By Andrew Hawk
Like many other former paraprofessionals, I was motivated to go on to become a teacher because of the time I spent in that role. Also referred to as teaching assistants, teacher’s aides, or instructional assistants, paraprofessionals have a complex and diverse job. Depending on the person and the setting, these educators may be called on to do anything from assisting students with self-care to grading papers.
Teachers can use a paraprofessional to help students reach their full potential, but to do this, teachers must view the paraprofessional as a partner, not a personal assistant. If you have the good fortune to be assigned a paraprofessional, be sure to have this person spend the majority of the day interacting with students. If you want the paraprofessional to help with copying and such, this should take place during your planning time. During instructional time, a paraprofessional should be helping with the delivery of instruction in some way. During the 12 years I was a teacher, I always had at least one paraprofessional.
Here are some tips you might try when you are given the opportunity to work with a paraprofessional.
1. Small Group Instruction
The biggest advantage special education offers compared to general education is small group instruction. If you are a classroom teacher, split your students into three groups: you teach one group, your paraprofessional teaches a second group, and the third group completes an activity. Rotate groups every 20 to 30 minutes. This instructional model has been around for a long time. People still use it because it is very effective when executed properly.
2. One-on-One Tutoring
Do you have a student who needs a very high level of differentiation? You can approach meeting this student’s needs in one of two ways. You can have a paraprofessional work with the student one-on-one. Or you can work with the student one-on-one while the paraprofessional completes an exercise with the rest of the class. I suggest using a combination of both methods.
3. Data Collection
Whether behavior charts are mandated by an Individual Education Plan (IEP), a Response to Intervention Plan (RTI), a Behavior Intervention Plan (BIP), or are simply something a teacher is trying, they play an important role in classroom management and educational decision-making.
Many teachers have no choice but to deliver instruction and simultaneously collect this data. If you have a paraprofessional in your classroom, this is a good task to delegate. As with anything, be sure the paraprofessional knows what is expected.
4. Sensory Breaks
Students who show signs of hyperactivity or sensory disorders can benefit from sensory breaks. These can be as simple as bouncing a ball in the hallway, or as involved as going outside to swing on the playground. The activity itself will depend on a student’s needs, but this is the perfect task to assign to a paraprofessional.
5. Testing Accommodations
If a student’s IEP grants testing accommodations, the student needs to receive the accommodations throughout the school year (not only on state standardized tests). State standardized test accommodations must be supervised by a licensed teacher, but for classroom work and assessments, paraprofessionals can take over this responsibility.
6. Read Alouds
Students of all ages enjoy listening to adults read. For younger readers, this is important because it models what reading fluency sounds like. Paraprofessionals can read aloud with small or large groups. Having your paraprofessional read to students could be a daily routine or something you do only when you have time. Some paraprofessionals get stage fright and need to be encouraged. In these cases, I have the paraprofessional read the book through a couple times first. This often helps build confidence.
7. Reward Programs
When I was a resource room teacher, we ran a classroom store as our reward program. I always put my paraprofessional in charge of this activity. It is a fun, low-stress strategy that students and adults enjoy. Having a paraprofessional in charge of your reward program can free up your time for any number of other tasks.
One of the best ways to help students improve their writing is to let them complete a rough draft and then have an adult sit and proofread the draft with them. This is usually referred to as “conferencing.” Which kinds of grammatical errors the adult identifies depends on the age and grade level of the student. For example, an adult would not explain to a kindergartner where to place commas. The challenge is that proofreading or conferencing with 20-some students is time consuming. When two adults are conferencing, however, students spend less time waiting their turn and adults do not feel like they have to rush.
These are all great ways to utilize a paraprofessional’s help. How else do you use paraprofessionals in your classroom?
Andrew Hawk has worked in public education for 18 years. He started as a teaching assistant in a special education classroom. He completed his bachelor’s degree in elementary education at Indiana University East in Richmond, Indiana. Andrew has taught first, second, and fifth grades as a classroom teacher. In 2011, he earned his master’s degree in special education from Western Governor’s University. Andrew has worked as a resource room teacher and also has taught in a self-contained classroom for students on the autism spectrum. In 2017, he earned a master’s degree in educational leadership, also from Western Governor’s University. This is Andrew’s first year as a building principal. He is the principal of an elementary school that houses kindergarten through fifth grades. When Andrew is not preparing for school, he enjoys spending time with this wife and two daughters.
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