A Balancing Act

12 Aug

Reading a recent post by my prof from the UBC MET course I just completed – Dr. John Egan – about sage on the stage vs guide on the side.  (Sorry, the blog is housed within the confines of the UBC blog world right now, so I can’t share the link)  He points out that we need to provide both for our students.  Most of us have experienced the sage on the stage, and for some of us – the only model we know.  For some of us, we teach the way we were taught and so the tradition continues.  Yet we hear over and over again about the need to embrace constructivism, which adherence to its ideals requires one to step aside and wear the mantle of guide on the side – much to the chagrin of those students who prefer instruction that is heavy-handed and top-down. 

Dr. Egan points out that we need to be both – the sage AND the guide and upon reflection of that claim, I have to agree.  How do we balance both roles?  How do we know when we need to step in and out of the learning process?  Of course, the sage is required for the initial planning of instruction and resources that students need – we are trained in learning theory and its application for best results, so our expertise is definitely needed here.  And we all know that eventually, at the end,  it is the sage that evaluates the success of the students’ efforts.  But in between those 2 book-ends, is the grey area of learning activities that we wrestle with what exactly is our role?  As teachers, we tend to jump in when our students are struggling – after all, isn’t reducing frustration an important step in helping them succeed?  Yet, if we do believe in Vygotsky’s Zone – we need to ensure that students have to struggle a bit – not too much, but enough to reach the tipping point of new learning.  So here again, the sage arrives – knowing when to step in and help, and when to stand back and insist that they find out for themselves.

As a provider of PD for our teachers, I need to do the very same for our teachers – make sure they have the content and pedagogical knowledge needed for the sage, but also the gift (and I do believe this is the skill found in our most talented teachers ) of knowing when to be the guide.

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Posted by on August 12, 2011 in Musings


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