writing workshop

Back to School Week: Instructional Assistants

Last week Mrs. V asked about how best to use instructional assistants.  Then Stacey asked her for clarification and Mrs. V wrote:

With instructional assistants I mean classified staff adults in the classroom. I have heard some people also call them aides or paraprofessionals. Is that enough clarification?

I have an instructional assistant two days a week, and I never feel like I am utilizing the aide that I have. I have felt like this every year I have been teaching.

So far this year I am planning on/have started:
*having my assistant read with specific students during reading workshop on a rotating basis
*I was thinking of training her to confer with writer’s during writer’s workshop
*She would also be able to run an additional small group instruction

The times when I am especially not sure how to utilize her best is when I am doing direct instruction/mini-lessons or activities when I am guiding the whole class in an activity.

Great ideas for ways you are already planning to use the additional help in your classroom.  Around our school system many teachers are working through these same questions, as all instructional assistants must “push-in” to classrooms as opposed to “pull-out” students.  As an advocate for instructional assistants working within the walls of a classroom, I’m glad to see Mrs. V’s ideas and add a few thoughts of my own. 

  1. Since conferring with students makes the biggest impact on growth, I believe this is a valuable way to use your instructional assistant (IA).  It is prudent to spend several workshops conferring together.  As you both go to the same student, you can lead the conference and the IA can look for the structure of the conference.  Share Carl Anderson’s simple two part structure of a conference with your IA.  Part one is asking questions to find out what the student is doing and what his/her needs are and part two is teaching the student one thing.  As the IA becomes comfortable with conferring, ask him/her to lead a few conferences while you observe and offer feedback.  Once you are both comfortable conferring individually, give your IA his/her own conference record sheet or sticky notes/labels to write on and add to your conference record.  By two people conferring, students will receive twice the support and individualized instruction!
  2. During minilessons the IA can be involved by making a chart to record the minilesson for future use.  Especially if you have the main points of the chart written out ahead of time on a small note, this can speed up the minilesson since you do not have to pause to write during the lesson.  I believe there is value to making the chart with students since they can see it develop and gain a little ownership in it.
  3. I’ve also used instructional assistants during minilessons by asking them to sit in a strategic place alongside students during the lesson.  This is valuable because the proximity of a teacher often helps students focus on the lesson.  It also gives the IA a chance to hear the teaching points which will help when he/she confers.

Like all other times when we work with people, the success of using instructional assistants during Writing Workshop lies in communication.  If there are bumps in the road, work together to find a solution.  If there are habits the instructional assistant has that are hindering your Writing Workshop, discuss these.  No one enjoys conflict, yet everyone appreciates when the cards are on the table.  There is nothing more important than being up front and frank, with a good dose of kindness, when working alongside people.

I’d love to hear other ideas about ways you use instructional assistants within the walls of your classroom.  Thanks, in advance, for your comments.

4 thoughts on “Back to School Week: Instructional Assistants

  1. Hi – I added your site to my blogroll a while back. I teach third grade and though I’m a writer, I find it’s often difficult to teach writing – especially, since most of my students are English Language Learners. When I first visited your site, there was a wonderful “Behind this door…” post – something you would post on your door about how you could be someone different behind the door. I loved it, especially since my classroom is the only one with no glass windows in the door, so it often seems like what we’re doing is TOP SECRET. For the life of me, I’ve been all over your website (and added numerous hits :), but can’t find it. I was hoping to have it posted when my students come back on Sept. 10th. I blog about a variety of subjects, including teaching and can be found on planetjan. I’d appreciate it so much if you could point me in the right direction.


  2. Thanks so much for your tips. I love the idea of having my IA help with the visual aspect of mini-lessons. That gives me a whole new load of possibilities to consider. It’s funny that you mentioned sitting along side the group during the mini-lesson because that just popped into my mind as well. It is really beneficial to have an extra set of eyes monitoring for student engagement and comprehension.

    I really appreciate that you gave suggestions on how to make a smooth transition and provide enough support for my instructional assistant to confer with students. I just started thinking of it a few days ago as I was trying to decide how to best utilize her time, but I had not thought through all the logistics yet. You gave me ideas for a starting point to lead toward success rather than it being overwhelming.

    I also had a typo in my comment from before. Instead of ” I never feel like I am utilizing the aide that I have”, I meant to also add in “the best that I can” to the end.

    Thanks again for your thoughtful response.


  3. This is so helpful! I have an aide half days for at least a few months for the first time this year, due to my principal’s concern about larger and larger fifth grade class sizes and rowdier and rowdier fifth graders 🙂 She’s great so far, but I have been freaking out a little bit about how to make sure she feels well utilized and helpful, and that she IS well-utilized and helpful!

    Mostly I’ve asked her to focus in on a few of my kids who seem to need mega-individual attention. She’ll sit with them during reading time and help them both choose books and stay more focused. We’re only on day 6, just having started writer’s workshop, but so far the kids are super excited and they are so thrilled to have extra “audiences” around, that she’s been really helpful just giving quick management type conferences and compliments, even though I haven’t yet had time to really sit down and talk with her about conferring. Also, I’d like to show her how to do running records, which I think would help.

    During minilessons, honestly, she’s seemed really happy to just sit with us and listen, and has listened in on different kids as they turn and talk. She likes having a clear sense of what I’m trying to teach and the ML is short enough that it doesn’t feel like a whole lot of wasted time for her. Plus, she definitely sits by my three most easily-distracted kiddos, which helps.


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