The SAIL Teaching Framework

This is a condensed version of the complete chart, but it's a good place to start. Click for a larger view (and to download).

August 10, 2014

Defining Teaching

Here's an outline I've been constructing around the task of defining teaching:

The Task: To describe (and possibly define) what teaching is.

What teachers talk to each other about is the craft or practice of teaching, the employment of techniques and the solution to problems, but not what teaching itself actually is. Asking a teacher what teaching is is akin to asking a fish what swimming is - "I don't know, I just do it." It's actually more like asking a doctor what "doctoring" is. There's a lot to it, but it can be easier to describe the collection of daily tasks, the little tricks and moves, the tools and techniques, than it can be to articulate a definition of what "doctoring" is.

How would a teacher describe teaching to a lay person? How do teachers describe (and justify) what they are doing to each other, to administrators, supervisors, and bureaucrats? Should teachers try, among themselves, to define teaching, even as an exercise? Or should "experts" do the defining while the teachers get on with their work?

Why define teaching? Because if teachers don't define it, others will, and possibly to the detriment of teachers. Which brings us to The Problem.

The Problem: The "wrong" definition of teaching will harm and interfere with a teacher's ability to teach.

Here are some "wrong" descriptions of teaching:

  • babysitting
  • coaching
  • guiding
  • facilitating
  • managing
  • delivering curriculum
  • the inverse of learning

Why are these descriptions wrong? Because they are an oversimplification of what is actually happening. Because the focus is entirely on a single dimension of teaching which can be described as effectiveness, and not at all on an equally important but often unseen dimension which can be described as engagement.

There are two current difficulties that tend to hide the engagement dimension:

  • 1. Effective teaching includes designing instructional materials and designing tests. Both of these activities can be done on a corporate, academic, or bureaucratic level by experts, with an eye toward monopolizing and/or automating such activity. It benefits corporate, academic, and bureaucratic agents to define teaching as simply delivering or implementing their products.
  • 2. For teachers, much of what should be thought of as engagement is instead thought of as classroom management, and often results in moralistic approaches to control and discipline. Psychological approaches to behavior modification are an improvement, but best would be pedagogical approaches to teaching behavior, directly and indirectly, in the classroom. Engagement needs to be clarified as being part of the actual teaching of the curriculum rather than as a separate side project of classroom control and discipline.

The Solution: Understand the engagement part of teaching.

A key to this is understanding the role of behavioral techniques, especially stagecraft, in engaging students with the instructional materials. In other words, the behavioral techniques, the stagecraft, are an integral part of teaching. Without engagement, you are not teaching - you really are just delivering instructional materials to students who have been "managed" into doing work.

Remember - teaching happens when a teacher engages the student. Instructional materials do not teach themselves. Without a teacher, a student is simply self-taught.

1 comment:

  1. Doctor, as a title, originates from the Latin word of the same spelling and meaning.[1] The word is originally an agentive noun of the Latin verb docēre [dɔˈkeːrɛ] 'to teach'. It has been used as an honored academic title for over a millennium in Europe, where it dates back to the rise of the first universities. This use spread to the Americas, former European colonies, and is now prevalent in most of the world. Contracted "Dr" or "Dr.", it is used as a designation for a person who has obtained a doctorate-level degree. Doctorates may be research doctorates or professional doctorates.