This year, I have probably the best para team that I’ve ever had. I’ve had many good paras, but the ones this year are 100% competent, educated and looking forward to becoming teachers on their own. The trouble has been that I haven’t truly been utilizing them to their fullest potential and have not really challenged them enough. This is a real common weakness among teachers who would rather work together as colleagues (or even work alone) rather than supervise and evaluate. As teachers, we would just as soon have our paras just know what to do and do it without having to be told. Telling someone who we regard as a colleague what to do is an awkward thing. But from a para perspective, the situation is even more awkward.
On one hand, we like our paras to take initiative. But on the other hand, we like them to have good judgement. “Good Judgement” means doing things the way WE would do them, which involves a higher degree of mind reading than you might think. Mind reading is definitely on a higher pay grade than that of most paras. Sometimes you can click just right, which I’ve been able to do with some over the years, or at least come close to it. Other times, it can be a long battle which neither the para nor the teacher really want to fight. I see more passive-aggressive battles between teachers and paras than anywhere else.
These three people that I have are pretty good but vastly underutilized. I needed to find some why to see if I could better utilize them and take advantage of their abilities. I also wanted to see what those abilities were. I also wondered how possible it would be to assess thei competentce. So, I designed a bit of a competition between them.
At first, it seemed like a good idea. But then after I had mapped it out, it seemed a bit crazy and stupid. so I just threw it out to them to see what they thought. To my surprise they bought into it. Or at least they seemed to. I have two paras who are pretty competetive. Coach#3 (no surprise there) and my other new para who I’ll just call Georgianne. I’d call her Georgia, but that might get too confusing since that’s the state we live in. And she is a Bulldog fan, so it fits. Georgianne is VERY competitive and seems pretty driven. The other two will not be given any slack. The third, Patience, has been with me for a few years and is the most experienced. She’s also not as competetive but is up for the challenge if she’ll take it on.
Basically, each pra has a student they work with independently, while I work with another small group. I outlined 5 basic skills on which I would assess each of those students.
1. Tell me “how many” using a Gotalk if I show them a certain number of objects (1-4)
2. Point to a number 1-9
3. Correctly answer “What is your name” by pointing to their own face on a Gotalk.
4. Point to a correct shape (circle, square, triangle, star).
5. Draw a circle, square or circle.
Plus they each would have to be able to answer 5 yes-no questions. I already told them the questions, so it’s no secret. No need to make this harder than it already is.
The students really are pretty evenly matched. However, in order to compensate for this, each para will be trying to teach a set of three pictures/words to 2 of my other students. Each para has three pictures, so if I say “point to the kite” the student will point to the correct picture from an array of three. So I’ll see if any of the paras succeed in teaching either or both of these students how to identify their pictures.
Part of the design of this is to stretch the paras but it also hopefully will get them to interact with two students they are less likely to engage with on a more regular basis in instructional tasks. It gives them a challenge to shoot for, and it is pretty easily measured. These are pretty much all discrete trial tasks. The fact of the matter is that my time for interacting with each of these students seems really limited and so I’m expanding their instructional time by giving the paras a more explicit direction in which to travel.
I haven’t promised the winner anything except bragging rights, as of yet. I think I could manage to put $20 on the line easily enough, tho. Any ideas what else would be a worthwhile thing to offer the winner of such a contest?
It’s as much of a study as a contest, and I’ll be there to help each of them however I can. Getting them to more fully committ to the outcome might help shake loose some additional questions and issues. I primarily do group work, plus deal with the most profound students plus all the other things we have to do with toiletting and feeding.
It will be interesting to see how this thing works. Is it crazy? Too compettitive? It does have the virtue of being novel, and I’m not sure I would have tried it with a different group of paras than the ones I have this year. It just so happens that I have 3 who I think can handle it and they think they can handle it. We’ll just have to see.