Sequencing…of a task

Alright, this has been on my “to write” list for a long time, but I’ve never gotten round to it (until now).

In recent times, there have been many great blogs about sequencing a curriculum (many specifically to do with science). I don’t think I have much to add to that conversation, but what I’ve not read *that* much on is how to sequence a task. It’s something I spend a vast amount of time thinking about (in all likelihood far too long) and think it’s really vital for student progression within the course of a lesson/curriculum.

Now, I aim for students to achieve two things during the course of one of my tasks:

  1. To obtain a high success rate. We don’t want students practising errors and misconceptions. We don’t want students to get disheartened by unsuccessful practice.
  2. To carry out a vast amount of independent practice. SLOP innit.

And, yes, those are two of Rosenshine’s principles of instruction. Now, achieving a high success rate can be tricky & should entail modelling of *how* to achieve this beforehand. However, once we’ve modelled this how else can we achieve this?

For those of you who regularly use my resources, you’ll know that I “ramp” them (similar to how exam papers are “ramped”). Basic. Medium. Hard. Now, largely these labels don’t matter. They could be anything, or they could not be there at all…it doesn’t make a difference.

The labels are largely there for me & to highlight to students their own progression. I don’t “allocate” students a level, I let them decide for themselves where they want to start. However, I circulate around the classroom while students are undertaking the task (live marking and monitoring success rate).

If a student misjudges and starts at a level of difficulty that is too simple then I nudge them forwards. If the selection level is too challenging then I gently persuade them to scale the challenge back. High success rate (in theory) achieved.

Now on to *how* I ramp/sequence each individual resource/task. The “basic” section of one of my tasks is where I make sure that the core declarative facts are practised and memorised. Let’s take a look at an example task (one of my favourites on GPE and KE conversion).

During the basic section, I *really* *really* want the students to have a qualitative understanding that the faster something goes, the more kinetic energy it has. It is essential that they know the higher something is, the more gravitational potential energy it has. And that when something is dropped the gravitational potential energy store is transferred to the kinetic energy store. I also want some basic quantitative examples to be introduced (in hindsight I probably wouldn’t put a unit conversion in this section).

The medium questions begin to scaffold some harder examples. Inside of just saying “a tennis ball of mass 50g is hit directly up in the air at a velocity of 25m/s. What is the maximum height it reaches?”, I guide the students through step by step.

This then culminates in the scaffolding being removed in the harder questions, and extra complexities of both unit conversion and standard form being introduced. The medium questions scaffold students towards this additional level of difficulty and (hopefully) will keep the success rate high while having some *real* challenge.

So in summary my sequencing goes like this:

  1. Consolidate core declarative knowledge.
  2. Scaffold more challenging questions.
  3. Remove scaffolding and add more complexity.

Let’s now look at a second example (force on a current carrying wire). In this example I do a better job of highlighting to the students *why* each section is more challenging than the last.

In the basic questions the core pieces of declarative knowledge that I’m prioritising are the units, symbols and equation itself.

Moving on from this the task introduces the complexity of rearranging and then, finally, introduces unit conversions (on top of rearranging) and ends with a multi-step calculation from an A level paper. What I’ve not done here, is a great job of scaffolding the tricky multi-step questions & this could certainly be an area for improvement.

Now after students have finished a task, I tend to finish the lesson on a formal exam question (in exam type conditions). This will directly draw on what they’ve been covering in the lesson (sometimes with some retrieval parts thrown in). I label this as “struggle time” and emphasise that it’s supposed to be difficult, that this is non-judgemental, and that it’s important to be resilient while attempting it. This gives them vital exam practise (and confidence) and also allows me to assess the effectiveness of the lesson. If they’ve smashed it, then next lesson I move on. If not I re-teach, re-model and have another go.

Anyway, this is just something I’m a big fan of. Running tasks this way & I’ve found that my students really appreciate the consistent nature of them. It’s also my take on “differentiation”; you won’t catch me multiplying my workload & giving out many different versions of a worksheet. That’s (in most cases) a massive waste of time & incredibly challenging to successfully implement.

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