Sequencing, the ability to put events in order, is an essential skill that your clients need to develop for a myriad of reasons. Your crash course in sequencing skills awaits!
What do common daily routines such as making a bed, washing hands, eating breakfast, or even less familiar tasks like crossing a drawbridge have in common? These tasks all require sequencing skills. Developing this skill requires understanding of numerous aspects and involves cognitive functions.
Why do we care?
Sequencing is necessary for complex tasks, like:
Understanding and telling stories
Performing daily activities
Succeeding in school and at work
And in order to sequence events correctly, your student or your client will need to:
Understand cause and effect
Understand time and transition words in stories like first, next, last
Know the elements of a story like beginning, middle, and end
Have adequate reasoning and planning skills
The developmental theorist Jean Piaget's work is instrumental in understanding the evolution of sequencing skills in children. Piaget (1941/1952, 1969) noted that children start developing the basis for sequencing - class inclusion and seriation - as they transition from preoperational to concrete operational thinking, typically between ages 5 to 7.
Class inclusion refers to understanding that some things are part of a larger group. For instance, recognizing that dogs and cats are both animals. Initially, children tend to be swayed by their sensory perception, focusing more on visible distinctions rather than conceptual groupings (Piaget, 1969). This is the first step toward sequencing skills.
Seriation (Ages 5-7)
Seriation is about arranging items in a particular order based on a certain attribute like size, weight, or quantity (Piaget, 1941/1952). It's a significant stepping stone in cognitive development as children start recognizing that objects can be sequenced along a particular dimension (Southard & Pasnak, 1997).
From Seriation to Transitivity
Successful seriation develops into transitivity, a key mental operation marking the onset of concrete operations. Transitivity is understanding relationships between objects even when they're not directly compared (Southard & Pasnak, 1997).
Narrative Sequencing (Ages 6-8)
Children start understanding and producing narratives with a clear sequence of events around this age (Stein & Glenn, 1979). They begin to use temporal words like "first", "next", and "last", indicating an understanding of sequence in a storyline.
Task Analysis (Ages 9-12)
Children around this age can decompose complex tasks into simpler steps. This skill is vital for tasks like writing a research paper, where they need to research, take notes, outline, draft, revise, and finalize (Brown & French, 1976).
It's worth noting that these age ranges are approximate, and there's significant individual variation in children's development.
Research Findings on Sequencing Development
Modern research has challenged some of Piaget's conclusions, suggesting that even younger children might be capable of basic sequencing skills.
For example, studies found that children as young as two can start to understand and imitate short, highly familiar sequences (O'Connell & Gerard, 1985). Other research indicated that kindergarteners can construct sequences, though they might not yet understand the logic or cause and effect related to those sequences (Brown & French, 1976).
Sequencing has been identified as a crucial component of early childhood education, featuring prominently in both curricular frameworks and learning assessments. It's a key aspect of planning and includes putting objects or actions in the correct order (Zelazo et al., 1997). Moreover, sequencing is integral to a child's mathematical understanding, along with sorting, measurement, and pattern recognition (Sarama & Clements, 2003).
The Early Childhood Longitudinal Study collected data on 19,000 kindergarten students in 1998 and found that 58% of kindergarteners were proficient in recognizing patterns of sequence, and 20% were proficient in ordinal sequencing (US Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, 2001).
