Who’s in Control of the Learning?


If you are involved in education in any capacity you may have heard of the terms, “sage on stage” or “guide on the side”. “Sage on a stage” is an educator who thinks of themselves as the holder and presenter of the knowledge that students are required to learn. A “guide on the side” is an educator who helps students uncover their own learning by giving support and feedback that will lead the students to deepen their understanding of concepts. After watching Richard Culatta’s TEDx Talk titled Reimagining Learning, I became more interested in these two types of educators.

I know that I do not hold all the answers as a teacher. I also know that my students have interests and passions that I don’t have. So how can I use my knowledge of the content I teach, pedagogical experience, and technology to best support my students? Where do I fall on the continuum of “sage on stage” to “guide on the side”? I was able to find some answers to those questions by watching Richard Culatta’s TEDx Talk and researching the idea of personalized learning. I used the books How to teach now : five keys to personalized learning in the global classroom and Learning personalized: The evolution of the contemporary classroom to gain more understanding of how to personalize learning in my own classroom.

Zmuda, Ullman, and Curtis define personalized learning as being, “a progressively student-driven model in which students deeply engage in meaningful, authentic, and rigorous challenges to demonstrate desired outcomes” (Zmuda et al., 2015, p. 6). In CEP810 I learned from Bransford, Brown, and Cocking that learning takes place when students connect their preconceptions about the world with the new concepts they are learning. “Teachers must draw out and work with preexisting understandings that their students bring with them” (Bransford et al., 2000, p. 19). So, how can teachers draw out what understandings students bring with them?

One way for teachers to gain insight to what students know is by giving assessments. Assessments can show what students know and what students can do. Powell and Kusuma-Powell describe assessments for learning as being a means “to serve as an essential component of the learning process in order to promote and enhance further learning” (p. 113). Assessments are not just a way to give students a letter grade and create comparisons amongst students, but they can serve as a way to give students descriptive feedback to help students determine where they are as a learner. Students need to gain a better understanding of the assessment process and what the assessments are trying to measure. “By coming inside the assessments process, the students come to know him or herself better as a learner. The students, not the teacher, become the most important end user of assessment data” (Powell & Kusuma-Powell, 2011, p. 123).

Students can enter the driver seat of their learning when teachers model for them how to set goals, put in the work, and ask for descriptive feedback. Students may not do this naturally. Students and teachers need to engage in a collaborative relationship where the teacher is seen as what O’Donnell calls “the more knowledgeable other” (2012). “The more knowledgeable other who provides scaffolding does so by engaging in three activities: channeling, focusing, and modeling” (O’Donnell, 2012, p. 65). Now, as I continue to make the shift from “sage on stage” to “guide on the side” I need to consider how I will use technology, pedagogy, and content knowledge (TPACK). In a symposium report by Mary Ann Wolf, she confirmed:

Personalized learning is enabled by smart e-learning systems, which help dynamically track and manage the learning needs of all students, and provide a platform to access myriad engaging learning content (Wolf, 2010, p. 6).

I am going to continue searching out ways to shift from the “sage on stage” to the “guide on the side” in order to create a personalized learning environment for my students. My next step will be to think about how technology can be adapted in order to support my students’ engagement and get them more involved in the assessment for learning process.



Bransford, J.D., Brown, A.L., & Cocking, R.R. (2000). How people learn: Brain, mind, experience and school. National Academies Press. Retrieved from http://www.nap.edu/openbook.php?isbn=0309070368.

Culatta, R. (2013, Jan). Reimagining Learning [Video file]. Retrieved from https://youtu.be/Z0uAuonMXrg

Mishra, P., & Koehler, M. J. (2006). Technological Pedagogical Content Knowledge: A new framework for teacher knowledgeTeachers College Record, 108 (6), 1017-1054.

O’Donnell, A. (2012). Constructivism. In APA Educational Psychology Handbook: Vol. 1. Theories, Constructs, and Critical Issues. K. R. Harris, S. Graham, and T. Urdan (Editors-in-Chief). Washgington, DC: American Psychological Association. DOI: 10.1037/13273-003.

Powell, W., & Kusuma-Powell, O. (2011). How to teach now : five keys to personalized learning in the global classroom. Retrieved from https://ebookcentral-proquest-com.proxy2.cl.msu.edu

Wolf, M. A. (2010). Innovate to Educate: System [Re]Design for Personalized Learning; A Report from the 2010 Symposium. Retrieved from  https://library.educause.edu/~/media/files/library/2010/1/csd6181-pdf.pdf

Zmuda, A., Ullman, D., & Curtis, G. (2015). Learning personalized : the evolution of the contemporary classroom. Retrieved from https://ebookcentral-proquest-com.proxy1.cl.msu.edu






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