Session

3. Sequencing teaching and learning

This session will take approximately 55 minutes to complete.

Session overview

Once you have identified the essential concepts, knowledge, skills and vocabulary you want to pupils to learn and why, the next step is to decide in what order or sequence you will teach them.

This session will focus on:

  • Planning for assessment over time
  • Sequencing essential concepts, knowledge and skills
  • Sequencing teaching and learning

Sequencing teaching and learning: Introduction

Once you have identified the essential concepts, knowledge, skills and vocabulary you want to pupils to learn and why, the next step is to decide in what order or sequence you will teach them.

As you may recall, in all subject areas, pupils learn new ideas by linking those ideas to existing knowledge and organising this knowledge into increasingly complex mental models.

Carefully sequencing teaching and learning to facilitate this process is essential. To do this, we need to:

  • Sequence content so that pupils secure foundational concepts and knowledge before encountering content that builds upon this
  • Revisit the big ideas of a subject over time
  • Draw explicit links between new content and the core concepts and principles in the subject

Keeping the metaphor of a roadmap in mind will help you stay focused on the ‘what’ and the ‘why’ of the content to be taught, which should support you to think about the most logical teaching sequence.

Planning for assessment over time

In module 4 you learnt about how to use assessment and feedback to greatest effect. This included the point that effective assessment is critical to teaching because it provides teachers with information about pupils’ understanding and needs. 

Your scheme of work will be providing the framework and guide to the teaching and learning of your topic over a period of time. So, your scheme needs to build in enough space for formative assessment activities to inform the teaching and learning of the concepts, knowledge and skills as the scheme progresses. Returning to the metaphor of a roadmap, this ensures teachers can respond to pupils’ needs and adjust the ‘route’ as the scheme is taught.

Additionally, there will be critical moments in your sequence of teaching and learning where it will be necessary to check that pupils have understood foundational concepts or knowledge before moving on.

Your school will also use a range of assessments and these will look different depending on the phase, subject and year group you are planning this scheme of work for.

A scheme of work is likely to include some assessment opportunities, such as:

  • Formative assessment tasks or activities linked to the over-arching learning objectives of the scheme of work
  • And, possibly, a summative assessment task at the end of the teaching period (such as a test or an essay or performance piece) to showcase the learning

However, it will not detail all the classroom practice, including all assessment activities, that a teacher will carry out. If it did, it would become a very unwieldy guide, but most importantly it could restrict a teacher’s ability to respond to the needs of their pupils. Learning is unpredictable and a scheme of work will be unable to anticipate how the learning will unfold for all pupils.

When planning for assessment in your scheme of work, teachers using the scheme should be clear about the decision(s) it will used to support (e.g. whether to move on or re-teach a concept) and be able to justify its use.

Use the questions below (adapted from module 4) to help guide your planning of assessment:

  • At what points in the scheme of work should learning objectives be assessed to inform future teaching and learning?
  • What would be a good method of assessment?
  • What will teachers do with the information?
  • How are teachers going to feed back the information to pupils?

Sequencing essential concepts, knowledge and skills – activity

Watch the video of Emily (Primary and Secondary) or Maria (Early Years) explain how they sequenced their scheme of work.

Sequencing a scheme of work – Emily Maule at Reach Academy

Video transcript

When planning a scheme of work, once you have decided on the foundational concepts, knowledge and skills, you have to then decide how to order them.

There is real skill to doing this as the sequencing can make or break a pupil’s overall engagement and understanding. A poorly sequenced scheme is like a TV series that is jumping around, that you can’t follow, where you are expected to already know things about the characters or plot that you haven’t yet been told. This is very frustrating for viewers and is similarly frustrating for pupils.

When thinking about sequencing, I have found it helpful to think about building from the ground up and never assuming any knowledge. If the knowledge is key, then it needs to be explicitly taught, or we run the risk of widening the educational gap. This means when I think I have my starting point, I carefully check that I am not relying on pupils knowing or understanding a concept that I haven’t explicitly taught, or a skill I am assuming they have that I have not explicitly practised with them.

For example, the lesson on how earthquakes take place requires a solid grounding on the structure of the earth and how tectonic plates behave, so it has to come after the lessons that teach those elements. But it has to come before the lesson on the effects of earthquakes because pupils have to be able to understand the mechanics of earthquakes to understand why the effects can be so severe.

