Sequence in the Social Studies

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?.

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Publication: Journal of Instructional Psychology
Author: Ediger, Marlow
Date published: September 1, 2010
Language: English
PMID: 18133
ISSN: 00941956
Journal code: JISP

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 opérant conditioning (Ediger, 2003).

Teaching toward mandated objectives is more open ended as compared to opérant 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 lessonunit 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. The project generally stresses a small group endeavor that tends to emphasize a construction activity. The activity has relevance to the involved learners and possesses a perceived purpose to these pupils. The project then is not emphasized for the sake of doing so, but rather to fulfill a need. Carefully planning is necessary and stresses cooperation among pupils. The plans are carried out with modifications as needed. The final product is then appraised in terms of desired criteria. A project activity approach in learning is highly pupil centered with sequence residing within the learner as he/she works within the group to plan , develop , and evaluate the purposeful project (See Sharma and Sharma, 2009).

Constructivism in teaching the social studies emphasizes that pupils create their own knowledge as a lesson or unit progresses . With enriched experiences, the pupil gains knowledge to develop more comprehensive concepts and generalizations. There are no absolutes, the pupil continues to achieve, grow, and develop in a stimulating social studies environment. The teacher is a guide and helper of pupil progress, not one who lectures or has precise predetermined objectives stated prior to teaching for learner attainment. With constructivism, learning is ongoing and cannot be measured, but through teacher observation assistance is given as needed to motivate and encourage learning. Motivation comes from within the pupil as he/she sequences achievement in the social studies (See Parker, 2001).

Problem solving, project methods, and constructivism do not emphasize measurable results from pupil learning . Objectives , here , are not predetermined and stressed prior to teaching and learning situations. The doing part is sequenced by the learner with teacher guidance.

Basal textbook methodology comes between behaviorism (programmed learningmandated objectives philosophy of instruction) and action centered curricula (problem solving, project methods, and constructivism). A well and carefully chosen basal social studies textbook may be used as presented in the accompanying manual or modified to meet personal needs of pupils. Thus, the manual contains objectives for pupil attainment, learning opportunities to achieve the objectives, as well as evaluation procedures to provide feedback to teachers on pupil progress. Generally, social studies teachers feel the subject matter contained in each unit of study in the textbook needs extension and elaboration. The subject matter may come from the Internet, reputable encyclopedias, library books, excursions, informed persons, and AV aids, among other sources (See Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, 2007). The basal textbook then

* contains a structure with related ideas in designing and teaching the ongoing social studies unit

* provides opportunities to clarify and amplify subject matter content

* emphasizes a revised sequence to aid more optimal learner achievement.

Students should be challenged to raise questions pertaining to subject matterstudied from the basal . These questions may well lead to searching for in-depth information leading to critical and creative thinking.

When reading subject matter from the basal , the teacher needs to provide assistance in word recognition and comprehension of ideas. The following word recognition techniques should be stressed as needed:

* context clues to identify unknown words

* phonics to use as clues to unlock new words

* syllabication skills such as noticing root words, prefixes and suffixes and thus identify the unknown word

* noticing short words within the larger word to aid and identify the unfamiliar (See Baumann, et. al. ,2007).

Subject matter needs to be read with appropriate stress, pitch, and enunciation to avoid monotony and read with enthusiasm! Social studies can be an enjoyable academic area to study when

* the content is related to the personal lives of pupils

* pupils relate content studied to other people, nations, regions, and continents in the world.

The above namedrelationships aid pupils in attaining quality sequence,especially when relating it to their own personal lives. This makes the study of the social studies meaningful indeed! The personal talents and abilities, too, may be brought into each social studies unit as it enriches sequential learnings. The following talents, as examples, might well then be integrated:

* artistic to show scenes and situations being studied, such as well known persons in history, using a variety of art media

* verbal as in reading and reporting on library books such studying people of other cultures

* analytical, synthesis, objective, and logical thinking skills in organizing and forming ideas

* collaborative skills in working with other learners in an ongoing activity

* manual dexterity to show abilities within concrete experiences

* technology skills to gather subject matter from a variety of electronic sources

* mathematical talents in measuring and doing construction work related directly to an ongoing unit of study (See Gardner, 1993).


Social studies teachers need to study learners in diverse kinds of situations to ascertain the best way to emphasize quality sequence in learning. Sequence stresses "when" as the optimal time to engage pupils in ensuing learnings. New learnings should not be too complex, nor too easy, but at a level which is challenging and yet the ensuing objectives are achievable.


Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (2007). Education Update, 49 (3), 1,8.

Baugmann, J. F., et, al. (2007). Bumping Into Spicy, Tasty Words That Catch Your Tongue: A Formative Experiment on Vocabulary Instruction. The Reading Teacher, 61(2), 108-124

Dewey, J. (1916). Democracy and Education . New York: MacMillan Publishing Company.

Ediger, M. (2002). Teaching Social Studies Successfully. New Delhi, India: Discovery Publishing House.

Ediger, M. (2003). Psychology and Curriculum. New Delhi, India: Discovery Publishing House

Ediger, M. (2007). Learning Activities in the Curriculum. College Student Journal, 41(4), 967-969.

Gardner, H. ( 1 993) . Multiple Intelligences: Theory Into Practice. New York: Basic Books.

Parker, W. C . (200 1 ) . Social Studies in Elementary Education . Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Prentice Hall, Inc.

Sharma,M. & Sharma,S. (2009). Attitude of Science Teachers Toward the Project Method. Edutracks,8(6), 40-43.

Author affiliation:

Dr. Marlow Ediger, Professor Emeritus ,Truman State University.

Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Dr. Marlow Ediger, Truman State University, 20 1 West 22nd Street , North Newton, KS 67117.

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