In educational publishing, ‘Scope and sequence’ is sometimes used as shorthand for the pages at the start of a coursebook that describe what the book contains – what would be called the contents list in other contexts. This makes sense up to a point, as these pages lay out the topics that will be covered (the scope) and the order in which they appear (the sequence). However, the term also has a broader meaning, which is the one we will be looking at here.
UNESCO’s International Bureau of Education defines scope and sequence as “[i]nterrelated concepts that refer to the overall organization of the curriculum in order to ensure its coherence and continuity”. When designing a scope and sequence for any course, the key questions to ask are: What breadth and depth of content and skills need to be taught? In what order should content be presented to students during the course to optimise learning?
Let’s start with the first question, which relates to scope. Many courses are designed to be used within a particular educational setting, for example the curriculum of a certain country (or multiple countries for international courses). Local curricula can provide a framework for building a scope and sequence document, but it is not always possible to include all aspect in a course. For this reason, it is sometimes necessary to prioritise certain topics.
This will depend in part on the number of hours of contact time that teachers have to deliver a course. It is important to understand the profile of the schools or institutions that will be using the course in order to tailor the scope of the course to what is realistically achievable in the time available.
There are often other frameworks that can be drawn on when planning the scope of a course. In language learning, for example, the CEFR provides descriptors relating to many of the skills that students need to develop. These are periodically updated to take account of new research and changes in teaching methodology. For instance, as discussed in this webinar, the CEFR Companion Volume introduced new descriptors in 2018 which included a stronger focus on interaction and mediation.
A good way to approach scope and sequence design is to start with learning outcomes. These describe the skills and/or knowledge you want students to have acquired by the end of the course. From there, you can work backwards and decide on the specific elements that are needed to reach those goals, moving step-by-step from broad course aims to more granular and specific actions that will help to achieve them.
A good way to approach scope and sequence design is to start with learning outcomes. These describe the skills and/or knowledge you want students to have acquired by the end of the course.
One benefit of having a well-defined scope and sequence for your course is that it helps teachers and learners to understand the path that they will take through the course. It promotes transparency and creates a sense of developmental progression. It provides a map that helps course users to orientate themselves and to see where they are on their educational journey.
It is important to consider the variety of situations your learning materials will be used in and introduce an element of flexibility when designing the scope and sequence for a course. This could include guidance on how teachers and learners might take various paths through the material, depending on their aims, requirement and constraints (e.g. time). It is becoming more common for courses to offer non-linear options, where teachers (or students) can choose which material is most relevant to them. This is particularly relevant in courses with an online component, where the material is not restricted by the linear format of a printed book. However, print courses can also allow flexible approaches to sequencing, for example by providing banks of material that students refer to as they become relevant to their needs.
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