The aim of this small-scale study was to investigate the ways CAs can effectively support the development of children's academic and language proficiency in the Irish Medium immersion early years classroom
Rogan, Thomas (2021) The role of classroom assistants: a case study in the context of an immersion school. Ed.D thesis. https://theses.gla.ac.uk/82222/1/2020roganedd.pdf
Irish Medium Education is a form of immersion education which uses extensive exposure to Irish language to meet the language needs of children, helping them develop proficiency in the target language. The Irish Medium sector continues to evolve as a viable option for nursery, primary and secondary education in Northern Ireland. The majority of children come from homes in which English is the dominant language and so school staff, mainly teachers and classroom assistants (CAs), play a pivotal role in developing children’s second language proficiency. This research aimed to explore perceptions of the role of CAs in supporting children’s learning in the Irish Medium immersion classroom. CAs have become an integral part of classroom life and play a major role in supporting teaching and learning. Regarding the immersion setting, CAs also play a major role in children’s target language acquisition. There is very little in the literature regarding the deployment of CAs in Northern Ireland, and more specifically, nothing related to the Irish Medium sector. This study, therefore, is significant as it is the first to explore the role of the CA in the Irish Medium immersion classroom. No previous study has investigated the role of the CA in the immersion classroom. Aligning with an interpretivist paradigm, the study used a case study approach to explore the deployment of CAs in one immersion primary school from multiple perspectives. Qualitative data were collected through semi-structured interviews and focus groups, which aimed to gather the perceptions of senior leaders, middle leaders, class teachers, CAs and children on the role of CAs in the immersion classroom. Thematic analysis was used to analyse the data, collating and categorising them into manageable chunks. Five main themes emerged from the data collected. These were relationships, communication, training, language development and CA deployment. Evidence shows that CAs carry out many duties within the case-study school. However, there was some confusion around the role of the CA in the school and it seems that this role remains undefined. The main role of CAs was seen as supporting the class teacher in whatever way support is required. However, a more specific role was also identified regarding the development of children’s language proficiency through language modelling in the form of both formal and informal interaction. There was evidence that a lack of clear policy and guidelines to focus the deployment of CAs in the school meant that tensions could arise, which, while seemingly not affecting children’s language development, did lead to frustration. Issues emerging from this study will be of interest to the wider education community where CAs are a common feature in primary and secondary classrooms, but particularly to the immersion context, in which this study was situated. Although this study was small-scale, the outcomes suggest that CAs can have a purposeful role to play in the development of children’s academic development as well as language proficiency in the immersion classroom.