Teaching Styles: Guide on the Side or Sage on the Stage?

In the early 90’s California teachers were getting released in record numbers. There was a huge budget crisis, districts were raising class sizes and eliminating classrooms, which meant many of us had to go. I was a second year teacher, untenured. I received my goodbye notice in March then set out scrambling to find another position.

I found myself interviewing in the growing community of Moreno Valley. I felt I was ready for anything, but I’ll never forget the interviewer asking my about my style of teaching. He asked, “Would you consider yourself a Sage on the Stage or a Guide on the Side?”

What a great question. Simply asking the question implies so much. If I say that I am a Sage on the Stage, immediately I might be considered a micromanager. A power hungry control freak of a teacher who needs his/her students to act only on command. Or even worse, I might be seen as a showoff whose main goal in teaching is to hear ones’ own voice.

As I sat in the interview room, it seemed the more politically correct answer would be the Guide on the Side. “Guide” doesn’t seem like such a loaded word as “Sage”. A guide leads the way. A guide points out facts. Guides know what pitfalls to avoid.

I had to make a snap answer. It’s been almost two decades, and I still think about my response. I expected that in time, I would make revisions to my answer. Surprisingly, I feel still feel good about the response I gave.

Basically, I believe that there are times when a teacher needs to be the Sage on the Stage and times when the teacher needs to get out of the way and be a guide on the side. Additionally, I’ve seen very effective teachers who can work a class, create amazing discussions, and help students construct learning all from the front of the class. By contrast, I’ve seen other teachers who spend very little time in front of a class, choosing to do most of their teaching in groups. Therefore, the situation and the personality of the teacher play a great role in the debate: Sage on the Stage or Guide on the Side.

Reflecting on the question “Sage” or “Guide” is not a bad idea. My philosophy in teaching, as well as life, has always been balance and moderation. There have been times when I’ve been stuck in the Sage or Guide roll for longer than is necessary. Just asking yourself the question might lead to some meaningful soul searching and deeper understanding about yourself as a person and a teacher.

The Merits and Demerits of the Sage on the Stage

There are definite merits to the Sage on the Stage approach. The teacher on his/her stage, managing the flow of information is definitely faster than the Guide on the Side. I’ve tried to incorporate “guide on the side” strategies for my grammar lessons, but I’ve found that direct instruction works best when introducing initial concepts. I may use “guide” strategies to aid mastery of the information. However, there are dozens of grammar and punctuation skills the students are required to learn in ten months which does not lend itself to the Guide on the Side philosophy.

This benefit is also the biggest argument against the Sage approach. As more and more demands are heaped upon teachers, it is easier to get through the curriculum with this method. However, besides being exhausting for the teacher to be on the stage all day, students require time to digest and process information. Sage techniques such as lecture and group discussion tend to favor the quick thinkers. These students do most of the critical thinking for the class. Consequently, the majority of the class misses out on this important skill.

The Merits and Demerits of the Guide on the Side

I recently began a sixth grade unit on the Hebrew’s exodus from Egypt like this:

Imaging that you were a guest in someone’s house. After a few weeks, you realized that you were doing all the chores in the house, your mom was cooking all of the meals, and your dad began to pay all of the bills. You were once a guest in this house. Now, what have you become?

The students had to read the material from their social studies books and explain how the Hebrews were like your family in the story. The connections they found were excellent. The follow up discussion continued to bear fruit as one group after another pointed out new ways to look at the analogy. I was a guide on the side, interjecting hints along the way.

The follow up to this was that the students had to create the second part of my “guest” analogy. They read about Moses and the Exodus and had to create an analogy about how they were able to move out of the house where they had become slaves.

The lesson was time consuming, but very effective. As effective as it was, I noticed that there were still things that I needed to teach the students directly. Many students, having no background knowledge on the topic, needed me to put this time in history into context. Once again, I was back to being the Sage on the Stage.

Final Thoughts

The moral of this story is that the art of teaching is knowing when to be the “guide” and when to be the “sage”. Once again I return to my original point: Simply asking yourself the question “What Kind of Teacher Am I?” is enough to help make you a better teacher. Being ever mindful of the balance between the two provides the opportunity for the self-reflection we all need.

Why Effective Teachers Have Minimal Classroom Problems

Effective classroom teachers tend to have strengths in classroom management efforts. Teachers who know how to manage their classrooms create an effective environment that is conducive to educating students. The challenge for some teachers is knowing how to organize their classrooms so they have minimal behavior problems. In college, teachers are generally taught how to put together a discipline plan for their classrooms; this plan is supposed to resolve any behavior problems in their classrooms. We know that effective classrooms require more, and teachers who are successful end up creating a classroom environment that is caring, thought-provoking, challenging, and exciting. These classrooms serve as examples of how effective teachers run their classes.

