I Have a Teaching Assistant for Math! ...but how can we best serve our students?

You just found out that you have a teaching assistant during math for the school year. Awesome!! But you may be asking yourself, what is the BEST way to work together to help your students to grow? A few simple "do"s and "don't"s will get you on the right track.

It can be so tempting to quickly describe the activity you are planning on doing as your TA runs into the room (and let's be real, they are running because TAs are amazing people who are spread sooo thin!) This method sells your plans short and will impact your students in a negative way. This means time taken away from your students as you have a quick chat and it also means that your TA will not have the opportunity to clarify and really understand your plans to the fullest. Plus, you have to go through this same routine each time your TA comes in.

Instead? Find time for a 10 minute appointment once a week. Honestly, that's all the time it will take. You will have peace of mind that your TA knows what is expected in the classroom and your TA will feel comfortable coming into a room knowing just what is in store for them.

Asking a TA to deliver new instruction is a big no-no. First off, your TA is not necessarily a certified teacher. They have not been specifically trained to understand what to look for in students as they are gaining a new skill, how to cut off misconceptions as they emerge and how to connect this new learning to prior instruction you have given. Don't get me wrong, the TAs I have worked with have been amazing and very well could teach the lesson but this is an unfair expectation to have.

Instead? Plan activities, practice pages or math centers that build upon the initial instruction you have given. As an example, take a look at an outline for a sample week of instruction in my math intervention room.

The activities listed as "Instructional Activity" would be the initial instruction delivered by the classroom teacher. The next column over, "Independent Activity", is an activity which reinforces the instructional activity.

When students complete the independent activity in my intervention room, I monitor their work, look for misconceptions and support... but only if needed.

If you have a TA in your room, your students can still enjoy this level of support but you could be freed up to pull another small group, to pull for an assessment, or to teach students in any way necessary.

If you click HERE , you will go to my Google Drive where you will find a free sample of the outline above. You will receive the lesson and all necessary materials for the day 1 instructional activity, independent activity and ticket out the door listed above so that you can try out this format in your classroom.

When there are multiple adults in the classroom it can be very easy for students to look for adult support... and sometimes that means too much adult support! Make sure that you and your TA have a conversation at your weekly meeting in terms of what you would expect your students to try independently and what you anticipate they may need more support on. You may even give your TA some prompts based on the anticipated road blocks in the activity you are assigning. I wrote much more on the topic of independence in THIS blog entry. Allowing and expecting independence is often an overlooked strategy for our learners with the greatest area of need.

And last, but certainly not least, at your weekly meeting make sure to spend 2-3 minutes talking about which students you and your TA noticed performing well on their own and who they noticed might need some additional support. The success that one of you noticed might be directly attributed to something that the other did and it is awesome to have that affirmation! In terms of need, your TA will have unique insight into how your students are doing when they are expected to work independently. Take advantage of this window of insight!! Share what you notice and celebrate, celebrate, celebrate the success together!

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I'm Just Not a Sticker Teacher

To be clear, I have no problem with stickers at all, I just don't use them! I found that it was more trouble than it was worth. We would get to the end of our short small group math block and the sticker fiasco would ensue. One student would get the last sparkle sticker, another student would decide that they wanted the sparkle sticker (mind you they never wanted a sparkle sticker before but, supply and demand...) their "reward" now turning into a sour experience. And then there would be the student who would take 10 minutes to decide which sticker they wanted.

And does anyone really know why they earned a sticker and which of their learning behaviors earned them this reward? And what if a student's learning behaviors weren't worthy of the reward? Do you deny them the sticker? And if you do, did the student know that they weren't getting a sticker because their learning behaviors didn't warrant a treat? Probably not, I work with 5 and 6 year-olds. Their take away on a day they don't earn a sticker is that you. are. mean!

And so I don't do stickers, stars, tokens, clip charts, or anything of the like. And yet my student's small group math behaviors are to be commended... so what is my trick?

Individual bar graphs that are not at all explicitly tied to behavior.

Exciting, I know :)

But this is the single most effective behavior plan I have employed in my intervention space. So here's how it works. Each week my students do "8 Minute Math" which is actually an AIMS Web progress monitor. If you aren't familiar with AIMS Web MComp, it's a front and back page with a mix of addition and subtraction questions. On the front the problems are mostly single digit addition but as students move down the sheet the problems increase in complexity. I love this 8 minute assessment because I can mark down the strategies my students are using (are they drawing dots? finger counting? counting on? drawing ten sticks and ones? are they confused about subtraction?). My students love the 8 Minute Math because they get to color in their sheets. As a side note, if you would like a copy of the graphing form, click on the graphic below and it will bring you to my Google Drive. 

You see, as soon as the 8 minutes is up, I grade the student's papers (I usually have 4-5 students in a group) on the spot. They immediately get to color in a new bar on their bar graph to show how many points they earned in a given week. And then we compare to the previous week. Now remember, I am working with 5 and 6 year old students so the comparison is general but they notice if their graph went up or down or stayed the same. They are then responsible for telling me why it is that their graph changed in the way that it did. Their answer for a graph going up may include "I worked hard this week and my brain got smarter" or "I practiced a strategy and it worked!" or any other statement that attributes their growth to the work that they put in. If students say "I don't know" or "I must have eaten smart flakes" or some other answer that doesn't illustrate the work they put in I will continue prompting until they realize that it is their work that allowed them to grow.

And, of course, there are the not so fun conversations as well. Why did your graph go down this week? "Well, I rolled around on the floor and didn't work very hard on my 8 Minute Math..." And how do you feel about coloring in your graph when it goes down like that? "Not proud!" "What can I help you do next week to be sure you are on track to making your brain smarter?"

And, at times, there are the conversations that break your heart because a student did try their best and their graph just isn't budging yet. But their classmates encourage them and we talk about how sometimes we don't master a strategy in a week. Sometimes, we just need a bit more time and we might not be there yet.

Throughout the week as students are working I constantly prompt and praise them in ways that promote that their growth and learning is a result of the work that they are putting in. I say things such as "Wow, I see you are working really hard on that math center... what do you think will happen when you do your 8 Minute Math this week?"

And so gone are the days of the stickers and I am currently in the land of "Your work today is really helping your brain to grow!" And the graph gives the students a visual of their brain growing over time. It is the single most amount of buy in I have ever had on a "behavior management system" but it is really so much more than that because my students have bought in for all of the right reasons.