Keeping Things in Order

There are certain skills that transcend academic subject boundaries. That is, you may learn the skill in one discipline, and then find yourself using it in others.

The other day, I realized sequence is one of those skills. Sequence is the skill of putting things into some sort of order. We teach it in language arts to help students develop an understanding of plot or story structure. We use it in writing to help students better organize their thoughts. We even use it in history classes to get students to understand how events relate to each other and build on each other.

But in order for sequence to make any sense, students have to understand both the concept of numbers and the concepts of ordinals. “What happened first?” doesn’t make any sense if you don’t know that the ordinal first corresponds to the number one. And I realized after talking with another teacher that a young child struggling with ordinals is also going to struggle with sequence because they haven’t made the necessary connections yet. They haven’t formed the context in which to understand how both work.

Even stranger, in the curriculum we use, ordinals are taught a full two years before sequence, but we expect kids caught in the middle to understand the concept. There’s a disconnect being formed instead of a connection that could be reinforced by showing the student that the skill is relevant to more than just math or reading. Is this a problem in other curriculua? I don’t know, but I think it shouldn’t even be an issue to begin with.

I don’t even know how to begin to fix our own problem, but it does give me something to think about as I’m working on my own projects.


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