One strategy these teachers use begins on the first day of school. Veteran teachers have learned that how they start the year off will determine the success of their classes for the entire school year. Initiating classroom procedures on the first day of school helps the teachers acclimate students to a well-managed classroom immediately. The sooner students can begin positive routines, the greater the chance that the teacher will run an effective classroom for the rest of the year. Moreover, student achievement is directly related to effective classroom management.

It is imperative for teachers to implement classroom procedures to which students should adhere at all times. These procedures serve as expectations for the students and should include what happens at the beginning of class, how to quiet the class, what to do if students need help, what kind of movement is allowed by students, and what happens at the end of class. Every successful classroom should have these few basic procedures. Additional important procedures include what students should do when they need to get supplies, turn in papers, respond to the fire alarm, behave when dismissed from class, and what to do when they are tardy or absent.

To help teachers become organized, they should identify a location within the room where they post classroom procedures. They should also provide a location within the room to post rules, schedules, and the calendar. Organized teachers also have assignments for the day posted in the same location for consistency, and some teachers require students to come into class and immediately begin working on their “do-now” assignments. This helps students get involved immediately, which sets the tone for the class.

Teachers can get support for their classroom procedures by sending a letter of introduction home with students and including a copy of the classroom procedures for the parents to review. This is a great way to start developing that all-important relationship with parents. Additional information to send to parents includes an academic action plan or syllabus for the semester. Students have a tendency to behave better when the teacher has developed a relationship with their parents.

In addition to classroom procedures, successful teachers have well-managed classrooms that are student centered; they are conducive to students’ collaboration and enable students to feel as if they are a part of the class. Student-centered classrooms generally have special seating arrangements so classmates can share throughout the day. In addition, student-centered classrooms provide students with options for projects and assignments. Students in these classrooms spend a lot of time working on group assignments, which helps students become confident in working with people. Student-centered classrooms also bring students closer together, which should lead to greater student achievement and fewer classroom problems. This strategy helps teachers successfully organize their classrooms, which is an excellent classroom management technique.

To add to the success of these classrooms, teachers should incorporate activities that are meaningful and engaging for their students. This will keep students interested, which is critical in successful classrooms. Students need to feel that they are part of the class and that the material they are learning is important. When students demonstrate that they understand these lessons and are invited to provide feedback about them, it contributes to the success of the class. Teachers can enhance such success by encouraging students to participate and celebrating their successes whenever possible. Some teachers celebrate with verbal praise, some with written acknowledgment, and some by posting students’ works throughout the classroom.

This entire process promotes efforts to establish positive teacher-student relationships. When students form close relationships with their teachers, they feel a sense of belonging, which is a critical factor in effective classroom management. In summary, teachers who effectively manage their classrooms demonstrate a positive attitude, treat students fairly, are caring, have high expectations for students, know students’ needs, are organized and prepared, and provide meaningful and engaging lessons.

What Should Be on the Tombstone of Gifted Education? Part 3: Classroom Activities for Gifted Student

In Part 2 of the series, the distribution of gifted programs in school districts was analyzed in terms of the allocation of this resource within a school district. In the vast majority of school districts, gifted students are segregated in dedicated facilities in which they have to apply for entry. While this method has advantages for both children and adults in the c=school setting, the major disadvantage is that students who are truly gifted or highly motivated are filtered out by a variety of statistical factors such as test scores, grades, and age. Not only are statistical factors used but having a dedicated facility opens up the possibility of filtering based on human factors such as race, culture, and gender issues. The best option is to have gifted programs in each school so that many more students who are capable will have the access they need to gifted resources.

One of the worsening factors of modern gifted education is the level and quality of classroom activities available for these students. The modern classroom is not geared toward gifted students but rather to the middle student who is perched on the edge of passing the state test. The second priority in the classroom is the lowest student who contributes to the failing rate of state tests. It is assumed that gifted students will pass state exams so they are at the bottom of the school’s priorities. For those teachers that are allowed to design their own materials, this forces them into a teaching mode that focuses on the middle and low-level students and to virtually ignore gifted or highly motivated students. Since most school districts force teachers to use their materials, the district itself sets the stage for ignoring the needs of the gifted student.

In terms of the individual classroom assignment, gifted students require a higher quality set of goals and objectives to meet. Most assignments are geared toward a lower quality set of objectives which hinge of meeting goals based on lower-level thinking skills. The majority of students are operating at the knowledge, comprehension, and application levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy. This forces the assignment created by the teacher or district to be based on simple modes of vocabulary mastery and simple application to prescribed situations. Once this is done, the students and teachers move on to the next assignment. The gifted child, who is in need of further learning at higher levels, is left with an experience that only marginally stimulates their higher potential.

