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Monday, March 21, 2011

The Importance of Sequence

Students turn-in their assignments.  Again, you find that the content and quality are not what you expected.  You did everything you could do to explain the assignment.  You provided a model, you helped students get started, and you answered questions.  But, yet, students returned many variations of the assignment.  What went wrong?

As teachers, we can increase the quality of the work students submit by making sure our directions are as clearly presented as possible.  Sequence plays an important role.  The next time you give an assignment present the directions written in sequence (1, 2, 3) order.  Then demonstrate each step in the sequence as you would expect the students to follow.  For some students who need more structure, the sequence becomes a To Do List that can be checked off when completed.  This simple task will increase the quality of the assignment. 

Sequence is important in so many ways.  We can divide most learning into procedural learning.  Procedural learning divides the content into sequenced steps students complete.  The steps can simply lead to the end of the task.  Or, they can scaffold and increase in difficulty as the student proceeds through them.  An example of a procedure where the task steps scaffolds is in writing.  As a student writes and rewrites, the complexity of the sentences increase in sophistication and interest.  This process can be written as a procedural task.  Anita Archer in her writing program, Rewards Writing, demonstrates a sequenced approach to scaffolding writing (Archer, A., Gleason M., and Isaacson, S. (2008).  Longmont, CO:  Sopris West. 

The sequence strategy invites differentiation.  All students receive a written set of sequenced steps.  For those students who require additional support, pictures or samples can be added to each step.  As noted above, the steps can become a personal To Do List.  The sequence can be modified to better enhance the needs of individual  students. 

Sequencing enhances understanding.  When we teach student how to use sequencing as a strategy when they are reading, for example, they remove the main details and place them in a sequence.  This step enhances understanding.  We have discussed how sequencing can be used for clarifying directions, writing better organized and more interesting paragraphs, and for helping students maintain organization and attention.  As teachers, we can use the strategy in our own teaching but we should also support students as they move toward indepence for selecting their own opportunities to use sequencing. 

Whatever sequence is used it is important that the teacher refer to it often.  "Let's take a look at this assignment, what do we do first."  "Can you show me how you do step two?"  Sequence in the classroom is as easy as counting one, two, three! It is an important and easy to implement tool  Anything that can  be written as a paragraph can be divided into a sequence.