Thursday, September 8, 2016

Effective TA Use: Part 2

Last week, I posted a set of questions for TAs to ask teachers, and questions for teachers to ask TAs. I hope some of you have had the opportunity to use these conversation starters to improve the way you and your TA work together to help kids. 

This week, I want to focus on specific ideas for using a TA in your classroom. Many of these ideas will be focused on 5th-9th, but I hope that some of the younger grades can get ideas also. 

At the elementary level (K-4), the primary roles of a TA should be...
  1. To support differentiated instruction. This means that within your classroom, your TA works with individuals or small groups to support your overall objectives and learning goals. 
  2. To implement interventions. Interventions take place in addition to normal classroom instruction. When a TA implements interventions, she is working with an individual or small group during additional time on a subject area or concept of concern. 
Most of a TA's time should be spent on one of the two areas above. However, occasionally it is appropriate for a TA to assist with the following duties if they do not take away from their work in the areas mentioned above...
  1. Supporting instruction by making copies or preparing lesson materials (during prep time or other times). 
  2. Collecting, recording, and/or organizing student data, including grading. 
  3. Assisting with discipline issues as coordinated with the lead teacher. 
At the secondary building, the role of a TA becomes a bit more flexible. The main purpose of a TA at the secondary building is still to work with students. There may be times when other types of work are appropriate, but the majority of the time needs to be spent helping kids. Here are some ideas I have used in my own classroom, or ones I have seen other people use successfully: 
  1. Daily classroom usage of TAs:
    • Have TAs assist with daily procedures (attendance, distributing bell-work, signing planners for students, etc.). The TAs schedule and availability may dictate which procedures will work best.
    • Make-up/absent work facilitation. First, you'll need a clear system for absent/make-up work. Then, ask the TA to be the point person for students who have questions while gathering or completing their work upon their return to class.
    • Have TAs assist in contacting parents when students have low grades. As a reminder, teachers should be contacting parents when their kids have a D+ or lower. This needs to be done with care. To use a TA in this way, please be sure the TA is a constant in your classroom, has access to your gradebook (to view missing assignments), and is comfortable making the initial call to parents. The TA should clearly identify him/herself as an educator in the room, explain the grade and any specific missing assignments, give ideas for how the kid can bring up the grade, and then ask if the parent would like a follow-up call/email from the teacher. Providing a sample script to the TA is a good idea.
    • Grading. Like in the elementary, grading is not the primary use of a TA. However, in the case of items like multiple choice tests, it can be appropriate for a TA to help with grading as long as the teacher reviews all grades before putting them in the gradebook.
  2. During direct instruction:
    • If there are students who need significant help with note-taking or other tasks, have the TA closely monitor and assist these students. I would caution against having a TA sit next to one specific student for the entire hour. Instead, have the TA float between a few students. This builds more autonomy within the student while still supporting him/her.
    • Have your TA circulate throughout the room monitoring the work and behavior of all kids. It’s best if the TA can use nonverbals to keep kids on task because nonverbals limit disruption to the direct instruction. For example, the TA can point to sections that need to be completed, redirect attention, etc. It's important for TAs and teachers to clearly discuss expectations for this type of work (Ex: should kids with questions raise their hands and ask the lecturing teacher, or can they flag down the TA and whisper the question.)
    • Use your TA to gather classroom data for you. This could potentially be data you will bring to your CTT or any other data to help your practice. Ask the TA to look for just one thing in the classroom: How many kids wrote down the essential question in their notes correctly? When kids pair/shared, how many kids were not engaged in speaking to their partners? How many kids were highlighting key terms in their notes? You can use the classroom worksheet on Aspire to quickly print check sheets for TAs to use. Another way to gather data is to have the TA take pictures/videos for you. The TA can also look for good examples to project to show other kids. For instance, an example of a high-quality summary after taking Cornell Notes.
    • Have your TA create a master copy of the notes or a list of what was learned for students who were absent. (This is only a good use of the TA in classes where student notes cannot be used for this purpose).
  3. During group or partner work:
    • Have the TA set up a binder check station in the hall. Then, one by one, the TA calls kids or groups out with their binders. Binders are checked for required materials. If needed, the TA helps the student(s) organize the binder(s).
    • TAs can set up a grade-check station in the hall. Like with the binder station, TAs call kids out one by one or in small groups. Each kid logs into Aspire and checks their grades. If necessary, the TA can help the student make a plan to get the work completed and turned in. The TA can also make sure the student knows what each assignment means and has the necessary paperwork.
    • Have the TA work with a specific group of kids. Note that the TA does not always need to work with a group that struggles. The TA can work with a higher group and give them opportunities to stretch, while the classroom teacher works with the lower group that will need the most help.  
This is not a complete list, but hopefully it gives you some ideas. Thanks to Teryl Young and Darby Evans for contributing ideas for this list. Do you have a great idea for using your TA? Please post it below.

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