the years of working in schools both as a visiting therapist or as a member of
the staff team, I have been struck by the talent and capability of some of the
Teaching Assistants (TAs) working with some of the lowest attaining pupils in
The SEN Code of Practice (DfE/DoH, 2015) recognises the
distinction in roles of the teacher and TAs in the classroom, making it clear
that the teacher is ‘responsible and
accountable for the progress and development of the pupils in their class,
including where pupils access support from teaching assistants or specialist
staff' (p. 99). Although it is the teacher’s responsibility to
differentiate tasks to ensure the learning is accessible, the TA has more
opportunity for sustained interaction with pupils and is therefore ideally
positioned to support and monitor the small steps needed for pupils to achieve
their learning goals.
Make no mistake,
the demands of this pedagogical role of a TA in the classroom is a complex one
and a tall order for a professional group known to have limited access to
appropriate training (MAST: see http://maximisingtas.co.uk/research.php). It seems to me, the timing and presentation of
steps involved in supporting pupils effectively is a bit like doing the Tango
without stepping on toes.
‘TA-Pupil Tango’, we see the most effective
TAs building pupil confidence and motivation to engage with learning. They
provide on-line, responsive and personalised feedback to enable pupils to reach
next steps with learning and most importantly equip pupils with strategies to
foster their independence in learning...like that alone is not enough?
TAs need to ensure the teacher has accurate information about the nature and
level of support required for pupils to achieve the learning outcomes. Many of
us however have witnessed the ‘well-intentioned dance’ of the TA desperate for pupils
to succeed, fall into the trap of ‘giving answers’ in an effort to ensure pupils
complete tasks and keep pace with peers.
So how can we ensure TA support in the
classroom promotes independence in learning?
read the ‘The Teaching Assistant’s Guide
to Effective Interaction’ (Bosanquet, Radford and Webster, 2016); an
excellent professional development tool that demystifies the steps of this beautiful
dance. The book is aimed at TAs in
pedagogical roles. It sets out a carefully
staged framework of support, aimed at promoting independence in learning using ‘A
framework for scaffolding learning’. The focus is on the quality of interaction
between the TA-pupil, and the principles underpinning the model can be used
flexibly to support pupils across a range of learning tasks.
is one of those terms that one hears frequently in ‘educational-speak’ and yet its
meaning is elusive. But the framework clearly outlines the ‘how to’ of
scaffolding, focusing on breaking the task into successive smaller steps (called Process Success Criteria); very
similar to the ‘Task Boards’ a Speech and Language Therapist may recommend using
for pupils with language difficulties.
The model goes beyond a small step
approach and provides a graduated response to pupils at each step, first with
low level of adult support (i.e.
self-scaffolding) and systematically moving to higher levels of support
with prompting, clueing, modelling and correcting; a clear structure to help
TAs navigate a way of promoting independence and avoid falling into the trap of
As a Speech and Language Therapist working with
pupils with language difficulties, I can see the enormous value of using this tool
in supporting TA’s to respond to pupils with language difficulties in lessons
and ultimately, I can see its value to pupils in self-regulating their learning. In my view, this is an invaluable
professional development tool for SENCos and Senior Leaders. If we want to
watch the ‘TA-Pupil Tango’, we need to teach the steps to do the dance.