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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!

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