What Makes a Great TA Intervention?

This post has been written by Ed Moss

Before starting here at Classroom Secrets, I worked for several years as part of a large team of teaching assistants at one of the largest schools in my area. Naturally, alongside classroom duties and being one of the two audience members for class assembly rehearsals (‘Project your voices… Don’t speak to your shoes… We’ll sort your wig later but for now just try to imagine you’re Charles II…’) I was asked to deliver lots of interventions. Some things I did well, others I could have improved on. What might I change about the way I delivered interventions if I was heading back into school tomorrow? What, as the blog title asks, makes a great TA intervention?

 

It’s important to say at the outset that as far as possible, it’s good to meet learning needs inside the class. A TA who has a great knowledge of the outcomes for a given lesson and strong relationships with every child in the class can assist the learning of children of all abilities. If they can avoid latching permanently onto a group who find the subject matter difficult, instead helping children across the class, they gift that struggling group more quality time with their teacher. This also prevents those children from feeling singled out from the rest of the class.

 

That is not to say that interventions outside the class don’t have their place. They are necessary for a myriad of reasons, and are highly effective, if carried out in a well-structured manner by a well-trained, well-supported TA. However, interventions which are inconsistent can actually have a detrimental effect on learning. A report published in 2015 by the Education Endowment Foundation makes the potential gains and losses very clear. Consider this quotation from the report’s summary:

 

Research on TAs delivering targeted interventions in one-to-one or small group settings shows a consistent impact on attainment of approximately three to four additional months’ progress (effect size 0.2–0.3). Crucially, these positive effects are only observed when TAs work in structured settings with high quality support and training. When TAs are deployed in more informal, unsupported instructional roles, they can impact negatively on pupils’ learning outcomes.

 

So what are some tips for ensuring interventions deliver the ‘three to four additional months’ progress’? Below are some recommendations from the report, things I saw were effective during my time as a TA, and the advice of more experienced educators working with me here at Classroom Secrets.

  • Foster good communication between teacher and teaching assistant. A TA who is clued up on up-to-date assessments and feedback from recent lessons will have a better understanding of exactly what each child needs from an intervention. Knowing the reasons for an intervention and the desired outcomes of it can enable a TA to deliver much more targeted teaching. A good knowledge of lesson plans can also help a TA to note where the skills learned in an intervention can be applied in upcoming lessons.
  • Ensure TAs are full trained on the specific intervention they are using. With good training, no time is wasted, and the confidence and ability of the TA improves the efficacy of the whole session.
  • Brief, regular, consistent sessions are best. If you’re using an intervention which asks for, say, three fifteen-minute sessions per week, try as best you can to stick to that.
  • Have small groups and (as far as is possible) good locations. Too many children in a group makes targeted teaching more difficult, and distracting or cramped environments can make it hard to concentrate. I know from experience, however, that finding a calm, spacious place to work is often just a pipe dream!
  • Work from little help first and avoid prioritising task completion. Giving adequate time for a child to try to work something out with as small an amount of assistance as possible encourages them to own the task and actually learn. If the intervention just becomes a rush to try and get a certain task finished, the likelihood of spoon-feeding increases and the child’s learning may suffer.
  • Give TAs (and therefore the children) good access to materials. If the materials used in the intervention can be used again in subsequent lessons, to link and apply external to in-class learning, that is ideal.
  • Link the intervention work back to in-class work. Recapping the original lesson can situate an intervention within a child’s wider frame of reference and pointing out future lessons (or within those future lessons) where the out-of-class learning can be used helps them to start applying their new knowledge.

 

I hope the advice above is useful. It can sometimes feel like there’s nowhere near enough time for as much communication or planning as we might want when it comes to TA interventions. There are so many other things to do! Here at Classroom Secrets, our whole goal is to relieve the time pressure teachers and teaching assistants are under, freeing them up to them spend time on what really matters and restoring their life/work balance. Whether you spend the extra time created by our resources on discussing TA interventions or on putting your feet up and having a well-deserved rest is entirely up to you!

 

 

Ed is a former teaching assistant who has been learning and creating as part of Classroom Secrets since he wrote his first guided reading pack for the company in 2015. He loves writing and tries to make every resource engaging and fun.

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