Sage or Guide?

I was taking with someone the other day about the whole “Sage on the Stage” / “Guide on the Side” question.  He said that he felt it made light of his knowledge and expertise.  At the time, I didn’t have any good response, I don’t think, but Darren Cannell’s post on the subject has given me what I need.  He quotes a 1998 article by Jamie McKenzie, who says that a ‘Guide on the Side’ will be:

circulating, redirecting, disciplining, questioning, assessing, guiding, directing, fascinating, validating, facilitating, moving, monitoring, challenging, motivating, watching, moderating, diagnosing, trouble-shooting, observing, encouraging, suggesting, watching, modeling and clarifying.

… the teacher is on the move, checking over shoulders, asking questions and teaching mini-lessons for individuals and groups who need a particular skill. Support is customized and individualized. The ‘Guide on the Side’ sets clear expectations, provides explicit directions, and keeps the learning well structured and productive.

It seems to me that it is more challenging to be the guide on the side than the sage on the stage.  Anyone can get up there and deliver a lecture which provides little opportunity for students to ask questions.  Anyone can hand out an assignment and then sit back and let students work on it by themselves.  But it takes real expertise to be able to give each individual student what she or he needs, to help each student learn.

What interests me about this discussion, though, is not whether or not my expertise is being denigrated but rather whether or not I am meeting the needs of my students.  I think that there are times when it is appropriate for the instructor to instruct, to dispense information to students.  But those times have to be followed by students using that knowledge — or attempting to.  And that is when the teacher switches from sage to guide.  After circulating and assisting individual students, the instructor may see a pattern in the problems that students have had and may need to offer clarification to the whole class, going back to the sage role.    I guess I don’t think either role should be the only role of an educator, but I definitely think it is important for the guide to be the predominant one.

So now I think I will have a better response the next time someone raises the issue.  But I hope no one ever does again.  I hope it is becoming so accepted and commonplace that no one would think to question it.


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