The Teacher – The Guide on the Side

I’m sure as a teacher, you must have heard that the role of the educator is moving from that of the “Sage on the stage” to the “Guide on the side”. What does this mean?

Guide on the Side (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

The matter of Control

Teachers are used to being in control. We love to dictate what happens, dictate when it happens and even how it happens. And if a student doesn’t cooperate with how we want it, then that student is either lazy or dull or just sheer naughty. We are reluctant to release the control, even if just a bit and allow our students be their best!

My Experience Today

So the primary 2 students in the class right next to my office are making a hell of noise. This is the first period and the concerned teacher is not available. I have been there a couple of times to try to stop them from making noise and it doesn’t work . . . Then the idea comes – Engage them!

Engaging the Students

What was my idea of engaging students? Ask them to sit quietly and read a book? Good but very passive and consuming. Stand in front of them and teach them something, while they sit still listening to me? Good but passive still. The matter is, students can either be passive or active in class. They can be consumers or producers. So while we speak of student engagement, we must aim at the highest form of engagement, making our students, active producers. For more on this, see this article.

My Choice of Engagement – We shall draw!

So I say “Class we are going to draw, bring out your books and pencils” and the once intimidated students & silent class turns around and becomes lively. Okay, let’s do this. Everyone is set… What shall we draw? So I look around and get an empty plastic waste bin, place it on a chair in front of the class and asked them to draw.

The result was amazing. I saw all sorts… Some brought out rulers, others used their pencils, some used pens. I must admit I asked myself a couple of times “What is this?” but I always had my thumbs up for every student, regardless of what he drew.

Lesson 1: Engaging every student

This was the first practical lesson I had. Some of my students were slow. They looked at the object for so long and just couldn’t bring it out on their books. Others finished in a few minutes. So I moved around the class, seeking to see what each child had drawn. I had to bend over a couple of times to reach some of them just to help sort out some imaginary abstracts in their heads that didn’t make them want to draw or turn the pages of a wet book so he could find a relatively dry page to draw on.

The lesson, teachers must create time to be as personal as possible with each child. His reluctance may not be laziness or dullness, it may simply be that he needs to be attended to personally.

Lesson 2: Providing appropriate feedback

Feedback 1 – Encouragement: The first kind of feedback I saw myself providing was in the form of an encouragement. Several of those children have it inside of them but they need someone to tell them they can do it. Yes, some didn’t draw what I wanted, but they made great attempts. Many got the perspectives wrong and simply drew it all flat, yet, I had to keep my thumbs up and I saw the great excitement the moment I nodded with a smile and said “Wow, this is good” or “Good one, keep drawing”.

Encourage your students, it’s a great form of feedback!

Feedback 2 – Show it to them: The other feedback I provided was to show them what I expected to see. So I went to the board and drew what I expected from them, I looked at the object and drew it myself! Then I asked them to draw it again, but this time copying what they saw on the board. Of course, the second round of drawings was much better. In providing feedback, teachers should try to paint a picture or show what is expected and then the students may be able to improve their work.

Give your students some feedback by showing them what is expected.

Feedback 3 – Individual work feedback: The final type of feedback I began to provide is individual feedback. So I went to this student and she had drawn a chair (which the waste basket was placed on). But the chair had 3 legs only, and they were facing different directions. So we looked at it together and after my usual ‘encouragement feedback’, I said to her “These legs are not straight, how would you sit without falling off?” She got it and re-drew the legs of the chair. Another tried to draw a cup with a skewed base. As I bent over, I drew a line just beneath the lowest point of the cup and said: “Assume this is the table where this cup is placed on, how would your cup sit on it?” Again the smart student got it and improved the work, balancing the cup!

Giving personalised feedback to students helps them think through their work, the process and how to improve on it next time.

The biggest lesson 3 – Drop the Control, be a simple Guide!

A student was finding it really difficult to draw the waste bin and the chair and said: “Can I draw something else”? Wow… Why didn’t I think of that earlier? “Sure, yes… Everybody draw whatever you like and can draw” and this is where the real shocks began and the biggest lesson!

They drew what they were comfortable with and the one time “unable to draw” kids, began to surprise me with their drawings. Some drew flags, others drew cars, some houses, some cups, and two students drew a complex drawing. They brought out the label of a product and began to draw what was on it. One even drew it with a pen!

Our best role as educators, the one we should be aiming at is not to hold on to control but to move to the side, guiding our students to excellence and bringing out the best in them!

What was happening here?

The mission was to engage them and make sure they drew something. I attempted to “control” what they drew and I had varied results. Some had lawn faces because they just weren’t getting it and able to draw it like their friend. But when I left their expression and moved from control (sage on the stage) to being a guide (on the side), I saw the best of each student. Was the mission accomplished? Yes, it was… But I saw it was even better as I gave up the control of having to dictate what to draw.

The Summary

There’s a level of learning that takes place and creativity that happens as students are left to choose some aspects of our tasks, afterall it’s about their learning. There is definitely more work for the teacher as I have to provide different and individual feedback for each student based on what he/she had drawn but it leaves the child knowing he is not a dullard simply because he can’t draw a waste paper bin!

Let me leave you with this great educational quote by Albert Einstein, it’s an oldie but goodie . . .

It was a great 30 mins of learning for me and I look forward to having such opportunities again.

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