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Spiral Curriculum

Page history last edited by Kathleen Scott 13 years, 10 months ago









Tina M. Clark


Spiral Curriculum:


Using spiral curriculum in the classroom seems to be such a great concept for child-centered learning.  Re-introducing topics so that each child picks it up in their own time is an essential part of spiraling.  It’s just too bad that all teachers don’t use this type of curriculum in their classroom. The spiral curriculum falls right in line with Bruner's quote mentioned above.  A spiral curriculum is a curriculum that develops as basic ideas are repeated and built upon until the student grasps the full concept of what is being taught.  Bruner feels that nothing is impossible to teach or to learn; he believes that putting off subject matter of important areas that need to be taught because they may be considered too difficult for the student to learn has wasted a lot of time in the classroom.  As a parent, I can see how Bruner's theory has been implemented within the classroom since its inception.  When my boys were in the early grades of elementary school I could see how spiral curriculum was used as they were learning math.  The math that they were learning at that time included concepts that I did not broach as a young student until junior high school.  To me this appears to be a perfect example of how the use of spiral curriculum has allowed students to grasp math concepts much earlier because of the way they are taught to them.




Spiral curriculum has an automatic connection to math curriculum – it’s easy to see how it would fit.  This link that connects to a school’s website, reflects on spiral curriculum used in communication arts education.  It shows how spiral curriculum is used K-12 and how each learning phase is grouped into three separate grade ranges.  Traditional teachers have used this type of spiraling, however; at the time, probably without much concrete assessment in regards to how it played out as the student moved through the grade levels.  Content standards did help with this process, but is certainly isn’t driven by content standards only.




I came across this blog as I was googling spiral curriculum – it has spiral drawings.  The blog also reflects on the need for a software program to assist with spiral curriculum planning across grades levels.  The blog makes reference to a spiral model called progressive inquiry.  The blog is a good reflection on the organization aspect of spiral curriculum.




Nathan Morris


"The Spiral Curriculum" by: Greg Cruey http://www.helium.com/items/343559-the-spiral-curriculum


This article discusses the differences between a "traditional" curriculum and a "spiral" curriculum. According to the author when teaching from a traditional curruculum there will be a specific time to learn a new topic. When that time comes, your learn it or memorize it but you do it now, then move onto the next topic that you will work on. Where as with a spiral curriculum, the belief is that not all students will be able to grasp concepts at the same time on the same level. Therefore as a teacher, you teach a topic and assume that some students are ready to learn and will pick it up and that some are not ready. However you move on and eventually that concept will come up again, for that student to learn. So where a traditional curriculum looks at a few topics for an extended period of time, the spiral curriculum gives you many topics over and over and over. He explains that a spiral mind set is difficult for traditionalist to switch to, because sometimes you teach a lesson and not many students understand, but you move onto the next lesson with the assumption that the topic will come around again for them to learn.



"Spiral Math May be Causing Trouble for Your Child"  by: Brandy Madison



"The Spiral vs. Mastery Debate" by: Bethany Ruth Barnosky



I came across these two articles during my research and decided to put them together. It was very interesting in these articles because they were each debating on which is the better way for students to learn. In the end BOTH agreed that the more traditional way was more beneficial for their student (both were Mom's who homeschooled). However one parent said that saxon was a more mastery style of teaching and the other used saxon as an example for the spiral method of teaching. Each gave some thoughtful examples of why they choose the more traditional method. Reading the articles made me go back and examine my original thoughts about saxon. I still would have to agree with Bethany, to me saxon is Spiral. Bruner stated, " students return to topics throughout their academic careers, continually building upon what they have already learned as they develop and mature." To me, that is Saxon.



Kim Craigs




"It's Branded In Our Brains"  by Sue Caldwell

Mathematics Teaching  May, 2008


This article reviews the concept of the Spiral Curriculum as is it being implemented in the mathematics classroom.  The author followed a group of students and discovered that the version of Spiral Curriculum as envisioned by Jerome Bruner is, more often than not, is not what is being followed.  She interviewed curriculum through the grades, and found that the school used repetition to try to reinforce math facts.  By teaching to the test, the students came to believe that math was about memory more than comprehension.  The students, as a result, became bored and "tuned out" after a time.   The author advocates straying from the textbook and bringing imagination to the mathematics classroom.


Comments (11)

Nathan Morris said

at 9:49 pm on Aug 26, 2010

I choose the Big Idea "Spiral Curriculum" becasue I teach math from the Saxon series which I feel is a "spiral" series. As I was looking for articles, I came across a few that had varying thoughts on whether Saxon is spiral or not. After reading various articles, I feel my original thoughts to be true. I also remembered that each Saxon book has a Preface that has a philosophy section in it. Right in that section it states, "Thus, the philosophy of this book is that students learn by doing and that students cannot fully learn a concept on the day it is introduced." Saxon calls this "incremental development"

Kathleen Scott said

at 1:50 pm on Sep 11, 2010

Nate, I'm glad you shared these articles presenting both"sides" of the SC. I found it interesting--as you noted--that the 2 authors used Saxon Math to illustrate opposing views...it makes me think that, at their core, the principles underlying the spiral and the mastery approaches may not be so mutually exclusive after all...?