The assignments that are provided to gifted children are not properly designed for their educational needs. They are designed for students who are working at much lower levels on a daily basis. Gifted students require assignment and activities that stimulate their natural abilities to a much higher level of thinking. This is not to say that lower level assignments do not have value to the gifted student, but if the teacher stops at this point, then the gifted child to left with unfulfilled potential.

Coming up: Part 4- The Use of Extracurricular Activities as a Method of Fulfilling Potential.

What Makes a Great Teacher?

Some teachers regularly lift students’ test scores, while others leave their students with below-average results year after year. This can happen right next door from each other; same grade, same building. Results from dozens of studies point to the same most significant factor-a good teacher is the single greatest influence on a student’s chance at success.

Among the factors that do not predict a teacher’s ability? “A graduate-school degree, a high score on the SAT, an extroverted personality, politeness, confidence, warmth, enthusiasm and having passed the teacher-certification exam on the first try,” sites Elizabeth Green, writer for The New York Times.

“Parents have always worried about where to send their children to school; but the school, statistically speaking, does not matter as much as which adult stands in front of their children,” said Amanda Ripley, reporting on the statistical findings of Teach for America.

Teach for America data suggests two major traits that link all good teachers: setting big goals for their students and continually looking for ways to improve their teaching. “Great teachers constantly reevaluate what they are doing,” Ripley said.

A teacher needs to be constantly re-evaluating and paying attention to what is working for their students because every classroom is different. This takes patience and dedication, and a love for teaching, to do it right. Teacher Marie F. Hassett asserts, “Good teachers routinely think about and reflect on their classes, their students, their methods, and their materials.”

“Another trait seemed to matter even more,” Ripley says. Teachers who scored high in “life satisfaction” based on assessment tests were 43 percent more likely to perform well in the classroom. No surprise here, a happier person is usually the better teacher.

Doug Lemov, teacher, principal, founder and consultant for the charter school network Uncommon Schools in New York, has a different approach when thinking about good teaching. Lemov, who conducted his own research and published a “Taxonomy of Effective Teaching Practices,” believes that what often looks like “natural-born genius” is actually “deliberate technique in disguise.” He suggests that good teaching is not purely instinctive, but that good teachers can be made through acquiring knowledge of pedagogical techniques.

“Lemov’s view is that getting students to pay attention is not only crucial but also a skill as specialized, intricate and learnable as playing guitar,” Green explains.

In a study conducted by German researchers in 2010, Baumert and his colleagues tested 194 high school math teachers and found that although content knowledge is essential, teachers who possessed strong pedagogical knowledge as well as knowledge of mathematics were the most effective.

What about passion, and talent?

Author, educator, and activist Parker Palmer argues that good teaching isn’t about technique. After many conversations with students about what makes a good teacher, Palmer says, “All of them describe people who have had some sort of connective capacity, who connect themselves to their students, their students to each other, and everyone to the subject being studied.”

“Good teaching often has less to do with our knowledge and skills than with our attitude towards our students, our subject, and our work,” says teacher Teacher Marie F. Hassett.

To add to the debate I asked my colleagues for their input on what makes a good teacher, and these are the traits we came up with here at 360 Education Solutions:

Making it fun. Using different teaching styles, a hands-on approach, and being adaptive are all markings of a good teacher. Good teachers have to stay in tune and up-to-date on educational standards, while also keeping their students involved by making it fun and including activities in their lessons. If a teacher can keep their students engaged and constantly make things a discussion, they are doing well. A good teacher should challenge their students to think creatively, and influence them by being creative with how they teach.

Being invested. A good teacher is invested in the subject and their students. It is important to know the subject material well but also to understand how the students might understand or misunderstand it, and to be aware of them and what they need. Getting to know your students on a personal level-such as what is going on in their lives–is important not only for connection but to understand what they need as a student. Elementary school teachers and even high school teachers are often required to play the role of both teacher and parent.

Preparing students for ‘battle.’ One colleague gave me a very descriptive example of how he sees a great teacher. Their job is to give their students “the sword and the shield,” he explained, “so they can go into battle.” Because when they complete their challenges, it’s empowering, he says, and when they’ve done it themselves, they can claim ownership over it. “Good teachers are the ones that don’t give you the answer… they open the door for you but let you walk through it,” he says. “And the reason I’m saying this is because the stuff in my life that’s important happened because of teachers and mentors like this.”