Neuroanatomy of Sequencing Processes
Sequencing skills rely on a complex network of brain structures and processes, which work together to enable us to perform actions in a specific order, comprehend the sequence of events in a narrative, and more. Here are some of the key regions involved:
Prefrontal Cortex (PFC): The prefrontal cortex, particularly the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC), plays a significant role in the planning and execution of sequenced actions. It's involved in higher-level cognitive functions like working memory and executive function, both crucial for understanding and performing tasks in sequence. (Clark and Lum, 2017; Keele et al., 2003; Willingham et al., 2002)
Basal Ganglia: This group of nuclei, including the caudate nucleus, putamen, and globus pallidus, among others, is involved in motor control and learning. The basal ganglia play a significant role in the initiation and regulation of sequenced movements. (Keele et al., 2003; Willingham et al., 2002)
Hippocampus: The hippocampus is crucial for memory formation
and retrieval, including the memory of sequences. It plays a key role in understanding sequences of events, which is critical for narrative comprehension and episodic memory. (Fortin et al., 2002)
Parietal Lobe: The parietal lobe, especially the left parietal cortex, is involved in sequencing tasks. It plays a role in integrating sensory information, spatial manipulation, and attention, all important for sequencing. (Hari & Renvall, 2002)
Cerebellum: Traditionally known for its role in motor coordination, the cerebellum is also involved in cognitive processes including sequencing. It helps in the smooth execution of sequenced movements and may play a role in the timing and prediction of events. (Graybiel, 2008)
The brain structures involved in sequencing tasks interact through a complex network of neural pathways. A range of neurotransmitters, including dopamine and glutamate, play essential roles in these processes. Damage or dysfunction in any of these areas or in the communication between them can lead to difficulties with sequencing skills.
It's also worth noting that the development of these brain regions and their associated functions is a gradual process that occurs over years, aligning with the age-related progression in children's sequencing abilities.
Disorders Associated with Sequencing Difficulties
As a Speech-Language Pathologist (SLP), understanding the range of disorders that can affect sequencing skills is important for developing targeted interventions. Here are several conditions and how they might impact sequencing abilities:
Specific Language Impairment (SLI): Children with SLI may have difficulties with the sequence of sounds in words or the sequence of words in sentences. This can affect their speech production and their understanding of spoken language.
Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD): Many children with ASD struggle with sequencing tasks, particularly those that involve a temporal component. This can affect their ability to predict and understand the order of daily routines or to follow multi-step instructions.
Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD): Children with ADHD often have difficulties with tasks that require sequential processing, including organizing and completing tasks in a particular order. This can impact academic performance and the ability to follow through on tasks.
Dyslexia: This learning disorder primarily affects reading skills, where sequencing is critical. Children with dyslexia may struggle with recognizing the sequence of letters in words or the sequence of events in a story.
Dyspraxia (Developmental Coordination Disorder): This condition affects motor skill development. Children may struggle with sequencing the steps involved in motor tasks, such as tying shoelaces or using utensils.
Dyscalculia: This learning disorder affects mathematical abilities. Children with dyscalculia may struggle with sequencing numbers or understanding the order of operations in math problems.
Auditory Processing Disorder (APD): Children with APD may struggle with understanding the sequence of sounds in words or the sequence of words in sentences. This can impact their receptive language skills.
Executive Function Disorder: Executive function skills include the ability to plan and sequence tasks. Children with this disorder often have difficulty organizing tasks, managing time, and following sequences of instructions.
The Role of Executive Functions in Sequencing
Sequencing is deeply interconnected with our executive functions or reasoning abilities. The term executive functions refer to our abilities to solve problems, and monitor, plan, and direct future behaviors. These mental processes connect past experiences and prior knowledge to our present actions. Executive functions come into play when we start a new task or encounter a new challenge.
According to Meltzer & Krishnan (2007), these executive functions include:
When it comes to sequencing tasks, especially unfamiliar ones, your clients must engage all their executive function processes. For instance, a client who has never been snowboarding will have to use their reasoning skills to logically sequence the events involved in the activity.
Evaluation of Sequencing Skills
Evaluating sequencing skills, as a part of executive functioning, is critical to determine a client's current abilities and identify areas for growth. Traditional assessments like the Clinical Evaluation of Language Fundamentals (CELF) and the Test of Language Development (TOLD) offer standardized measures of sequencing abilities. Other methods include direct observation of the client engaging in daily routines, academic tasks, or during structured sequencing activities like organizing a set of picture cards or recounting a story.
