Research corner

`Scaffolding learning for independence: Clarifying teacher and teaching assistant roles for children with special educational needs' by Julie Radford, Paula Bosanquet, Rob Webster et al

Learning and Instruction, 36:1-10, April 2015 (Elsevier)

Research from the UCL Institute of Education (IoE) has previously shown that even when students with special educational needs are given intensive support from a teaching assistant (TA), they still don't make as much progress as their peers.

However, according to a new report, "it is the decisions made about TAs, not by TAs, that offer the most compelling explanation for why TA support has a negative impact on student outcomes".

The article, published by academics from the IoE and the University of East London - including writers of the original research - uses data gleaned from mathematics and literacy lessons to suggest a formalisation of the TA position into three distinct roles: support, repair and heuristic.

Support TAs would "maintain learner engagement, on-task behaviour and motivation", a role that the researchers say TAs already perform successfully.

Repair TAs would help children to correct errors, allowing them to edit themselves rather than providing the answer for them.

Lastly, heuristic TAs would "empower students by encouraging them to develop their own approaches to problem-solving".

The idea of splitting the TA role in this way, say the authors, would allow teachers to take TAs into account when planning, and consider which of the three approaches would be most appropriate for the lesson. The researchers also stress the need for TAs to be given access to effective and ongoing professional development - especially in the area of assisting SEN students to reach their full potential.

Sarah Cunnane

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