What Is SAILS?


The technical answer to “What Is SAILS?” is that SAILS is an acronym for Students Achieving Improved Learning Strategies, the topic for Roane State’s Quality Enhancement Plan (QEP).  The QEP is the faculty component of the reaccreditation process required by the Commission on Colleges of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS).  The heart of the answer to “What Is SAILS” is much more, however.  SAILS is a vehicle to improving student success.

Students who choose to attend college have many reasons for doing so.  Whether eagerly pursuing a childhood dream, grudgingly complying with a parent’s wishes, retraining for a job, seeking a way to improve their family’s economic situation, or matriculating for a host of other reasons, these students do not enroll in college classes with the goal of failing.  Many may fear failing, but failing is not the outcome they desire.  Yet, many do fail.

Just as their reasons for being in college vary, their reasons for failing also vary.  While SAILS is not a panacea that eliminates all student failures, SAILS has the potential to be a major factor in reducing the number of students who fail.  SAILS also has the potential to empower students to earn higher passing grades.  Both results translate into improved student success!

Many people have either said or heard someone say, “I didn’t know how to study until I got to college.”  SAILS provides an approach that guides a student’s knowledge about how to study rather than relying on the happenstance trial and error method that often results in both unnecessary trials and unnecessary errors.  For every person who did learn how to study once he got to college, one wonders how many could say, “I failed college because I didn’t know how to study.”  Teaching students effective study strategies is a way to minimize the number of failures.

The term “learning strategies” includes a wide range of issues.  A glance at a table of contents in a typical textbook designed for improving students’ academic performance reveals such topics as motivation, identifying resources, goal-setting, organization, time management, learning styles, critical reading, note-taking, critical thinking, active learning, memory tips, and test-taking.  Such topics can have a direct bearing on many of the reasons that students are unsuccessful in their classes.  For example, if a student has a severe problem with test anxiety, adopting strategies that can minimize his distress during an exam can clearly result in improved test performance.  Furthermore, a student whose reading comprehension skills are weak can easily become too frustrated to persevere in a class.  Learning a system with which to approach his reading assignments in a way that will increase his comprehension can assist him in keeping his frustration to a manageable level.  Learning time management strategies can yield big dividends to the student who is trying to juggle job and family responsibilities with the demands of his course load.  Knowledge about learning style preferences allows a student to assimilate class content in a way that is efficient for him.  Strategies as simple as concept mapping or color coding can give a student the edge he needs to improve his assimilation of content.  Many other examples could be given to show the wide application of the usefulness of improved learning strategies.

Because SAILS emphasizes active learning, the student must assume the mantle of responsibility for his own learning.  He begins to realize that what he does (or doesn’t do) has a direct impact on his success.  Recognizing that success is, in many ways, under his control, he becomes more motivated and delights in seeing his successes build upon themselves.  His goal becomes more realistic and attainable and he understands that success is within his grasp.  Caught up in the delights of his own success, he becomes a cheerleader and role model for others.  An enthusiasm for learning becomes infectious.  Both faculty and students ride the wave of success.  SAILS allows the student to bend the wind to carry her in the direction she chooses to go.  Enabling more students to guide the boats is the heart of SAILS.  If students can indeed achieve improved learning strategies, they will have the tools they need to be successful, not only in college, but also in life.