Sequence in the Social Studies

By Ediger, Marlow | Journal of Instructional Psychology, September 2010 | Go to article overview

Sequence in the Social Studies


Ediger, Marlow, Journal of Instructional Psychology


Quality sequence in the social studies is of utmost importance. Sequence emphasizes "when" selected concepts should be stressed in ongoing lessons and unites of study. The social studies teacher needs to observe pupils carefully in teaching and learning situations to ascertain suitable, ordered experiences for pupils. Pupils face frustration if the learning opportunities are too complex and may feel boredom if the tasks are too easy. Carefully sequenced facts, concepts and generalizations assist pupils to attain more optimally, be it in programmed learning or in open ended approaches. What might the social studies teacher do to assist pupils achieve more optimally in the social studies?

Diverse Plans in Determining Sequence in the Social Studies

Programmed learning stresses that the programmer determines objectives, learning activities, and evaluation procedures, in a particular order. The learning activities are very closely aligned with the objectives and move from the simple to the complex in a tightly planned sequence. Pupils make few mistakes in a pilot studied, published program. Thus, for example, a pupil at a computer terminal, reads a few sentences then responds to a multiple choice test item covering what has been read. Heshe immediately receives an answer of being either correct ot incorrect. If incorrect, the pupil sees the correct answer on the monitor and is also ready for the next sequential learning. This sequence of read, respond, and check is followed continuously. Each learning builds on the previously sequential subject matter content acquired by pupils. By carefully sequencing information from one step of learning to the next, the pupil experiences much sequential success. The emphasis here is upon responding correctly, which reinforces each step of learning. Operant conditioning is then in evidence. The late B. F. Skinner was a leading exponent of programmed learning and operant conditioning (Ediger, 2003).

Teaching toward mandated objectives is more open ended as compared to operant conditioning, but it still stresses the teacher focusing upon closure in terms of pupils achieving what is measurable. Pupils, here, take annual tests containing multiple choice test items. The test items are aligned with precise or specific objectives of instruction. This has made it that teachers attempt to teach toward the specific objectives only, so that pupils score higher on the mandated, required tests. The scope of the curriculum is delimited to that which is tested. Sequence in teaching then pertains to the order of objectives pupils are to attain.

Measurable test results are emphasized in the use of programmed learning as well as in the mandated objectives curriculum (Ediger, 2007). Toward the other end of the continuum are problem solving methods, quite popular today, in teaching the social studies. Problem solving is rather open ended in that within an ongoing lesson unit of study, pupils choose a problem to solve. The problem is salient and requires effort and deliberation in its solving. A variety of references are used to gather necessary information. They include the internet, basal social studies textbooks, encyclopedia entries, library books, and knowledgeable personnel, among others. The information is organized and used in securing an answer to the problem. The answer, here, becomes a tentative hypothesis to be tested. If the tentative answer holds up under scrutiny due to critical and creative thinking, then it is accepted. If not, the original hypothesis is modified or refuted. Problem solving is flexible, and is sequenced by learners with teacher guidance. John Dewey (1859-1953) was a leading advocate of problem solving (Dewey, 1916).

The project method is closely related to problem solving approaches and stresses that pupils, also, largely sequence their own work in ongoing social studies units of study. Here, within an ongoing unit of study, pupils choose a project to develop with teacher assistance.

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