This is the first of what I hope will be many guest posts on my blog. It is written by my good friend and experienced Learning Support Assistant (LSA), Paul Warren.
Rarely do teachers have the opportunity to explore how to work effectively with LSAs (or equivalents) in their classrooms. Both ITE and ongoing staff development sessions often fail to emphasise the importance of, and methods to enhance, the working relationship between teacher and LSA, resulting in ineffective utilisation of this key role (not in all cases, but many). In this post, Paul highlights the pivotal role that LSAs play and he provides teachers with 10 great tips to maximise their use:
‘At some point during their career, many FE lecturers will have an opportunity to work alongside a Learning Support Assistant (LSA). Usually, but not exclusively, LSAs are tasked with providing 1:1 or small group support to students with learning difficulties and/or disabilities by offering learning strategies which help them to access the curriculum. Above all, however, the ultimate aim of most LSAs is to promote independent and autonomous working for the students that they support.
The most effective LSAs are those which seek to work closely with the lecturer and the student to gradually reduce the need for support with a view to ultimately removing it altogether. This can create a range of possible issues – not least of which being that the LSA should expect to make themselves redundant – but the overall impetus is on helping the learner to maximise their potential to work independently.
Of course, some learners will require support for the entirety of their time at college, but there is no harm in working with the expectation that all students will be able to work more independently before their course of study ends.
Often lecturers may not have had any in-depth instruction or training regarding how best to work with LSAs. Finding information isn’t always easy. FE-specific literature or research relating to working with LSAs is scarce, but there are some schools-based studies (see the excellent Deployment and Impact of Support Staff (DISS) Project) or smaller scale FE research (see LSIS/Natspec’s highly valuable Enhancement of Learning Support) which may prove helpful. Excellence Gateway have also produced a really useful guide which can be used to gauge the impact of support staff via their Working With LSAs Audit Tool. In addition, a search on the Education and Training Foundation’s website will yield a range of resources for working with students with SEND who need support. Other additional useful and relevant sources include The 2010 Equality Act, the 2014 Children and Families Act – including Education, Health and Care Plans and The FELTAG report which, in part, highlighted the importance of providing assistive technology for FE students who need it. More current FE-specific research and general awareness is needed, however, which promotes the benefits and value of using LSAs to promote independent and autonomous working in Further Education.
In the meantime, the following suggestions may be useful to lecturers to help kick-start a collaboration with LSAs with a view to reducing support and increasing learner independence:
- Work with LSAs to review current records of student needs – particularly pinpointing any known learning strategies which encourage the learner to work independently.
- Cultivate high expectations of the learner by immediately working with LSAs to try to identify what independence from support might ultimately look like. Use what you find in conjunction with your identification of student needs as a guide for each session and review regularly.
- Agree an absolute maximum level of support that LSAs can provide before an issue or difficulty must be referred directly to the class tutor. Be clear with LSAs (and the learner) that the LSA should never do the work for the student.
- Identify an early target for the learner to interact directly with the lecturer at least once during every session. Increase over time in order to reduce reliance on LSAs and gradually prepare the student for the time when the support is withdrawn.
- Produce a measurable method of identifying the impact of support. This could be a chart or record of work that records instances in which the student does a task independently or requires minimal LSA input. If possible, actively involve the student in evaluating their own need for help and use the data to plan future support.
- Encourage, praise and reward students when they work independently and use successes to promote future independent learning
- Work with the LSA and the student to produce a portfolio of independent working strategies which the learner can take with them to further study or employment.
- Liaise with teacher trainers, quality managers and senior leaders to share successes of promoting learner independence and reducing LSA support.
- Work with your Learning Support team to build a database of what works for learners in your subject and use it to inform future individual student support needs.
- Share ideas and successes via social media platform such as Blogs, Twitter or YouTube (remembering to respect individual student confidentiality and identity) and get in touch with other colleges to find out how they reduce support and promote learner independence.’
So there we have it. Why not consider how you can develop each of the above points. Thanks go to Paul Warren @paulw_learn for this excellent post.