Difficulties with sequencing can manifest in various ways and can affect multiple areas of a child's life, from academic performance to everyday tasks. Here are some types of difficulties that research has found children may have with sequencing:
Academic Difficulties: Sequencing is crucial for understanding and performing tasks in areas such as math, reading, and writing. For example, difficulties in sequencing might manifest as problems in understanding the order of operations in math, the sequence of events in a story, or the organization of an essay.
Speech and Language Difficulties: Children might struggle to put words in the correct order to form coherent sentences, or they might have trouble understanding the sequence of sounds within words. This can impact both expressive and receptive language skills.
Motor Skills Difficulties: Sequencing is key to coordinating movements in the correct order, such as tying shoelaces or brushing teeth. Children with sequencing difficulties might struggle with these kinds of tasks.
Memory Difficulties: Children with sequencing difficulties often struggle with remembering the order of information or events, even if they can recall the events or information themselves. This can impact their ability to follow multi-step instructions or routines.
Problem-Solving Difficulties: Sequencing skills are essential for problem-solving, as they help children to plan steps and organize their thoughts. Children with sequencing difficulties might have trouble developing strategies for solving problems.
Time Management Difficulties: Sequencing is important for understanding the passage of time and for planning and organizing activities. Children with sequencing difficulties might struggle with these tasks, leading to challenges with punctuality and time management.
Goals Targeting Sequencing Skills
A few examples:
By the end of the IEP year, the student will enhance their sequencing skills by demonstrating the ability to arrange four-step sequencing cards accurately in 8 out of 10 opportunities across three consecutive sessions as measured by therapist's observations and records, given consistent therapist modeling and support.
By the end of the IEP year, the student will improve their narrative skills by recounting a short story in correct sequence, including clear references to "first, next, and last" events, achieving this in 3 out of 4 opportunities across three consecutive sessions as measured by therapist's observations and records, given consistent therapist modeling and support.
By the end of the IEP year, the student will enhance their sequencing skills by demonstrating the ability to identify the main events of a familiar story read aloud in their correct order in 9 out of 10 opportunities across three consecutive sessions as measured by the teacher's observations and records, given consistent teacher modeling and support.
By the end of the IEP year, the student will improve their sequencing skills by correctly describing the relationship between historical events, scientific ideas, or steps in a process in a text, achieving this in 4 out of 5 opportunities across three consecutive sessions as measured by teacher's observations and records, given consistent teacher modeling and support.
By the end of the IEP year, the student will enhance their narrative writing skills by using effective technique, descriptive details, and clear event sequences, achieving this in 3 out of 4 opportunities across three consecutive sessions as measured by teacher's observations and records, given consistent teacher modeling and support.
Aligning goals to the curriculum
Aligning Individualized Education Program (IEP) goals to curriculum standards, such as the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), is essential for the development of sequencing skills. This process contextualizes the student's learning within a broader educational framework, providing a clear path that parallels what peers are learning, and helping students with disabilities access their general education curriculum. Here's a list of Common Core State Standards (CCSS) for each grade level from Kindergarten to 12th grade that emphasize the importance of sequencing skills:
Kindergarten: CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.K.2: With prompting and support, retell familiar stories, including key details.
First Grade: CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.1.2: Retell stories, including key details, and demonstrate understanding of their central message or lesson.
Second Grade: CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.2.5: Describe the overall structure of a story, including describing how the beginning introduces the story and the ending concludes the action.
Third Grade: CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RI.3.3: Describe the relationship between a series of historical events, scientific ideas or concepts, or steps in technical procedures in a text.
Fourth Grade: CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RI.4.5: Describe the overall structure (e.g., chronology, comparison, cause/effect, problem/solution) of events, ideas, concepts, or information in a text or part of a text.
Fifth Grade: CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.5.5: Explain how a series of chapters, scenes, or stanzas fits together to provide the overall structure of a particular story, drama, or poem.
Sixth Grade: CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.6.5: Analyze how a particular sentence, chapter, scene, or stanza fits into the overall structure of a text and contributes to the development of the theme, setting, or plot.
Seventh Grade: CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.7.5: Analyze how a drama’s or poem’s form or structure contributes to its meaning.