Finally, I think it is better to cover less material but in a more thorough way, rather than doing a cursory glance over a very broad array of things, which pupils won’t be able to remember or engage with sufficiently. Allowing breathing time in case something needs to be revisited is an important element of this. So, I think one of the most important skills in designing a curriculum is discerning what to exclude as much as what to include. There is never enough time to do everything!

Video script – How did you sequence your scheme of work?

The final version of this video will be available from spring 2021, as the publication of this programme was fast-tracked in response to disruptions to this year’s initial teacher training.

Once you have assessed the pupils’ current level, any prior knowledge they have linked to the topic, their current skill set in both prime and specific areas that are linked to the scheme of work, understood where you want them to get to, the foundational knowledge to be obtained and progression of key skills, you can work out how best to get them there. 

We know that pupils need many opportunities for daily and weekly retrieval, so this is key when sequencing a scheme of work. In addition to this, crucially for younger pupils, we also need to consider their attention span and think carefully about using every moment effectively and referring to material as frequently as possible throughout the day, not just during the core lessons, to help build up their schema.

When thinking about sequencing in English specifically, I think about first ensuring the key building block or central information for the given theme. In the context of this scheme of work, it was knowledge of the text. Once we had established “The Leopard’s Drum” as our new story then it was easier to link everything else back to that, e.g. our story is set in Ghana, let’s find out some more information about that, in the story Nyame wears a patterned cloak I wonder if we can discover more about Ghanaian patterns? Having the story cemented first allows everything else to flow together a lot more and helps maintain the holistic element without it becoming too disjointed for the pupils. 

Crucially, I think it’s important to remember that you can’t cover everything, especially when working in EYFS! As discussed earlier, one of my favourite things about the EYFS is how it is so unpredictable. I have always carefully designed my curriculum to cover the EYFS and introduce my pupils to a wide range of life experiences, however, sometimes a tooth falls out in the middle of your lesson and it’s okay to stop the lesson and use their enthusiasm to introduce letter writing and compose a note to the Tooth Fairy altogether instead! I find that I often see the best learning happen during their play and it is the job of a skilled practitioner to take the key learning to them by sometimes ignoring planning and following the children’s interests.

You are now going to use the following points to guide you through sequencing the essential concepts, knowledge, skills and vocabulary in your own scheme of work.

  • Begin to organise the content (concepts, knowledge, skills) into a logical order
  • Identify where you will be introducing new content (including new vocabulary)
  • Identify the explicit links to draw between this new content and the core concepts and principles in the subject (i.e. pupils’ prior knowledge and the big ideas of the subject)
  • Identify assessment opportunities

Using this order you can start to:

  • Formulate learning objectives to be achieved across the scheme of work
  • Begin to estimate the time it will take to teach each learning objective (an objective could run over a number of lessons)
  • Plan in assessment opportunities

When you have finished your first attempt at sequencing your learning objectives and associated content, ask yourself these questions:

  • Will pupils master foundational knowledge and knowledge required for later content?
  • Is the flow of the curriculum logical and coherent?
  • Do the learning objectives ensure that pupils’ thinking is focused on the key ideas within the subject?
  • Is there enough time for the content to be well-taught, e.g. enough time for pupil practice and formative assessment?
  • If assessment opportunities are identified, is the purpose of the assessment clear?

Review, edit, and then share your teaching sequence with your mentor at your next meeting.

Related ECF strands

Subject and curriculum

3.7 In all subject areas, pupils learn new ideas by linking those ideas to existing knowledge, organising this knowledge into increasingly complex mental models (or “schemata”); carefully sequencing teaching to facilitate this process is important.

3b. Ensuring pupils’ thinking is focused on key ideas within the subject.

3g. Revisiting the big ideas of the subject over time and teaching key concepts through a range of examples.

3h. Drawing explicit links between new content and the core concepts and principles in the subject.

Assessment

6.1 Effective assessment is critical to teaching because it provides teachers with information about pupils’ understanding and needs.

6.3 Before using any assessment, teachers should be clear about the decision it will be used to support and be able to justify its use.