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.