways your TA can work with different learners during the week. Planning in advance will help them avoid working with the same children every time.

You could try:

  • Rotating your TA to work with different groups of children each day
  • Asking your TA to move around the classroom and spot children struggling with a task
  • Delivering extension tasks for children ready to apply learning in a new context

2. Develop quality conversations

Without guidance, teaching assistants often focus on helping children complete the task you’ve set. Instead, shift the emphasis to having high-quality conversations about the learning. This stops children from becoming over-reliant on adult support.

Encourage your TA to:

  • Give the least amount of support possible
  • Intervene only when a child can’t proceed
  • Allow thinking time
  • Use open-ended questions rather than giving answers
  • Allow children to make mistakes

3. Evaluate the effectiveness of interventions

There are so many intervention schemes available and it’s common in many schools to see teaching assistants taking small groups out of lessons to complete them.

Often, schools give little thought to how effective these interventions actually are. The research shows that removing children from lessons can negatively affect their learning, so it’s important your TAs are delivering programmes with a good evidence base.

The Educational Endowment Foundation released a report in 2018 looking at teaching assistants. They found that TA-led intervention sessions could have impact but only if they were highly structured and linked back to classroom learning.

The best interventions include:

  • A structured approach that is carefully followed by the teaching assistant
  • Regular sessions, 3–5 times each week
  • Time limits, 15–45 minutes at most
  • Extensive training for the teaching assistant delivering the programme
  • Resources and lesson plans for each session
  • Clear links back to learning in the classroom
  • Regular assessment to see progress and next steps

4. Make time to talk about learning

In order to have a positive impact, your TA needs key information about your lessons. Some schools have looked at ways to release teachers and teaching assistants together for PPA sessions. This gives them dedicated time to discuss the needs of the class.

This might not be possible in your school, so think about ways you could make time to meet with your TA outside of lessons.

You could try:

  • Meeting during assembly times
  • Dedicating a few minutes before school to look through plans for the day
  • Creating a simple template to share with your TA containing useful information
  • Booking time at the end of the day for a quick discussion

5. Make your goals clear

To make the best possible use of your teaching assistant, they need to know what you want to achieve in the lesson. This doesn’t need to be a full lesson plan. Instead, think about the most important information you need to share:

  • The key concept to learn or practice in this lesson
  • Your intended outcome
  • Skills the children will learn and apply
  • How much support and feedback you expect them to be giving

This helps them see the bigger picture of the lesson and makes sure you share the same expectations.

Teaching assistants are an invaluable resource to schools. They can improve academic outcomes if they receive the right information and guidance. Look for ways to make simple changes to the way you work with your teaching assistant. It can significantly improve how they support the children in your class.

runs an intervention class within a mainstream secondary school and is a contributor to the Blog.
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