Fostering learner independence through heuristic scaffolding: A valuable role for teaching assistants

Julie Radford*, Paula Bosanquet, Rob Webster, Peter Blatchford, Christine Rubie-Davies

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


    Teaching assistants currently play a key pedagogical role in supporting learners with special educational needs. Their practice is primarily oral, involving verbal differentiation of teacher talk or printed materials. In order to help students think for themselves, this paper argues that their practice should be informed by heuristic scaffolding. A substantial dataset from three teaching assistant projects was scrutinised for examples of heuristics. Using conversation analysis, the paper shows how assistance is negotiated and adjusted over a sequence of discourse. Four patterns of heuristic scaffolding are shown: heuristic modelling represents the highest level of support; heuristic questioning and prompting are jointly negotiated with the student. Self-scaffolding by students shows them taking responsibility for their own learning strategies. Implications for the school system are explored.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)116-126
    Number of pages11
    JournalInternational Journal of Educational Research
    Early online date5 Aug 2013
    Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2014


    • Classroom talk
    • Conversation analysis
    • Paraprofessionals
    • Pedagogy
    • Scaffolding
    • Teaching assistants


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