The Guide on the Side

Student Using Google Search Bar To Answer His Own Question

For years, I’ve heard about the importance of being the “guide on the side” instead of the “sage on the stage” when it comes to teaching. It’s all about giving students independence, and being there to support students as they learn, but not just being the one to preach the content to them. I have always believed in this model, or at least I always thought that I did, but that being said, I used to argue that since I teach younger students, more direct teaching was necessary. I found that I was always up at the front of the classroom talking. This has changed though. I won’t say that I never stand at the front and teach, as I do, but far less than I ever did before. I also talk much less too, which is sure to be a surprise to people that know me, as I do like to talk a lot.:) I find myself asking more questions though, and letting students explain what to do and not just me. This has been a learning curve for me, but it’s an important one, and I’m glad that I’m trying to make this change.

This week though, I really did feel like the “guide on the side.” My students were completing their math centres, and one of them is a fraction activity on Math Tool Chest. I had set up the computers in the pod as I always do, but when one of the students that was at the computer first left it, he accidentally exited the program. I went out in the pod, and I was expecting to hear cries of, “Miss Dunsiger, I need help.” Instead, I saw one of my students start typing “Math Tool Chest” in the Google Search Bar, and I heard, “There it is!” He then clicked on the correct website choice, and got himself back into the program. He didn’t once look at me for help. Wow!

Then on Friday, a student was completing a writing activity about “stingrays,” and he wanted to know if “stingray” was a compound word. I was sitting down next to him helping another student with this writing activity, and I expected this student to ask me to add “stingray” to his dictionary. Instead he asked me if he could use the classroom computer for a second. I said, “Sure,” and went over to see what he was doing. He typed “stingray” into the Google Search Bar, and when he saw that it came up as a compound word, he turned to me and pointing to the screen responded, “It is a compound word. Look here!” Unbelievable!

That same day, a student that was away the previous day came back to school. On Thursday, the students used My Avatar Editor, Pizap, and their Kidblog to write a special message to dad for Father’s Day. I wanted this student to complete this activity too (thanks to @rmcdonald17 for the activity suggestion), but I didn’t know when I was going to have the time to explain it to him. One of my wonderful Grade 1 students helped me out though: he took this student out to the pod, and talked him through what to do. When I looked out into the pod, the two of them were standing side-by-side: one leading the other one through the process. I couldn’t have been prouder!

My opinion has changed: Grade 1 students may be young, but they are still capable of incredible things! As a teacher, I can talk less, stand by my students more, and support them as they become even more independent learners. Thank you to my amazing Grade team and entire Twitter PLN for showing me just how much students can do, and thank you to my entire class of awesome students that never cease to amaze me with their incredible skills and willingness to learn! I’m going to miss you next year! You have shown me the true meaning of “success.” I hope that other people will add comments here sharing their great success stories too!


16 thoughts on “The Guide on the Side

  1. A great blogpost. I like your specific examples of what it means to be a guide on the side. These are also excellent examples of how children are becoming independent managers of their learning. Thanks for sharing these stories. (Can’t wait to check out the Math Tool Chest.)

    • Thank you! I’m so glad that you liked the blog post. After seeing what my students did this week, I knew that I needed to blog about this topic this weekend.

      Hope you like Math Tool Chest too. I must say that the voice drives me crazy, but the activities can be great!


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  3. Excellent…I think that you are on the ball. If you look at our own professional learning, how often do we like sitting and listening to someone the entire day? We are adults and it is hard to do that so I can’t imagine how hard it is for kids. To many, sitting is learning, but it is really compliance. I definitely agree that you do need to stand up and “teach” a lot of the day, but it is more important that students are accountable for their own learning. Teaching them this at a young age, will help to foster their growth instead of stagnate it.

    You do a wonderful job Aviva and I appreciate you sharing your learning with myself and everyone. You are a great reference for someone to show that YES grade 1 students can do these things.

