The Teaching Assistant’s Guide to Effective Interaction – Paula Bosanquet, Julie Radford and Rob Webster
Anyone who has looked at the Education section of the news over the past few years will have seen the fallout from the DISS report. The DISS (Deployment and Impact of Support Staff) report discovered – much to the shock of the researchers involved – that teaching assistants did not have a positive impact on the learning outcomes for students. Even worse, students with SEND who had one-to-one support made less progress than students of equivalent need who did not have support staff. There were also negative impacts on peer inclusion, teacher engagement, and social development.
So, the research team had not only found an independent effect of TA support on pupils’ outcomes, but also that the effect was in a negative direction. There was, in other words, something connected to TAs that was strongly related to a lack of pupil progress.
So all in all quite depressing to read if you are a teaching assistant! The findings from the DISS report have led to Teaching Assistants being cut or made redundant up and down the country, as well as newspaper articles disparaging them for their high cost, low impact. There were some researchers who decided that this area needed more attention before jumping to conclusions – some of whom were involved in the production of this book. Their research found that whilst the results of the DISS report were true – they were only true when teaching assistants were not deployed, managed and trained appropriately by the SLT within schools. Schools who did use teaching assistants appropriately saw positive outcomes on students’ learning. One area where changes to teaching assistant practice made a huge impact was on the methods they used to structure learning: a system called scaffolding, which is the topic of this book.
This book goes through the scaffolding system that Bosanquet, Radford and Webster found supported students’ learning the most. Essentially a system of building up students toward self-scaffolding, teaching them the skills to find answers for themselves, whilst providing the least help needed to get them there. There are multiple levels to scaffolding from least support to most:
With the idea being that correcting is almost never used (Bosanquet recommends only in situations like a difficult to pronounce proper names that do not follow phonetic rules), and the rest being used on a sliding scale.
You will notice that these things fit well with the concept and techniques of self-scaffolding. Working on developing self-scaffolding skills with pupils will help them to develop a growth mindset. Once pupils see they are able to work through problems and become more able to complete tasks independently, they will be motivated to continue to do this.
This book is an easy to read and accessible guide to how to implement each stage of this scaffolding system and how to record it and liaise with the teacher, giving examples throughout which help to demonstrate the methods in use. It gives practical and easily manageable advice to help teaching assistants develop their own practice, and is also a book place for teachers to start considering whether they are using their teaching assistants in the best way possible.
In amongst this guide is discussion about the barriers teaching assistants face in engaging in effective practice – such as hours not including time to plan with teachers, and expectations that they should work for free over their contracted hours to “catch up”. There is some discussion of theories of learning as well, but these never get so theory heavy that they detract from the practical nature of the book.
I used this book when I worked as a 1:1 teaching assistant and it did make a huge difference to my own practice. I also began to notice that some of the other teaching assistants did jump in too quickly with answers or too much help, and that students began to develop ‘learned helplessness’ as a result. I also saw that these teaching assistants felt they had to do this because they were frequently sat with “low attainment” tables and told “Make sure they finish their work”. Whether the teacher realised the pressure their statements put the teaching assistants under I couldn’t say – I would like to think not – but it was a very tangible example of the things discussed within this book.
If you are in education – teaching assistant or teacher – then yes. This book could definitely have a positive impact on your professional practice and on the young people you support.
Value for money?
It comes in at just over £20 on average on Amazon – and it isn’t an especially thick book. That said, it’s a lot cheaper than any Continual Professional Development you can buy in so if you think you are self-motivated enough to implement the scaffolding in your practice then yes. Alternatively, see if you can convince your school to buy a few copies for reference.