One of the parts of my job that I really enjoy is working with a range of different people, in different settings and of different professions. I truly believe that multidisciplinary working is the way forward for both children and professionals. I was talking through a programme with a particularly fantastic TA in one of my schools recently. She knows about the blog and asked me to write a post about how TA’s can support speech and language skills and help deliver programmes. So, that’s what I’m going to try and do today!
Firstly, I want to clarify my use of ‘TA’. Now to me this is a Teaching Assistant. But I have also heard the terms Learning Support Assistant (LSA), Special Needs Assistant (SNA) and Higher level Teaching Assistant (HLTA) used in different settings – and I never seem to use the correct set of letters! I also understand that in different schools, these titles can be attached to different roles and responsibility as well as different pay scales. So, to be clear as I don’t want to offend anyone, I’m talking about all you wonderful ladies and gents that support children both within the classroom and withdraw them for group or 1:1 sessions.
In the classroom
Some schools in the UK (normally infant schools 4-7 year olds), use their TA’s within the classroom to help the teacher and support groups of children within the classroom.
- Whilst the teacher is talking, watch the children to see who is listening. I find this fascinating! You can support these children to listen and sit well – hopefully discreetly without interrupting the teacher. This is where I find Makaton signing or symbols really useful. You can catch the child’s eye and sign ‘listening’ or tap on a symbol for good listening. Obviously you would want to discuss this with your teacher first, but when I am running a group it is this behaviour management that I am relying on the other adult in the room to do!
- You can then check that these children have understood the instructions after the teacher has finished talking! It is quite likely that if they weren’t listening, they may well not know what to do next!
- Don’t give them the answers – Guide them to it! In the past I have tried to run a group and the person supporting me kept whispering ideas to the children at one end of the table. Now, I’m sure they thought they were helping, but in fact I didn’t know which ideas were hers and which were the child’s, and I didn’t know if the child had understood. Being able to differentiate on the spot is a tricky thing to learn to do, but it is key to enable a child to get to the answer on their own, without being told it. Try these steps:-
– Repeat the question first to ensure the child heard it. If that doesn’t help try…..
– Emphasise the key bit of the sentence that might help them get the answer. Maybe sign or gesture to help them understand this critical bit. If that doesn’t help try…..
– Talking about the words that help you get the answer; maybe explain SOME of how you get to the answer. If that doesn’t help try……
– If appropriate you could try to give a clue to the answer – for example it starts with a b…. or it’s a bit like a ……. If that doesn’t help and the child is really stuck, try……
– Giving a choice of 2 items – the correct answer and something a bit silly that wouldn’t work! In this way, hopefully the child will still get the correct answer, even though they have needed a lot of help to get there. This in turn will help improve their confidence, as they were still able to give the answer.
The above strategy can work well if you can support the child to get an answer in this way, whilst the teacher talks to other children. Then your child can volunteer the answer to the class.
Withdrawing children from class
I find that in Junior schools (7-11 year olds), TA’s are used more to support reading interventions or deliver programmes by withdrawing the children from class.
- If you have a programme to follow, make sure that you have all of it – bits do get lost! Also check that it was recently written – you may not want to be working on a 2 year old set of targets.
- Sometimes targets can be worked on in any order, however sometimes their is a hierarchy and you do need to work through them in a specific order. Make sure you know which it is!
- If you feel that the child has achieved the targets set or that the targets are too hard, it’s OK to stop and move onto something else! Just flag it up with the SENCo and see if the therapist can provide an updated programme.
- If you’re not sure what something in the programme means, ask someone. This may be other staff in the school who deliver programmes, the SENCo or possible the therapist if they visit the school regularly!
If you are supporting children in schools, you may find some of our others posts useful. There is a post about supporting children at break times, another about supporting children on school trips and the last about supporting children in school plays.
So to all the wonderful TA’s out there – Please keep up the good work, you are worth your weight in gold!