I also found this quote interesting: "Students who have mastered material score higher on standardized testing and are more prepared to apply mathematics to real-life situations than students who have simply progressed through a spiral curriculum." This struck me for a couple reasons. First of all, as noted with some of the other "Big Ideas,"" we are seeing less and less of a correlation between standardized test scores and the ability to apply knowledge in "real life" situations. And secondly, the inherent implication in the word choice of "students who have simply progressed through a spiral curriculum." That actually brings me to my last point:

I was bothered by the continual description of the spiral curriculum as an approach which examines a lot of topics for a brief period of time, or quickly touches on many topics. Nowhere in Bruner's writings have I ever seen an indication that topics are just touched on lightly, and then we move on. I definitely think this is an example of misinterpretation/misapplication of a theory. Remember Bruner's quote? "We begin with the hypothesis that any subject can be taught effectively in some intellectually honest form to any child at any stage of development." (from The Process of Education, p. 33) This "dabble and dash" approach doesn't seem all that "intellectually honest" to me.

Nathan Morris said

at 10:18 pm on Aug 26, 2010

Sorry about the last non-comment (still learning). I have to say that I am a Saxon fan. When we adopted it a few years back I was very concerned. But as each year passed I grew to enjoy it, and thought that it helped our students out so much with their math skills in most part because they do practice it over and over and continue to develop their skill through varying levels and they see how using one skill can effect another and so on.

Betsy Riordan said

at 9:57 pm on Aug 27, 2010

A spiral curriculum is a concept all educators should be striving for. As a language arts teacher, this concept is easier to incorporate. I am always reviewing past material as I introduce the new. For example, we discuss theme for every book we read. By the end of the year, I have presented how to find the theme in a novel at least six times.

Deanna Laskos said

at 2:50 pm on Aug 28, 2010

I too am a fan of Saxon math. My school has used Saxon for many years, until this year. We have a new administrator who had a kindergarten and second grade student this past year. He did not like the fact that his children were being taught almost the same lessons. He felt like the material was not challenging enough and repeated so much that it was almost "overkill." I could see that at times in the kindergarten curriculum that I taught with. We would spend days on just counting pennies. Many of the children had gotten the concept the first time and they would complete the lesson paper in just a few minutes. The struggling students benefitted from the constant review though. Last year, we actually made it through the kindergarten material in the first half of the year and then moved on to the first grade making it over half way through it. We did a lot of assessing to see if the children had mastered the concept and were ready to move on or if we needed to spend more time with it. It was a lot of work. Now this year we have a new series and I am excited to see how it challenges the children.

Allan McConihe said

at 8:06 pm on Aug 28, 2010

There is an interesting debate on-going among the elementary/ middle grade and high school grade teachers in the Amherst Exempted Village School district. The elementary and middle school teachers prefer (and swear by) saxon math, while high school math teacher tend to think that saxon math hinders development. I only know this after hearing from the math department chair complaints that the students the high school math department inherits from the middle school lack skills that the high school teacher expects students to know. Since I have a son in middle school, and a daughter in elementary, and being on the staff at high school, it's interesting to hear both sides of the argument.

Suzanne said

at 9:57 am on Aug 29, 2010

Ok, I am not a math person ( I reluctantly admit) and I have mixed feelings about the sprial curriculum. I always felt that math was a building block of learning. You must learn to add and subtract before you multiply and divide, and so on. I also felt that because as math levels became more difficult concepts became very jumbled if they were not presented and then mastered.
However, with that said, many math concepts present themselves to students "out of order" in other content area's so I would imagine that is where a spiral curriculum would become most effective. Any comments from anyone on that? Just curious.

kimjanuzzi said

at 8:14 pm on Aug 29, 2010

I only used the Saxon math during one of my fields several years ago ina second grade classroom. I agree that it seems like a 'spiral' series as well even though the article classifies it as more mastery. The concern I also had iwth the saxson series is that it was not challenging enough for many that had understood some of the concepts fairly quickly.I also personally found it way too scripted as a teacher. It was very helpful to those students who needed the repetition and practice to master some concepts. I think a spiral curriculum is key especially in the elementaryb grades however as it reviews previously presented material and then builds upon it. Educators must be prepared to enhance some lessons and concepts for those learners that are able to take it to the next level, so ton speak.

Stephanie Dewey said

at 5:23 pm on Aug 30, 2010

I'm not very familiar with Saxon math, but as a sub I have taught out of texts that i thought were considered spiral curriculum. To me, each section looked liked they were designed for the OAA. The new concepts were mixed with the old. Generally, they are in random order and not related to each other. I didn't feel as though there were enough questions on the new material to master it. I don't believe I would be able to learn that way. After reading the comments, Saxon math sounds to be more organized than some of the other spiral curriculums.

Kathleen Scott said

at 2:42 pm on Sep 11, 2010

Kim, what an interesting article. I was actually astonished to see the (almost verbatim!) repetition of test questions at succeeding grade levels. And we wonder why teachers have misinterpreted/misimplemented the spiral curriculum! (The standardized tests, in fact, discourage it!)

Kathleen Scott said

at 3:36 pm on Sep 11, 2010

Good examples of SC in action, Tina. (The first one actually is an explanation of Missouri's content standards; I wonder if their tests--unlike the UK ones described in Kim's article-actually reflect the SC approach...) I'm not so sure I like the 2nd diagram in the 2nd article (blog): I don't think that you necessarily wait on application skills as "higher" levels--I think the point is to learn all these skills and then practice them at increasing levels of complexity. (Which, I think, is exactly the point of the “Progressive Inquiry” model described in the article.)

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