Linda Evans looks at support for differentiation, namely teaching assistant support

In part 2 of our mini-series on differentiation we’re looking this week at different types of support. Often, this is interpreted as ‘teaching assistant support’ – an extra adult in the classroom to provide additional help and encouragement to pupils who need it; but in fact, support can take a variety of different forms.

Support for SENCOs
Providing colleagues with ideas for different types of support is always welcomed (see notes for teachers below) but perhaps the main focus for you will be the training of teaching/support assistants and overseeing their deployment in the classroom. There is good information and guidance available on this subject (not least from some local authorities so check your own LA website); if you are inexperienced in this part of your SENCO role, look at something like ‘Appointing and Managing Learning Support Assistants’ by Jennie George and Margaret Hunt, or ‘Making the Most of Your Teaching Assistant’ by Sue Briggs and Sue Cunningham.

It’s still all too common for TAs to be an underused resource. Teachers often don’t manage to pre-plan what specific role the TA will play in a particular lesson and the result is that they are less effective than they could be. Providing teachers with a checklist of different functions the TA can carry out is a useful strategy and can help them to incorporate a wider variety of support strategies. You could design a proforma to include the lesson objective and a tick list of possible tasks for the TA , such as those listed below. If you can provide an electronic template for teachers to use, with cut-and-paste options, you can really save them time and help them to be better prepared for managing TA support – this may well be an outcome from a joint training session.

Possible tasks for TAs:

  • Prepare pupils for the introduction of a new topic by introducing new vocabulary and concepts before the lesson.
  • Provide extra practice/explanation in a session after the lesson.
  • Produce structured record sheets for pupils.
  • Simplify the language on activity sheets for SEN pupils and break down tasks into small steps.
  • Explain instructions; help with reading (for children with communication difficulties, TAs could learn a signing system such as Makaton) .
  • Encourage pupils to listen and stay on task.
  • Support pupils’ writing by providing subject-specific key words and correct spellings.
  • Provide notes/writing frames for pupils.
  • Help pupils organise thoughts and answers prior to writing.
  • Check understanding and tackle misconceptions.
  • Help to maintain discipline (individual/class level).
  • Provide feedback to the teacher on pupil progress.
  • Help pupils with practical work (possibly providing practical apparatus, eg for number work, or adapting science apparatus).
  • Supervise work on the computer (see note below about technology – getting to know the software could become an area of expertise for a TA).
  • Encourage pupil participation in discussion/plenary.
  • Observe/assess identified pupils and report back to teacher.

Support for teachers
Whilst many children with SEN welcome a routine and the security of familiar support strategies, others appreciate some variety and will respond well to a change (especially as they get older). Consider the ideas below and how different approaches might fit into your lessons.

TA support: see notes above.

Direct support from the class/subject teacher: this may involve keeping back a few pupils on the carpet to check that they have understood what to do, sitting with a focus group to start them off on the right track, or helping them to prepare a plenary. It’s important for children with SEN to get attention from you as well as TA support, so always be sure to spend some time with them – perhaps while the TA moves across to work with a different group.

Indirect support from the teacher: this may be a consideration of the questions you pose to them, using simple language and short sentences and how you explain unfamiliar words; the way you model what they need to do, or show them examples. It includes the choice of appropriate task and learning objective and how you acknowledge and praise effort as well as achievement. Remember to talk to pupils about what they find difficult and what helps them best.

Peer support: there are different ways of organising this type of support. Using older pupils with challenging behaviour to help younger learners can have positive results on both sides – improved self-esteem and a corresponding upturn in behaviour generally for the ‘tutor’, and a ‘tutee’ who has the benefit of a different kind of explanation than the teacher or TA can provide. Within the same class, more able pupils often enjoy helping and benefit socially and emotionally from developing patience and an understanding that everyone learns at different rates. Take care, however, that more able pupils are not tasked with this at the expense of extending their own learning. Peer support will be more effective if you take time to do some ‘training’ on how to help without taking over the task, or offending anyone (as per ‘critical friends’ etc).

Technology: technology is another underused resource in many schools (alongside TAs). Word processing can enable pupils to produce work that looks good and this boosts their self-esteem (as well as providing display material). Consider setting up a ‘Keyboard skills’ group for pupils who will benefit from speeding up their typing. Find out about predictive text software such as Clicker and ‘Find Out and Write About’ ( Encourage pupils to use spellcheckers and a thesaurus. Explore large-format keyboards. Look at simple ‘Mindmapping’ programmes. There are some great programmes available for practice in spelling and number work, and ‘naming of parts’ activities; take time to explore the market and acquire some really motivating software ( You will need to devote some time to getting to know specialist software, but you’ll be rewarded many times over in terms of pupil motivation, enjoyment and achievement.

Differentiation 1 – input

Differentiation 3 – output

This e-bulletin issue was first published in October 2009

About the author: Linda Evans is the author of SENCO Week. She was a teacher/SENCO/adviser/inspector, before joining the publishing world. She now works as a freelance writer, editor and part-time college tutor.