A useful explanation of spiraled curriculum for the public
Understanding the structuring of spiraled curriculum is very important. It is used to design many of the different types of curriculum that educators are required to teach in their classrooms and it can be an effective way to introduce your child to new concepts at home.
One of the core tenets of spiraled curriculum is that students are not always ready to learn a particular skill or may lack necessary prerequisite knowledge. Instead of teaching the same topic for a long period of time until a student has mastered it. The topic is periodically taught over and over again, with the content of each new revision increasing in complexity. It is called a spiraled curriculum, not a circular curriculum because it increases in complexity
Another core tenet of spiraled curriculum is that students are taught a variety of different, but related concepts at once so that students are better able to make connections between interrelated concepts.
An example of spiraled curriculum would be teaching components of telling time from kindergarten to 4th grade. In kindergarten students are exposed to the concept of telling time. In first grade, they learn to tell time to the hour, in second grade they tell time to the minute and second and in third and fourth grade they calculate elapsed time. Each time they learn a new concept they are able to associate it with preexisting knowledge. The reiteration of the topic also provides practice to ensure that the skill is retained.
This is compared to a more traditional form of instruction where students are taught sub skills within a particular subject independently until each sub skill is mastered. For example, students are taught how to tell all forms of time and how to calculate elapsed time in second grade and it is never specifically taught again.
One part of our curriculum that has a spiraled structure is Everyday Math. At each grade level, students are introduced to mathematical ideas from arithmetic, algebra, geometry, statistics, measurement, etc. Each time it increases in complexity. The rationale is that when students learn formal division in third grade, it will be easier for them to understand because they were introduced informally to pre division concepts from kindergarten.
Everyday Math is a researched based math curriculum that is used all over the world and can be very effected. This said it is critically important for teachers and parents to be familiar with the structure of Everyday Math and strategically slow down instruction and review material to ensure the students retain enough information to learn a specific topic the next time it is revisited on the spiral (which could be weeks, months or years in the future).
Much research has been done on the amount of exposure that students must have to particular concept before it can be adequately retained in long-term memory. Specified amounts vary and obviously all students learn differently. Because of this teachers using Everyday Math must be careful that the concepts are not spiraled too fast for them to be retained. Within the Everyday Math curriculum there exist flexibility to revisit and reteach concepts. Skilled teachers use ongoing, formative, assessment to constantly adjust the spiraling timeline. Students and parents must also understand that if a homework assignment or classroom activity introduces a topic that seems out of place with the current unit of study, the purpose of the new topic is the review of previously taught material. Also, if the student is not able to master the topic at present time, the same material will be taught again.