We’re getting a new bilingual aide at our school sometime in the next week or two, and I thought I write up some “dos and don’ts” for my colleagues who are newer at teaching ELLs and at working with aides. I also thought it would be a good opportunity for me to reflect on my own experience, especially considering that I consider the biggest mistake I have made (so far) in my teaching career has been one made with an aide a few years ago.
Please share your critique of what I have here, along with guidelines that you think should be added! For clearer writing, I will be referring to the aide as a “she” in the “Do’s” and as a “he” in the Don’t’s
*Treat the aide as a co-teacher, and introduce her as one. Obviously, students will view you as the “senior” teacher, but she is a sister professional.
* Plan carefully how your aide can enhance each of your lessons. She should not be expected to do any planning outside of the classroom – it’s your responsibility to determine how she can use her skills to benefit students.
* Invite your aide into your planning as a “co-conspirator.” Even though she is not responsible for planning, she probably has good insights about particular students, what’s working with which one, and what’s not working. Ask! Take a minute or two at the end of each period to ask her what she think worked well, what she think did not, and for any suggestions.
*Give specific praise to your aide when you see her do something particularly well. When giving critique, consider leading with inquire, not judgment. In other words, consider asking her why she took a particular action before providing constructive criticism – something might be going on that you are not aware of.
* Recognition of good work can also be tangible apart from words. A Starbucks gift card during the holidays or a paid lunch at the school Food Faire will probably be appreciated. We teachers get paid a lot more than she does.
* Your aide is probably best used in working with an individual student or a small group of students who might be less proficient in English or more proficient in English than the rest of the class. Think about how she can help differentiate your lessons. She can also work with new students to help them get acquainted to a new environment and help them get “caught-up.”
*If your aide speaks the home language of some of your students, consider having her help implement the Preview, View, Review instructional strategy (preview the lesson briefly in the home language, teach the lesson in English, review it briefly in the home language).
*Have a specific plan for what your aide should be doing if you don’t have a specific role for her in a lesson: She could be moving around and regularly checking for understanding with students (perhaps giving special attention to certain ones you have previously determined) or, perhaps, she could regularly take out students one-at-a-time for a brief opportunity for relationship-building and check-in.
*Be very pro-active dealing with any student behavior which may indicate students are not clear about personal and public boundaries. This can potentially be an issue especially if the aide is close in age to your students, and can depend on her gender. Clearly communicate with the aide that you want to know immediately if any related issue arises – this is particularly important if you do not understand a language that might be shared by students and the aide, so you might not catch comments that are made.
*Go over sub plans with your aide if you know when you will not be there. Your aide can help ensure it is a day of productive learning and not a wasted one.
*Get to know your aide – what her future professional plans are, what skills she wants to improve. If possible, keep those in mind as you plan how she will work in your classroom – there may be opportunities where they can dovetail with work in the classroom.
*Do not treat your aide as a “gopher.” Emergencies may arise, but he should very seldom be used to make copies or go get school supplies. He’s there to help students.
*Your aide is not responsible for classroom management. Do not assign a student or students to him because of behavior issues.
*Do not waste his time. If you do not want to put time into utilizing the aide in your instruction, let the ELL Lead Teacher know and she’ll find another class for the aide.
Okay, I’m all ears! It’s late, and I’m sure I’m missing important guidelines. Comment away!
Here are Carol Salva’s additions:
Do offer PD opportunities. If they are unable to join you, offer self directed PD ideas like #ELLchat, #ELLchat_BkClub & groups on Facebook
Also DON’T see your aide as someone who only works with your struggling students. Our aids can pull the high flyers to monitor & guide independent work while the teacher focuses on concept refinement with the rest.
Here are suggestions from Pamela Broussard:
1. I also think it is important to give them voice. I ask my assistant, what kinds of things she likes to do. What do you feel are your strengths? Then, empower them to use those. Ex: My assistant likes to decorate, so when we have group lunches, she decorates. She loves doing it and loves that we appreciate her contributing to the team that way. She is also amazing at seeing who is not getting a lesson. Originally her role had been to wait for teacher directives by some of the teachers. That has changed. I told her she can go up and work with any student at any time.
2. If possible, also reduce the things she doesn’t like to do. I used to leave what I hated to do when I was absent. I found out she hated that part of our required lesson too. Now I leave different plans.
3. Use them to act with you and create traditions. For example, we often act out a lesson, skit or a concept for the kids. (Sometimes even elaborate schemes.) The students love to see us playing and I think it gives them courage to play and step out of their comfort zone and be silly too.
4. Create traditions: We have a tradition of dancing in class. We are both terrible dancers but we do some silly dance when the music comes on the speakers or a student does something we want to celebrate. Another example: Neither of us care about soccer, but we pick a side, Barca vs. Madrid and “trash talk” (mildly and in a silly, exaggerated way) each other about the games bec/ the kids love it. We even bought shirts and I can tell you I haven’t watched a game in years.
I think empowering assistants to bring their strengths to the table and treating theme as co-teachers is vital.