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Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Reinventing Instructional Sequence: Creating Experts

I was with an amazing group of dedicated educators focusing on instructional sequence last week – and I thought I would take a break from the Symposium readings and share this work with you. 

In our recent work, we’ve been talking a lot about instructional sequence. An instructional sequence is a series of learning tasks designed in a logical sequence (progression) with the purpose of accomplishing specific learning related to outcomes and standards. You can think of it as the other side of the assessment and instruction ‘coin.’ Or, picture a mobius strip -
– one moves from assessment to instruction and back without ever leaving the path.

We know it is important to be clear about what we intend our students to learn – to know, do, and articulate – and what quality is expected. It is also important that we know what it looks like along the way – so we can affirm what students are doing that is heading in the right direction, refocus their learning along the way, and provide new direction and instruction. We can then assess student evidence of learning and provide in-the-moment direction that acts as feedback to forward the learning.

Substantial evidence exists that shows that well-aligned instruction – which uses assessment in the service of learning – produces results 2 to 3 times greater than non-aligned instruction. Yet, there is also substantial evidence to show that teachers are often unable to identify the ‘next teaching steps’ based on what students are creating, doing, or saying.


A two-fold challenge:

1. How can we assist teachers to know the pathways to learning so they can guide students?
2. How can we assist students to know the pathways to learning so they can guide themselves?

The solution?
In the classroom this is a process of involving students in examining samples and co-constructing criteria which I describe in detail in Making Classroom Assessment Work (2011). In the school or system this is a process of involving teachers and others in examining samples, co-constructing criteria, and building a learning continuum which Sandra Herbst, Beth Parrott Reynolds, and I examine from a leadership perspective in Leading the Way to Assessment for Learning: A Practical Guide (2012).
Many researchers have been documenting the power of moderation at the system and school level to help teachers assess and evaluate quality. See earlier blog.

In some cases researchers have located their work regarding moderation in classroom settings – one recent example is a paper by Royce Sadler looking at the power of moderation in a higher education class – see earlier blog.

When I engage participants in considering assessment in the service of learning from this perspective, I deliberately use a series of video examples to illustrate the key ideas. 

The video clips show teachers (K-12) working with students in every part of the process. After all, as learners we need to see what this can look like with our students - and be part of the story of our colleagues' work.

Where are we going?                                

How will we get there?      

Are we there yet?         

These powerful strategies that teachers deliberately use form an instructional sequence that teaches students how to self-monitor their learning. This process is an important part of what is being called ‘co-regulation’ – that is, students and teachers working together to understand how to learn, what quality looks like, and what next steps towards quality can be taken at this point in the learning.

The result? Over time students learn to self-regulate because teachers have deliberately involved students in this instructional sequence over and over again. As Malcolm Gladwell (2008) explained so powerfully in Outliers - practice makes expert. Malcolm Gladwell based much of his book on the work of Anders Ericsson, who famously documented the 10,000 hours needed to become an expert.

This process is also a critical part of making grading and reporting transparent. After all transparency isn’t about being clear about “what counts.” It is about quality and what matters. You can find out more about this important concept in A Fresh Look at Grading and Reporting in High Schools.
Think about it – students are in public school almost 10,000 hours over their K-12 education. That is not a lot of time to become expert in many, many things. But what if we asked them to become expert in ONE THING? What might that ONE THING be? I propose we work towards making our students experts at LEARNING and using assessment in the service of learning. And that means helping them become experts at self-regulation of learning.


Davies, A. and S. Herbst (2014). A Fresh Look at Grading and Reporting in High Schools. Courtenay, BC: Connections Publishing and Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree Press.

Davies, A., S. Herbst, and B. Reynolds. (2012). Leading the Way to Assessment for Learning: A Practical Guide. Courtenay, BC: Connections Publishing and Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree Press.

Davies, A. (2011). Making Classroom Assessment Work, 3rd Ed.Courtenay, BC: Connections Publishing and Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree Press.

Ericsson, Anders K., N. Charness, P. Feltovich, and R.R. Hoffman. (2006). The Cambridge Handbook of Expertise and Expert Performance. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Gladwell, M. (2008). Outliers.New York: Little Brown and Company.

Sadler, D. R. (2013). Opening up feedback: Teaching learners to see. In S. Merry, M. Price, D. Carless & M. Taras (Eds.), Reconceptualising Feedback in Higher Education: Developing Dialogue with Students. (Ch. 5, 54‑63). London: Routledge.

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