I just re-posted a post on Out in Left Field about whether whether student-centered learning is driven not just by Progressive ideology and Constructivist learning theory, but also by a combination of expedience and exhaustion. Perhaps, given the attention spans of today’s students, it’s less exhausting to be the Guide on the Side than the Sage on the Stage.
Friends who’ve tried teaching in non-magnet secondary schools in Philadelphia have told me that the moment they turn their backs to their students to write something on the white board, all hell breaks loose.
But it occurs to me that, since I wrote that post, we’ve entered a global learning pandemic in which nearly all students have tablets or laptops. Nowadays, it may be easiest of all to manage a low-attention classroom when everyone is glued to a screen.
The reference to the Out in Left Field post is one of several dozen that disappeared after the blog was “permanently removed” over the weekend of June 4th. I am not sure what happened. If Google runs Blogger the way it runs YouTube, it may be possible for a single person (say a supporter of facilitated communication) to flag an entire blog and make it disappear. Luckily, with that in mind, I have been saving everything I post.
Since WordPress seems to be more supportive of free speech than Blogger is, I’ve decided to repost that post here rather than there:
The Road to Damascus–or simple exhaustion?
Sometimes I wonder whether student-centered learning is driven not just by Progressive ideology
and Constructivist learning theory, but also by plain old expedience.
I wonder this, in particular, on Thursday afternoons when I find myself standing at a whiteboard
in front of a group of restless 11-year-olds. The program is an afterschool
enrichment/remediation program for disadvantaged elementary school children, and this year I’m
teaching them the fundamentals of sentences and paragraphs.
The kids are understandably restless: they’ve already been at school for 6 ½ hours, they’ve had
hardly any recess, and they’re hungry for the warm meal that awaits at the end of the program.
And so, while there are plenty among them who are eager to please and learn, they are constantly
distracted, constantly asking to go to the bathroom, constantly wondering how soon dinner will
start, constantly squabbling with one another, and constantly getting out (or falling out) of their
small plastic seats and wandering around the room.
And so, as my voice gives out and my energy drains and as my ability to keep the kids
focused on my questions diminishes, I think to myself, wouldn’t it be less exhausting if I stopped
being the Sage on the Stage and instead become the Guide on the Side?
And then I wonder: how many teachers choose guidance over stagecraft not because of
Progressive ideology and Constructivist learning theory, but simply because it’s so much less
Unfortunately, what reduces teachers’ exertion also reduces students’ learning. Nor is it just that
Sage on the Stage instruction is quite often the most efficient way to teach and to learn. In the
long term, the less practice students have attending to Sages on Stages, the worse they will be at
it later. Attention is a muscle that atrophies if unused; classroom cultures develop and solidify
over time. Each year that a teacher opts out of exerting the energy needed to hold students’
attention for major chunks of class time, whoever teaches these students the next year will find
this even harder. And so each succeeding teacher will be even more tempted to step down and
take a breather, um, I mean, experience that much-lauded conversion from Sage to Guide.
And their students, along with much of the edworld, will be none the sager.