  4. Thanks George for your comment! Your kind words mean a lot to me. If it weren’t for people like you though, I probably would not be where I am right now. I’ve always believed that young students can do a lot more than we give them credit for, and after seeing what I’ve seen this year, I believe it too! Teaching students to become independent and fostering an intrinsic drive to want to learn are two things that I think are really important, and I’m glad that I’ve worked on doing this throughout the school year. Thank you for helping motivate me to make these changes to my program!


  5. I just finished 3 days of Covey 7 habits training this week at school. This is a program we are going to start implementing in school next year. The very same thing about guide on the side was mentioned. I am so thankful for teachers who are implementing and sharing tons of new ideas showing that kids can learn so much more when we just allow them the time and give them opportunity. I want to be the teacher that thinks outside the box and it’s a great PLN on Twitter that helps me do that. Thanks again for sharing how your students are growing and learning so independently because of your model of “guide on the side.”

    • Thank you for such a nice comment! If it weren’t for my Twitter PLN, I don’t think that I would even consider doing what I do right now in my classroom. It’s amazing what even young students can do though, and I love watching my students now and seeing just what they are capable of doing.


  6. Beautiful post Aviva! It’s so important for us to share how much our kids can learn when we step to the side and wait. You are inspiring to me and I really appreciate your posts. I always feel like I am right there with you in the classroom, learning by your side!

    • Wow! Thank you so much! I’m speechless. You’re a very important part of my PLN, and I’m so happy that I get to learn alongside you and so many other amazing educators. Thanks again!


  7. Aviva! Wonderful posts with really clear examples of how to be that guide. I totally agree with your comment that “young students can do a lot more than we give them credit for”… I think empowering and enabling our students to take ownership for their learning and become increasingly independent is what teaching is all about! Thanks for being a wonderful model of this and for inspiring me to step out of my box. When I see what you are doing with your little people, I feel enabled to take even small steps in that direction! Your kids are very lucky, Aviva!

    • Thank you for such a nice comment! I feel so empowered when hearing about what other teachers do with their students. It makes me believe that anything is possible! I love hearing that you feel the same way too. Glad that I can collaborate with you as part of my PLN!


  8. I was just saying to my class yesterday how I am impressed with how they are becoming “active” in their learning. I too have tried to take more of a backseat role as facilitator rather than teacher. They have been using each other and technology as more of a resource in their learning. They are becoming life long learners. Thanks for all of your support this year.

    • Thanks for such a nice comment! It’s great to hear that you’re having such success with this too. Isn’t it such a wonderful feeling when you can see the students helping each other and taking an active role in their learning?!?! I’m so glad that you’re a part of my PLN, and that I can learn from you too!


  9. I know exactly what you mean! I have to remind myself not to help my 1st graders (that’s what we call them here in the US) ๐Ÿ™‚

    What I started doing was having them explain how to do something to each other. Often, I saw my students step up and explain how to do something on the computer to a classmate without prompting. What’s even more amazing is to watch them copy me in their method (pointing to the screen, saying click here, scroll down, etc…). I think you are right that there is some direct instruction needed, but it’s only training wheels. We need to let our students ‘ride’ on their own eventually!

    Your students are very lucky to have a teacher who reflects on her practice and pays close attention to her students!

  10. Aviva,
    We have not met – but you have kept me up way past my usual weekday bedtime. I finally got around to listening to your amazing show on Web 2.0! I feel like we have been on the same journey this year. I am also a grade one teacher and I have been pushing the technology boundaries in my classroom. I was just sharing with another teacher about how amazed I have been with my students throughout the year. Their incredible patience and eagerness to learn and apply technology kept me learning more and more. Many of the tools you spoke of I have tried this year to some extent and am looking forward to exploring others that you mentioned.
    Thank you so much for sharing your journey.

    • Thank you so much for such a nice comment! I’m so glad to hear about your successes too! If you happen to tweet, please feel free to contact me at I would love to connect with another Grade 1 teacher and collaborate on some different projects next year. Have a great summer, and I hope that you have another successful year next year!


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