Blog Archive

Thursday 30 September 2021

SEND - How can I communicate effectively with my TA to ensure clarity in their role?

I'm going to take you back to April 2004 - I was nearly at the end of a relatively uneventful NQT year and was attending a LA run session for new teachers on 'Strategies to support SEND'. I had been given the challenging timetable of multiple 'bottom sets' as they used to be known and was struggling with the compromise between effective scaffolding and allowing the students to access the curriculum. So I attended this session, along with approximately 20 other NQTs from across Buckinghamshire, with the hope that some light could be shone on where I could adapt my practice.

Still to this day, I recall a key quote from the session leader (a local headteacher) "If you are lucky enough to have a TA (as they are like gold dust) then you are blessed with absolute miracle workers". Now, I started my teaching career in a county where the selective school system thrived and I was lucky enough to teach in a Secondary Modern with those students who were not deemed academic enough to pass the 11 plus. Therefore, the school employed 14 TA's and they were such vital cogs in the learning machine that is a school. But, I had not received any training on how to use them, strategically, and realised I was missing a huge opportunity. So what did the session leader advise? This one simple idea:

Communicate effectively with your TA to ensure clarity in their role in your classroom. Who are they there to support? What strategies have you/they observed are effective for said student in your lesson? What level of support do you want your TA to provide? (Sometimes too much support can limit student progress). The graphic below from the EEF represents the level of input a TA can provide and the impacts this has on student independence.

Self-scaffolding: TA observes that the student is working independently and does not intervene.

Prompting: TA uses wait time (10 secs) to see if the student can get started, asks a prompt question such as ​‘Can you remember what Mr T said you need to do first?’, or gestures to a useful resource such as a model on an interactive white board or a word-bank on a table.

Clueing: TA uses a statement, ​‘The ruler will help you’, or question, ​‘How could the ruler help you?’ to give one piece of information at a time to support accessing the task. Several clues may be needed.

Modelling: TA demonstrates the next step the student needs to complete and then asks the child to take this step. ​‘I am using the word-bank to find a word to help me describe my character…’

Correcting: The TA provides answers and requires no independent thinking. Occasionally it is appropriate to do this, however, TAs should always aim instead to model and encourage pupils to apply new skills or knowledge first.

The EEF reported that ​‘Evidence suggests that TAs can have a positive impact on academic achievement’ as well as ​‘In some cases where teachers and TAs work together effectively, this can lead to increases in attainment’. Here is the link to their 2015 report on 'Making Best Use of a Teaching Assistant'.

The final thought for this micro-blog post is to consider the use of your MINT seating plans a vehicle towards the effective deployment of TAs. Whilst many are with us to support specific students, there may be opportunities to utilise their presence to work with a small group of other students. Providing them with an annotated copy of your seating plan will provide a clear reference point for whom in the class you have additionally noted as requiring support, as well as the strategies you use. Colour-tagging those with SEND K and E needs, alongside a separate colour-tag for LAPs or those with previous SEND needs that no longer provide support are a quick and universal method to alerting your TA to whom else they might be able to effectively prompt. Colour-tagging can be found under 'Classroom Tools' in the drop down menu. 

Fast forward to this academic year and I am lucky enough to teach the Year 9 nurture group for their Geography lessons. That one piece of advice still rings true - open and effective communication is the way forward. I have a print out of the lesson not only ready for the students, but for the TA, alongside access to my annotated seating plan. I highlight where in the lesson I would appreciate their intervention with students and where to hang back and, most importantly, I thank them! All this I owe to that session leader - so thank you Dad!

Thursday 16 September 2021

Questioning - is it the central mechanism to effective classroom talk?

There is a long-held consensus amongst educators that Questioning, when effectively delivered and strategically planned, encourages students to activate 'hard thinking' as well as provide an irrefutable insight to what our students do and do not know. Mango Moments has previously discussed the use of Hinge Questioning, through Kagan Structures and strategies such as cold-calling and 'say it again, say it better'. So what can this new blog post offer you I hear you ask? Now the new term is in full swing, we often find ourselves with limited time to indulge in the evidence-based research surrounding our T&L priorities. This article hopes to provide you with a synopsis of the rationale behind key questioning strategies as well as links to other blogs/research that you may find useful.