Being tough. Nobody likes a teacher who is mean, spiteful or who over-punishes. But one co-worker likes a tough teacher because they challenge him. “It seems like the teachers everyone hates for giving the most work and not letting you get off easy end up being the ones you learn the most from,” he said.

Other qualities we recalled about our favorite teachers:

• Relate-ability

• Have respect for their students

• Have enthusiasm

• Present new perspectives

• Care about their students and what they teach

• Are wiling to go the extra mile

Most importantly, good teachers are the ones that have the patience to give their students the attention they deserve, and are dedicated to helping them go further than anyone else thought possible.

“Good teaching is not a static state, but a constant process,” Hassett concludes. “We have new opportunities to become better teachers every day; good teachers are the ones who seize more opportunities than they miss.”

Remember: good teaching means students’ success but this success cannot solely be judged based on test scores. Also, a student’s success is not only dependent on a good teacher but on their own motivation as well. A good teacher can only “show them the door,” the student must walk through.

Effective Classroom Management Tips and Tricks

Effective classroom management strategies can ensure a pleasant teaching environment for the entire year. Conversely, poor classroom management may lead to a difficult class and a year that drags on. These tips will get you well on your way to creating a positive environment in your classroom.

Post class rules

Students need to know what is expected of them from the very beginning. It is also useful to have visuals of the rules so that you can redirect small misbehavior problems by pointing at the appropriate rule poster. Since I have very little artistic talent I had my students create the posters for me. We went over the rules the first day of class and I had students each create a poster for two rules. We displayed all the posters for the first week. I later had the students vote on a single poster for each rule to leave up.

Post consequences

Students may occasionally break a rule. It is important that you have established a procedure for dealing with infractions. The consequences must be appropriate and clear so the student knows what to expect. Go over all consequences at the beginning of the school year and review if necessary.

Model appropriate behavior.

Since one of my rules is to respect everyone in the classroom, I make sure to be respectful to my students. Remember that you as the teacher must set the example. It will be difficult to get the students to follow your rules if you make exceptions for other students or yourself. If you also follow the rules it shows that they are important and will allow your classroom to feel like a community. Also be sure to thank your students when appropriate; we all like to be appreciated.

Develop a routine for beginning your class

Students often misbehave when they are bored or frustrated. You can prevent some of this boredom by beginning class immediately and in a predictable fashion. Students like to know what to expect. I prefer to begin immediately after the bell rings so students know that our class time is valuable. Try to avoid beginning with verbally taking roll as students will become distracted and talk amongst themselves during this time. Since my school requires roll to be taken within the first five minutes of class I take roll silently while the students work on a warm-up opening activity.

Write a daily schedule on the board so students can see what is coming next. Having a visual guide to the class time will help the students make transitions between activities. A visual schedule will also prevent some questions about what time is break and “how long do we have to do this?”

Activities

Plan more activities than you think you’ll have time for and always have a back-up plan. Most behavior problems occur when students get bored. Be sure you have engaging lessons to prevent this for most students. Also keep in mind that overhead-bulbs die and other technical issues happen so be sure that the lesson can go on even if something goes wrong.

Prepare engaging enrichment activities for the students that finish early. No matter how much you plan, sometimes students will still finish early. You will want to be sure that activities that these students will enjoy are available. When I plan units, I include extra activities that could be used for these situations. Silent reading is also a good option as reading is always valuable. This could be a book of the student’s choice or a book you provide.

Reward good behavior

Many students are eager to please and will appreciate their good efforts. Small rewards also work wonders. I use “Thank You Tickets” to thank the students for good behavior and appropriate class participation. These tickets can be traded for small prizes such as candy, pencils, or homework passes.

Be fair

Since your rules and the consequences are clearly posted it will be easy to enforce them the same for everyone. It will also be very obvious if you make exceptions for any one student. This will cause you to lose respect from all of the students and will make it difficult to manage your class. Be sure the rules are the same for everyone in the classroom. Also be sure to avoid confrontations with any students. Singling out one student will make that student confrontational and will likely distract your entire class. It is best to deal with behavior problems privately.

Use a seating chart

At the beginning of the year, you will definitely want a seating chart while learning the students’ names. Seating charts also help a substitute or classroom visitor as students respond better when the teacher knows and uses their names. At the beginning of the year I create a random seating chart by numbering desks and creating a set of index cards with matching numbers. I give students a card as they walk in and that is the assigned seating chart for the first week. It is also important to change this chart once you know the students as some students will need to be moved or separated. I find it helpful to change the seating several times a year to keep things interesting. Depending on your class, you could also offer to let them choose their own seats if they behave well for a set amount of time.