George Lucas Educational Foundation

Sages on stages-- that's the way it should be

Sages on stages-- that's the way it should be

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If an adult goes to a lecture, that adult expects the person on the sage to be a sage, to deliver a wonderful, entertaining, fact-filled presentation of knowledge.

But our Education Establishment thinks that kids don't deserve that. Kids deserve only to be guided and facilitated, to be nudged and shrugged at, as they wander aimlessly among thousands of possible things they might learn. But how do they know which ones they should learn? They don't.

Sages know that.

The war against facts and knowledge takes its most peculiar turn when seemingly intelligent people tell us that the way to teach is not to teach. Teachers must be passive. Students must go and look everything up, as if the Internet is fundamentally different from an encyclopedia one hundred years ago. Children always had close at hand virtually all the knowledge there was in the world; but how could they navigate it? How could they prioritize it? What sense could they make of all those entries in the World Book Encyclopedia?

Sure, sages should not be dull. Let's stipulate that. It's part of a teacher's job to be clever and entertaining. But the idea that teachers should stop teaching is the single greatest victory for dumbing-down since the introduction of Whole Word circa 1931. If you want dumber schools, make sure they constantly criticize direct instruction, while insisting on constructivism, discovery, and the rest of it.

Here's a discussion of sages on stages:


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Whitney Hoffman's picture
Whitney Hoffman
Producer LD Podcast, Digital Media Consultant, Author

I've been involved with Podcamp- community organized tech conferences- for a number of years now. The thought is that we all know something, and have something to contribute, and not any one person knows everything. People are encouraged to stand up and give talks- often talks that are more like interactive conversations around topics- than just like lectures. Edcamp is an offshoot of both Barcamp and Podcamp with the same general framework for adult learning.
While I agree we can't run schools like Podcamp, can we agree that the students might have some experience or opinions to offer as well? Is there room to blend the models so that smart people can still share their knowledge and experience, but they don't have to be the one and only voice or the one and only opinion worth being heard?
For example, I saw Terry Gross speak yesterday, and the whole room was there to hear her talk about her show. No interruptions, Sage on the Stage to be sure. Yet the Q & A session afterwards was just as exciting as the main talk, as it connected her more with the audience and let people find out a bit more about her and the process of the show. I came away feeling even more in awe of her and even care more about her work in the end than less.

When I think about how we construct a classroom, i think making sure everyone has a stake in the learning is important, and we get beyond a mere knowledge delivery system of lectures. It's why I think online only classes will be problematic- the lecture itself is fine, but the personal connection, motivation and sense of combined goal or mission is what make learning (and teaching) special.

Laura Thomas's picture
Laura Thomas
Director, Antioch University New England Center for School Renewal, Author of Facilitating Authentic Learning, Director of the Antioch Critical Skills Program; Elementary Library Media Specialist

I've always felt that the wise educator knew how to strike a balance- in some cases, lecture is the best method, in others, students need to make meaning for themselves. If we look at the research into how people learn, it really has more to do with context and connection- sticking new information onto old understanding, as it were- that makes learning stick. So, it stands to reason that lecture, PBL, service-learning, etc could all facilitate that process, if the pedagogy were carefully selected as the right tool for the job.

I also think it's important to mix it up- different people learn best in different ways. I've never been one to get much from lecture, but I've come to recognize that there are a set of learners who *can't* learn the material unless they hear me- the expert- explain the concepts.

For me lesson design looks like this, typically:
Activator (an activity that helps students to remember the previous experience that we want to stick the new learning to)
New information (lecture, jigsaw, webquest, reading, video viewing, etc)
Application of new information (seminar, project, paper, etc)
Assessment/ feedback (test, presentation, grading of projects or papers, etc)
Reflection on new content and process skills gained (self/ peer/ instructor feedback combined into a students' determination of what they did, what they gained, what they still need to learn, and what they'd do the same or different next time.)

John S. Thomas's picture
John S. Thomas
First & Second Grade Teacher/Adjunct faculty Antioch University New England, former Elementary Principal

Being an educator is ALL ABOUT meeting the needs of your students as much as possible. Not just WHAT the student needs to learn, but HOW the student needs to learn. There is not one way to meet the needs of all students, so educators need to find as many modalities to educate students. I too NEVER learn well from lectures, but I do know some people (many of them educators) who learn best by listening to someone speak on a subject. When I teach my 1st and 2nd grade students I always provide directions visually and verbally (oral and/or written). I use my hands to show where to line up, I show them on the page where to write, I show them how to sort the objects, etc. It is amazing to see which kids get the directions if I only use verbal and which kids get the directions if I only use visual. Even in first and second grade, I can help a child learn which modality they learn best with and which modalities they can work harder at learning with.

Lisa Mac's picture

So many people go to one extreme or the other! I like being flexible ( one of the life skills we teach at our school) I like a percentage of both, but I usually try make it high percentage on the guide side. I just know that sometimes behaviors and such mean more sage at times and sometimes more guide!

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