Eighth Grade: CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RI.8.3: Analyze how a text makes connections among and distinctions between individuals, ideas, or events.
Ninth Grade: CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.9-10.5: Analyze how an author’s choices concerning how to structure a text, order events within it, and manipulate time create such effects as mystery, tension, or surprise.
Tenth Grade: CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RI.9-10.3: Analyze how the author unfolds an analysis or series of ideas or events, including the order in which the points are made, how they are introduced and developed, and the connections that are drawn between them.
Eleventh Grade: CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.11-12.5: Analyze how an author’s choices concerning how to structure specific parts of a text contribute to its overall structure and meaning as well as its aesthetic impact.
Twelfth Grade: CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RI.11-12.3: Analyze a complex set of ideas or sequence of events and explain how specific individuals, ideas, or events interact and develop over the course of the text.
Each client's learning needs and abilities are unique, requiring an individualized approach. Scaffolding enables a gradual increase in complexity and independence, making learning more achievable and less overwhelming. It ensures that the client can gradually master each step, fostering confidence and promoting more effective learning in the long run.
Scaffolding Treatment from Direct Instruction to Higher Order Skills
Introduce Sequencing: Begin by explaining what sequencing is and its importance in daily life and learning. Use real-life examples that are relatable to the child.
Direct Instruction with Sequencing Cards: Use visual aids like sequencing cards to demonstrate the concept. Start with simple sequences, such as getting ready for school.
Model Using Transitional Words: Introduce transitional words like "first", "next", "then", and "last" during activities. Model their use in describing sequences.
Guided Practice with Simple Stories: Use simple, familiar stories and ask the child to arrange events in the correct sequence.
Introduce More Complex Sequences: As the child becomes proficient with simple sequences, gradually introduce more complex sequences, such as those found in chapter books or historical events.
Provide Opportunities for Independent Practice: Let the child practice sequencing independently, first with guidance and then with gradually reduced support.
Application to Real-World Tasks: Apply sequencing skills to real-world tasks, such as following a recipe or planning a schedule.
Gradual Release of Responsibility: As the child's competence increases, gradually reduce the support, encouraging the child to use sequencing skills independently. Celebrate successes to boost their confidence.
Activities for Sequencing Practice
Sequencing activities are beneficial in helping clients to remember a process, learn the names of the steps in a process, recognize the tools used to complete the process, and to understand and use the specific vocabulary associated with a process.
Here's a list of 25 activities that can be employed to provide children with sequencing practice. As you carry out these activities, remember to incorporate sequencing vocabulary like first, then, next, finally, or first, second, third:
Sequencing Games: There are numerous games that can be used to develop sequencing skills. For example, "Simon Says" requires the child to remember and perform a series of actions.
Story Sack: Create a story sack with props and pictures related to a simple story. After reading the story, children can use the props to retell the events. This encourages them to think about the sequence of events in the story.
Sequencing Cards: You can use cards with pictures showing the steps of an activity or event. Have the client arrange these cards in the correct order. Start with simpler sequences (like brushing teeth) before moving on to more complex sequences (like baking a cake).
Picture Storytelling: Use simple picture cards to tell a story in sequence. First, the SLP tells the story using the cards, then asks students to retell the story using the cards. This activity is engaging, hands-on, and encourages early narrative skills. Try some variations: As you read, stop occasionally and ask the child what has happened so far, or what they think will happen next. After finishing the book, you could ask them to retell the story in their own words.
LEGO Build: Give students a completed LEGO structure and have them deconstruct it, then try to build it again in the correct order. This can help with understanding sequences and steps involved in completing a task.
Song Sequencing: Teach children a song with actions. Once they are familiar with it, use picture cards of the actions and ask them to arrange them in the sequence of the song. This activity promotes memory and sequencing skills.
Show-and-Tell Sequencing: During a show-and-tell session, ask students to describe the process of doing something they enjoy, like making a sandwich or playing a game. This encourages sequencing in a familiar and personal context.
