Scope and Sequence: to protect children

The phrase “Scope and Sequence” has been used inappropriately by many educators for some time, however it is used by most academics to mean a delineation of abilities, performances, or behaviors that represent a healthy, normal range for a given developmental stage.
Physicians and psychologists also use this definition to describe developmentally-appropriate stages of learning cognitively, affectively, and physically. A research-based understanding of appropriate Scope and Sequence is needed to inform teachers and parents of how best to help monitor children’s growth. Misinformation about Scope and Sequence can put traumatic, growth-stunting pressure on children.

When my son Luke turned two, my parents at his playdates bragged about how their precocious children were starting to use the potty. Not wanting to let my child be left behind, I raced off buy the most adorable tiny tighy-whities and itty-bitty potty. Sadly, I was taking advice from those wanting to one-up people, not really help my child, and I skipped research-based books that would have advised me against forcing my child to use the potty too soon.

A truly healthy Scope and Sequence simply informs us of what range is healthy and normal: 2-4 for potty training. A healthy range for acquiring Basic Interpersonal Speech for English as a Second Language Learners is 2-3 years enrolled full-time in US schools, but the timeframe is many years longer for foreign language students who receive less input in L2. 5-7 years is a normal range for Cognitive Academic Language Proficiency. These ranges are normal and healthy.

Scope and Sequence that show scaled ranges of proficiency can help inform us about what programming is working. It can also and act as red flags when we don’t see appropriate growth, or set limits so children are not pushed past what they can reasonably be expected to do. Scope and Sequences are not chapters to go through. Not checklists of vocabulary to use. What grammar do I need kids to learn next? Forcing children to address proficiencies of language they aren’t ready for represents poor curricular planning.
When I forced my child on the potty before he was ready so that I could feel like a good mommy, I was doing something unhealthy: refusing to honor where he was at developmentally and plan for growth using appropriate assessments of his ability. Instead of making decisions based on what my child could really do, I was listening to uninformed grown-ups tell me to align myself with what their kids were doing so I could validate them.

If I had informed myself and read the books and done the research, I would have known to reject this “vertical alignment” rhetoric and focus on my child instead. Experts tells us there are serious consequences for holding children to standards they aren’t ready for. Feelings of shame for two-year-olds anxious about the potty is real. The same is true for forced language production or teaching through inappropriate, incomprehensible input. Outright rejection of the thing they are supposed to be working towards, anxiety, or diminished self-image are serious problems in education.

Those same teachers tell us that if we don’t align to their curriculum and use the same textbook as them, we don’t have high standards. We do. We are not letting our kids off the hook, and we are constantly assessing or noticing how they grow. We are just not punishing kids for not doing things they can’t do yet, but we do make sure they don’t regress and are constantly growing.
So when Luke went camping a few weeks ago as a fully potty-trained 4 year old, I failed to maintain high potty standards. I left the little potty at home. While camping, he figured out he could “go potty anywhere.” This made things awkward when we were visiting the park the next day. And playing in the backyard. And at tense playdates with those “vertical alignment” mommies who judged me because my child tried dropping his tiny little pants (can you blame them though?).

I had to re-direct him back to what I know he’s capable of, using a potty, because I know my child. But I’m not going to shame other mommies whose children can’t, because I’m not going to compromise the mental health of any child, teacher, or parent. I chose not to use my children’s accomplishments to make someone else feel lesser. I chose not to shame them if they don’t learn what I want them to learn when I want them to learn it…without playing the one-upping vertical alignment game.

I will collect qualitative data on my children, but in a compassionate way, and use a Scope and Sequence to keep my focus on my kids and make sure they are growing in a developmentally-appropriate way.


Published by

Claire Walter

I am an ESL teacher and I promote differentiated, compassionate instruction and assessment for English Language Learners.

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