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The Least Effective Use of a TA - Teaching by Echo Part Two

We asked for a guest blog from SEND and safeguarding specialist Sara Alston. This is part two of her thoughts about getting the best out of the Teaching Assistants in our classrooms

In part one on my piece about how to get the best out the TA in the classroom, I discussed our obligation to ensure that children were able to access the learning in the classroom ‘first hand’ that is to say not through ‘echoed’ by a TA sitting next to the child. To achieve this, we need to shift our focus from learning support to learning preparation.

In part two I want to share more ideas to help implement this new distinction in a way that will relay benefit children with SEND in the mainstream classroom and I want to start with the role the TA plays in helping children not learn, but access the learning.

Accessing instructions, not learning

TAs need to support access to the instructions: what to do with the learning and how to demonstrate it, rather than the learning itself. Through great tools such as task management boards that act as visual reminders, check lists to support a child through a task, now and next cards, visual timetables and worked examples, TAs can provide strategies to support access to learning. By making the support visual, and not dependent on the TA at the child’s side, they reduce the endless echoing of information and instructions which leads to confusion and dependence and which can inhibit learning. And, of course, by removing the struggle to access the instructions cognitive load is reduced and the child is better able to focus on what is being taught.

Use the technology

TAs can also find themselves acting as an intermediary between the child and teacher when it comes to children demonstrating their understanding. All too often, oddly more in secondary than primary schools in my experience, I see TAs acting as scribes, recording the children’s learning. This is not preparation for adulthood and is depriving children of the opportunity to develop their skills for effective communication. Moreover, it is nonsense in an age of technology. As adults, the children will use computers to record ideas and thinking and, of course, many of them do already at home. Yet in schools, IT is seen as too expensive, too complicated, and too difficult.

But it is only all these things when we focus purely on the immediacy of the lesson and don’t give ourselves time to prepare children to learn.

And, of course, if we do embrace all that technology can do to help children with SEND, we also need to give all those supporting these children the time and the training to learn how to best use the technology in their work. TAs, therefore, need the necessary support to work with children to develop their effective use of the technology, so they can develop independence in recording. This requires a change of mindset where we look beyond the single lesson to developing life skills and independence. This may mean work outside, as well as inside the classroom. [ITL]

This is part two of three-part piece. You can contact our guest-blogger Sara Alston about her work in SEND, inclusion and safeguarding at

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