Cookbook Creations: Have students sequence the steps of a favorite recipe using picture cards or written steps. Then they can tell or write the procedure using sequencing words.
Story Chain: Start a 'story chain' where the SLP begins a story, and each student has to add on an event in sequence. This encourages active listening and sequential thinking.
DIY Project: Begin a DIY craft project like making a birdhouse or knitting a scarf. Each session, add on to the project in sequence, ensuring the student is aware of the steps taken and the ones to follow.
Physical Activity: Physical activities like yoga or dance can also help with sequencing. The child needs to remember and perform a series of movements in a certain order.
Comic Strip Sequencing: Have students create a comic strip depicting a sequence of events, such as a day in their life or a chapter from a book they're reading in class.
Sequence Charades: Students act out different steps of a process or routine, and their peers guess the sequence. This is a fun and engaging way to reinforce sequencing concepts.
Science Experiments: (An option to collaborate with general education teachers) co-teach a science experiment, where each step must be followed in sequence for the experiment to work. This provides a hands-on and collaborative way to practice sequencing.
Daily Routines: Ask your clients to describe their daily routines in order. This could include getting ready for school or preparing for bed. Over time, try to incorporate less familiar routines to challenge their sequencing skills.
Cooking/Baking: Have your clients help with simple cooking or baking activities, like making a sandwich or baking cookies. This provides a fun, hands-on way to practice sequencing. Afterward, they could try to write down the steps of the process in order.
Digital Presentation: Have students create a slideshow presentation on a topic, with each slide representing a different step or stage of a process or event.
Research Project Steps: Students select a topic of interest to research and present. The SLP can guide them to list and organize their research steps in sequence.
Time Capsule: Have students create a 'time capsule', sequencing events or trends of the current year. This can be a creative and personal way to practice sequencing.
Breakdown a Film: Watch a short film or movie, and afterward, have students breakdown the sequence of events. This could be done visually, through a storyboard, or in writing.
Planning a Field Trip: Plan a hypothetical field trip. Students need to sequence the activities for the day, from leaving the school, visiting locations, having lunch, and returning.
Storyboarding a Movie Scene: Students can choose a scene from a movie or book and storyboard the sequence of events.
Experiment Sequencing: Students can design a simple science experiment and document the procedure in a sequence.
Career Sequence: Students can research a career of interest and sequence the steps or stages involved in achieving that career.
College Application Process: As a real-world applicable activity, students can break down the steps required for applying to college or a job. They can sequence everything from researching options to filling out applications.
Remember, practice makes perfect. The more opportunities your clients have to practice sequencing, the more they will improve.
Bonus: Technology and Sequencing
Technology has also created more possibilities for teaching sequencing. There are numerous apps available that include sequencing games and activities. Digital storytelling tools can allow your clients to create their own stories and arrange them in the correct order.
Incorporating technology can make the process more engaging for many children, particularly those who are already comfortable with using devices like tablets.
Kid in Story - This app allows children to be the star of their own stories. Kids can use images from a library or upload their own, then sequence them to create a story.
Story Creator - With this app, children can create their own digital stories. They can add pictures, text, and even voice recordings, then arrange these elements in sequence to create their story.
Sequencing Post Office - This is a game where players have to arrange letters, parcels, and packages in the correct order to deliver them. This can help students practice sequencing in a fun and interactive context.
iMovie or Storyboard That - Students can create and edit their own short movies or animated stories. They have to arrange scenes and events in the correct sequence, which can help develop more complex sequencing skills.
The Role of the SLP in Sequencing
As an SLP, it's our role to help clients develop and improve their sequencing skills. This is essential for many aspects of their lives, from being able to follow instructions at school or at work, to completing everyday tasks.
It's important to remember that each client is unique, and the approach that works best for one client may not work as well for another. Use your knowledge and skills to tailor your approach to each individual's needs and abilities. And remember, patience and consistency are key. With time and practice, your clients can make significant progress in their sequencing skills.
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