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Friday, July 31, 2009

Ask Amanda: The role of teacher's aides

Question from Shelley:
What does research generally say about aides and aide time - I am wondering for example how effective an hour's aid time a day might be as opposed to 1.5 days with an aid there all the time.

Comment by Sue:
Hi Amanda,
Just following up on what Shelly is asking about I have been really concerned about a growing trend which seems to be happening in schools at the moment. That being, that teacher aides are more often teaching students with special needs than their teachers are. Also that much of the planning seems to be left up to teacher aides too. Over the years I have seen many kids who come to a special education setting after completing their primary schooling who are seriously aide and prompt dependent. It is an even greater problem is schools where a student may have had the same ( well intentioned) teacher aide for the whole of their primary schooling.

The use of teachers aides is increasing. But we need to be clear on the role of a teacher's aide before we can effectively use them in the classroom.

Most importantly, it is important to know that a teachers aide or assistant is not a trained teacher. Here are some sites that tell you about the qualifications of teachers aides in Australia:

I found the Middlesborough Teaching Assistants site really interesting. The statement that is important is that the role of the teachers aide is to "enable access to the curriculum and to facilitate independent learning, and to promote inclusion."

It is really important to see teachers aides as facilitators rather than "scaffolds" or "supports".

This video also has some great stuff:

The Disability Standards for Education 2005 Part 3 highlight that all adjustments made to support students' learning must ensure that the child can learn as independently as possible.

The consistent presence of a teachers aide is possibly not as important as how the teachers aide is used, and what adjustments are being made in terms of teaching strategies, materials and grouping in the classroom.

As Sue mentioned, using a teachers aide in a way that will promote co-dependence or dependence in the student does not meet the aim of promoting independence. For example, I have seen situations where a student is placed at the back of the classroom with an aide to complete tasks that they could not complete without assistance, or tasks that are not connected to what is going on in the classroom. In these cases you often find the students have a low sense of self-efficacy. That is, if the teacher's aide is away the child refuses to complete work, or withdraws, or is constantly asking for the classroom teacher's assistance.

The aim should be that we make adjustments to the way we present information and work with the students. For example, we use more visuals and hands-on materials. We have glossaries and checklists. We arrange the physical environment with consideration for the child's needs. The aim is to ensure that the child can participate as independently as possible.

Then the best way to use a teacher's aide will be scheduling them on at times when extra supervision or extra one-one support may be needed for safety or equity reasons. For example, if the child struggles with literacy, then the teachers aide could be present at literacy lessons to work with small groups or pairs of students. Or they could be there, roaming the room, helping to answer questions so that the student can get adequate support without sacrificing teacher time for the other students.

The same philosophy could apply to situations where the student may have behaviour or physical difficulties. Example - a child with physical difficulties may be allocated a teachers aide during physical education. Or a child who is prone to "melt-downs" in noisy or less structured lessons is allocated teachers aide time so that they can help maintain duty of care even if the child has to leave the room for a "break".

We also need to ensure that the use of a teachers aide does not increase the risk of bullying.... see the previous post on this topic.

Perhaps we should see teachers aides as facilitators, an extra pair of hands in situations where duty of care or support for other children may be significantly affected by the needs of the child with a disability.

So to answer your question...

Research about resilience, high expectations and self-fulfilling prophecies suggest that:

- Making adjustments to resources and teaching strategies to promote independent learning are essential, whether a child has a teacher's aide or not.

- The way a teacher's aide is used is likely to be more important than how much time they spend with the child. The exception may be if the child really struggles to relate to "strangers" and needs routine. Then it will be important to allow time for the child to get used to the teachers aide being part of the classroom, unless they can be taught that the teachers aide is part of a particular activity (eg PE means the teachers aide will be there)

If we expect children to be independent, provided we have appropriate supports, materials and teaching strategies, then they are more likely to be resilience and confident learners.

One on one support is beneficial for many children with disabilities, but it can also be provided through peer-assisted learning. One on one support, however, is not necessarily essential for learning success.

The line between expecting too much and expecting too little is not always an easy one to find, but it is important that we recognise that children with disabilities are capable of learning independently.

The short answer??

1 hour a day can be just as effective as 1.5 days with an aide if the aide is used at a time when the child may need to ask more questions, or needs further supervision due to social, behaviour or emotional difficulties.


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