Doing the Tango without Stepping on Toes, by Susan McMackin, SaLT:
A Review of 'The Teaching Assistant's Guide to Effective Interaction: How to Maximise Your Practice'
(Bosanquet, Radford, Webster, 2016)
Throughout 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 classroom.
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.
Watching the ‘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?
Furthermore, 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?
I recently 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.
‘Scaffolding’ 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 over-supporting pupils.
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.
Bosanquet, P. and Radford, J. and Webster, R. (2016) The Teaching Assistant’s Guide to Effective Interaction: How to Maximise Your Practice. First published 2016 by Routledge, Printed and bound by CPI Groups (UK) Ltd.
Labels: Adult support, Clueing, Correctly, Effective Interaction, Modelling, Prompting, Pupil independence, Scaffolding, SEN, SENCO, speech and language difficulties, TA, Teaching Assistant, Teaching Practice