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).


SAIL - A Framework for Understanding, Studying, and Assessing Teaching

There is such a thing as teaching. Teaching is not training, though training can be a part of teaching. Teaching is not coaching, though it can include coaching. Teaching is not supervising, it is not facilitation, not managing learning resources, not providing services, not delivering curriculum, not simply the inverse of learning. It is its own activity, its own expertise, an expertise that happens to have student learning as an end goal.

Using behavioral techniques, a teacher directs a student's attention to instructional activities designed to help the student learn.

Or to put it more comprehensively:
Teaching is a kind of performance in which the attention of the student is exploited to induce an experience that will change the way the student thinks.

The important part of this framework is the causal chain, hence SAIL: Stagecraft directs Attention to Instruction for Learning.

All the listed items ultimately serve the purpose of student learning and achievement, but have different sub-goals. For instance, proper use of the voice can gather and direct a student's attention. The point of gathering the student's attention is to bring focus to a particular instructional tool. The instructional tool is designed to improve or assess the student's ability.

This particular use of the voice might be thought of as part of classroom management, something that must be done so the student and teacher can get down to the real task of teaching and learning. But in this framework, using the voice this way is an integral part of the entire endeavor, located in a coherent causal chain. Using the voice effectively is always a part of teaching, and teachers should be taught this, not as a part of classroom management, but as a part of teaching itself.

This is why teaching isn't simply the inverse of learning, as many seem to assume. A theory of teaching is not the same as a theory of learning, though there's an obvious relationship. The young student learns; this is a process largely under the student's unconscious control. The teacher sets up the environment that allows the student to learn effectively. The student cannot see what the teacher is really doing in this regard, that is why the student needs a teacher. Ultimately, the student should become able to teach himself by learning, consciously and deliberately, from others.

This framework requires, but also invites, evidence from research. I have tried to refer to activities that can be measured in some way, and the SAIL causal chain itself should also be receptive to investigation. The kind of research that has enriched our understanding of learning and effective instruction touches on only half of what teaching involves. Part of my goal in creating this framework is to open up research possibilities in areas that have not yet been explored, and invite evidence from other fields that have not yet been applied to teaching. Future research should also benefit from the causal rationale for different teaching activities as outlined in this framework.

I very much hope this framework can help improve teacher assessment by providing an easily articulated yet comprehensive description of what teaching is. The assessment of teachers is so poorly done as to be humiliating and maddening. Current attempts to base assessment primarily on student achievement test scores miss the mark almost completely. Until there is a coherent understanding and communication of what teaching is, teacher assessment will be the sorry and haphazard affair it has been for decades.

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