Doug Lemov (Teach like a Champion) states that "The kind of talk that happens in a classroom largely determines the type of learning that takes place and developing an armoury of tools to facilitate that talk should be at the top of every teacher's list". If you wish to read more, this archived post from 2014 provides an excellent guide to evidence based questioning. 

To mirror this belief is the EEF Great Teaching Toolkit whose recent evidence review states that 'asking a lot of questions is not a marker of quality; it's about the types of questions, the time allowed for, and depth of student thinking they promote and elicit'. So how does this work at Mangotsfield? 

Throughout this academic year, Questioning is a key priority. Revisiting the concepts of SOLO taxonomy on INSET day provided many of us with the reassurances that spending time planning multi-structural and relational questions in advance allows us time to focus on our interactions with students and their responses within the lesson. Therefore consider planning and asking questions that allow students to:

1. Show how well they have learned the material.

2. Challenge them to think about how they learned that material (metacognition).

3. Highlight if all/some/individual students require further instruction - the value of a hinge question is unmeasured here. 

4. Help students to connect new information and material to their prior learning (Barak Rosenshine Sixth Principle of Instruction).  

I appreciate that for some colleagues, planning questions in advance may raise concerns as it removes the responsive and reactive nature of class discussions, and of course we can not stick to a script that limits students discourse. However engaging in the practice of planning our questions ensures we have fully thought through not just what we want the students to know, but also how.  Below is an excellent question formation grid as produced by Impact Wales - I have referred to this numerous times when creating for example challenge grids, similar to our English Department colleagues with Solo Taxonomy.

Last Friday, Tiff led an excellent session on the merits of cold-calling. It's a strategy named and hugely promoted again by Doug Lemov but has garnered a resurgence in favour most recently through its inclusion in the Tom Sherrington authored Teaching Walkthrus series (click on his name for an excellent video guide by the man himself). For cold-calling to work well it must be inclusive and invitational, where everyone's opinion is valued. Tiff took us through the ADAPT approach, as shown in the image below, but there are some other adaptations you may wish to consider:

1. Move then cold call - Students move within the classroom to show their opinion. After everyone is picked, they talk in their small groups about their choices and then you can 'cold call' one student from each group to feedback. The Kagan Structures of All Stand Consensus or Numbered Heads Together are excellent to support this approach.

2. Confer + cold call - Listen in to students as they are discussing and build their responses in groups. When you are happy with their understanding, ask if they will share with the class. This is similar to Tiff's 'pre-call' approach where students are given forewarning and the 'gotcha' fear is removed.

3. Quick write + cold call - Giving students 2-3 minutes to process their ideas with a 'quick write' means you can be more confident to pick the less confident students to feedback.

4. Turn and talk + cold call with options - "I want you to talk to your partner/the people at your table for two minutes about..... afterwards I will ask three people to report back".

Whilst the pre-call is superb for providing scaffolded support to students, it can sometimes eliminate the level of challenge and encourage students to disengage if their name is not picked. There are some class scenarios where the pre-call is essential, whilst relationships are being developed and to ensure less confident students are less daunted at the prospect of sharing their ideas. If we truly want to ensure that every student is engaged throughout cold calling we need to consider where within our questioning stems we place their name. For example:

"Jack - Can you identify two economic impacts of the Haiti Earthquake?" This of course has its merits to ensure that Jack is fully engaged and also provides him with some thinking time, however what about the rest of the class? Consider this:

"Can you identify two economic impacts of the Haiti Earthquake - Jack I will come to your first". Simple but effective - the whole class are listening to the question as they are unaware who will be picked. Of course it must then be partnered with thinking time as the 'first' implies you will follow up and ask someone else to develop the discussion. 

One final thought, ensure that the questions you do ask are a fine balance between retrieval and new knowledge. We often naturally prioritise ensuring that students understand the new content delivered, before we feel safely capable of moving the class forward. With our knowledge-rich curriculums it is however of equal importance to spend time questioning past learning to ensure students have succinct opportunities to retrieve.