Research School Network: Learning Behaviours and Teaching Assistants in the Primary Classroom: So What? Learning Behaviours and Teaching Assistants in the Primary Classroom : So What?

Learning Behaviours and Teaching Assistants in the Primary Classroom: So What?

Learning Behaviours and Teaching Assistants in the Primary Classroom : So What?

Recently, I delivered training to two groups of Primary teaching assistants on modelling development of explicit metacognitive thinking strategies while supporting children. As the EEF guidance report on metacognition and self regulated learning describes, there is a clear link between the ability to plan and adapt an approach to a task, and the internal emotional monitoring that must take place in order for children to concentrate and have the confidence to attempt classroom tasks.

The session began with displaying three logic problems on the board. The adults in the room were asked to simply look at them and monitor their social and emotional awareness as they interacted with the problems. I wanted the adults to be reminded of the familiar experience of attending training and being presented with a challenge which required some prior knowledge but was untypical of the sorts of thinking they would do every day.

Sensations, thoughts and behaviours such as listening to the conversations of others, scanning faces and body language to try and ascertain whether others had answers already, self consciousness, sense checking, and reluctance to answer straight away, even fear of embarrassment if the answer was wrong were among the responses recorded when they were asked to share the things they had noticed when monitoring their emotional responses.

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What has this got to do with Learning Behaviours?” I hopefully hear you ask. Well, the answer is irritatingly simple and complex at the same time. Children, and adults have a limit to the amount of things our working memories can process at any one time. We know this from developments in the awareness of cognitive science principles and how they relate to education. When children become overwhelmed, socially anxious, or sense being othered” implicitly or explicitly in the classroom, this adds significant physiological and cognitive load.

Putting adults in the same social and cognitive context as many of our children face daily presented an opportunity for a rich conversation about the amount of empathy we need to show and the level of awareness we need to have of what is going on under the surface when children are presented with challenging learning.

As is reflected across the suite of Guidance Reports produced by the EEF, Learning Behaviours goes way beyond the surface behaviour we see in the classroom. It’s also a dynamic- just as adults do, children have days when their cup is fuller than others right from the start of the school.

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What are the implications for adults in the classroom?

We can draw upon a range of resources to help us to provide good cognitive and metacognitive scaffolding for children. The Guidance reports on SEND and especially the SEND 5 a day help to point teachers and teaching assistants in the right direction to provide accessible, high quality classroom experiences for all children but especially those with a particular need. However, we also need to constantly monitor our own responses to a child’s behaviour or emotional state, pausing to think about why they may be feeling frustrated, overwhelmed or unable to access the learning in front of them. Our awareness and empathy are of paramount importance when it comes to supporting inclusive curriculum access for all of our children and in particular those whose experience of learning is already challenging, or who have already faced difficult emotional responses and need support and understanding in navigating them.

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