- Special Education Assistants - How to Make the Most of an Important Resource (Part 3) - November 26, 2013
- Special Education Assistants: 5 Steps to Getting Assessment Support Just Right (Part 2) - November 19, 2013
- Special Education Assistants - 5 Important Areas of Professional Development (Part 1) - November 12, 2013
- 5 Ways to Incorporate Literacy in the Non-ELA Classroom - October 4, 2013
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Part 1 of this series offered 5 areas of ongoing professional development for Education Assistants. In this installment, I provide EA's with 5 steps to help determine what level of support to offer a student.
1. Talk to the Teacher
Find out in as far advance as possible which students you will be expected to support and the specific reasons the teacher has flagged them for this help. Sometimes the student and their capabilities will be well known to you. But often a new student can be assigned without much notice. Don’t be afraid to ask the teacher questions about the students, the task, and what the teacher expects from both you and the student.
2. Be Prepared
When possible, get a copy of the assessment task sheet/ exam and the criteria sheet prior to working with the student. Ensure that you understand the task and the skills that are being assessed. For example: in a math test, are students being assessed on reading the question, the procedure they chose to use or the accuracy of their calculations? The skills being assessed and the knowledge required for a “C” will impact how much support you can give.
Review the content knowledge that the student will need to know. Make sure you know how to access the notes or materials that students will need. You don’t need to become an expert on chemistry to help in an exam, but if you can at least access a glossary of terms and know which way to steer the student if they are really stuck, it will certainly help.
Check what the assessment conditions are and time the student will have to complete it. Also find out where you will be working with them (will you be in the classroom or in the library?).
3. Breakdown the Question/s
Often students understand the content but don’t understand the question and give up. If the question is in two parts, cover up the second part and help the student to focus on the first part. You could help them make a list of separate steps they need to take to complete the question. Underline the key words in the question that relate to the knowledge or skill that the student needs to use.
4. Use questions to probe for student understanding
Follow this process to help students work it out on their own:
- Read the question slowly to the student (sometimes this is enough).
- Ask: What words in there do you know or recognize?
- Ask: What do you know about that topic?
- Ask: What could you do to answer this question?
- Ask: What is confusing you about this? (If a direction is unclear this would be a good time to reword the question or break it up into smaller steps).
- Reword the question or say: remember when we did (insert skill here) in class. We were looking at (insert object or topic). Can you remember the steps we followed?
- Reassure the student and encourage them to get started.
5. Scribe, Don’t Write
Scribing is writing down exactly what the student has said in response to a question or when composing a paragraph. Consider the criteria when have been asked to scribe, if spelling is being assessed then insist the student attempts to spell content words. If students have been asked to write an essay but the main criteria refer to content, focus your questions on the content and don’t get bogged down with spelling or grammar. You might know that the wording is awkward but if that is something being assessed you need to let it go. When you have scribed a sentence, re-read it so the student can hear it out loud and make necessary changes.
Use questions to prompt correct sentence structure and punctuation.
- Does that make sense?
- Is that a question?
- Do I need to start a new sentence here?
- Is this in the same paragraph?
When teachers request the support of an Education Assistant in the classroom, or they are offered the support without requesting it, they need to know how to make the most of that support. While the previous tips are for Education Assistants, they can benefit teachers as well. Knowing how to help your EA be the best support possible will fill your students' lives with richer learning experiences.