What is the spiral curriculum? Let’s see what this way of organizing education consists of.

When the teachers of an educational center try to plan what is going to be studied during the course, it is common to talk about aspects such as the objectives to be achieved, the content to be taught, the teaching method …

However, it is usual to ignore or forget how to organize the knowledge that will be presented during the year, just teaching them one after the other and with the sole intention of waiting for students to memorize and demonstrate it in an exam.

In recent years it has been tried to change this way of teaching, trying to encourage meaningful learning by ensuring that not only what is given in class is memorized, but that it is understood and known to relate to other knowledge. It is in this context that the concept of a spiral curriculum takes on special importance, a way of organizing the knowledge of the academic year that we will see in more detail in this article.

What is a spiral curriculum?

The spiral curriculum is an educational program in which a review of the knowledge previously explained during the course is made. This review is done iteratively, that is, in class, the notions and themes previously seen are repeatedly addressed.

Do not fall into the error of thinking that this type of curriculum implies the mere repetition of the knowledge given over and over again in a superficial way, hoping that the students memorize point by point and comma by comma what has been explained. In the spiral curriculum, knowledge is intended to be established by deepening them, inviting reflection and research.

The first person to describe this idea was Jerome Bruner in 1960. This New York psychologist observed that teachers who taught mathematics, history, and science and managed to transmit their knowledge successfully shared, to a greater or lesser extent, the following teaching methodology.

First, they presented a series of ideas or basic operations intuitively. After mastering these basic notions, they were gradually reformulated with greater complexity, in addition to being connected with other previously acquired knowledge. As a result of this process, the aforementioned subjects were satisfactorily learned, no matter how much content they had and how difficult they might seem.

With this method of knowledge organization, Bruner defended the idea that courses should be promoted around the learning of socially valued issues, principles, and values. The purpose of this was to enable students to learn useful knowledge, which they knew how to apply in their daily lives and to facilitate their development as socially adopted adults.

Key features

The main characteristics of this type of educational curriculum are described below.

1. Review of the content

Throughout the entire course, students see on several occasions the same theme or idea.

Throughout the entire course, students see again, on several occasions, the themes are already given previously.

Thus, by repeating the explanations of knowledge, it is possible to see to what extent the students have learned it and detect possible doubts that may exist.

2. Progressive difficulty

In the beginning, the theme is introduced in a simple and basic way, with the intention that the students get a general idea about the given notion.

Subsequently, when the subject is treated again, it will be done in a way where there is more complexity, introducing more details and increasing the difficulty.

Thus, as the complexity of the syllabus increases progressively, the learning takes place more fluidly, without running the risk of the student being burned by not understanding the new things explained in class.

3. The new is related to the old

New information and skills are introduced, which are related to the knowledge given in previous phases of the spiral.

What was learned at the beginning of the course, that is, in the first spiral loops, is directly linked to what will be learned later.

If the first knowledge is properly introduced, the student will not feel overwhelmed when it is explained again in a more complex way in the future.

4. Increase student skills

Each time the knowledge is revisited, the student’s competence increases, until he reaches the goal agreed in the curriculum.

Benefits of spiral resumes

As we have seen, the design of spiral curricula implies a series of very different characteristics compared to how teaching has been approached from the traditional perspective and its linear form when organizing knowledge. These differences in the spiral method offer, in turn, benefits, which are:

1. Reinforcement of what has been learned

Many teachers often complain that, despite being given a topic that is supposed to have been seen before in other courses, students often say something like ‘I know I gave it but I don’t remember what it was.’

In the spiral curriculum, as we have already mentioned, there is a controlled repetition of the knowledge given.

Although the strategy is not to repeat until given what is given in class, it is true that the more repetition the less likely it is that the given content will be forgotten

2. From simple to complex

The topics that will be addressed during the rest of the course are introduced in a simple enough way to prevent students from over-burning or burning as soon as they start.

One of the factors that influence school failure is the feeling that what is given in class is beyond the reach of the person, feeling a combination of negative emotions such as anxiety and irritability, which contributes to not being interested in studies or subject matter.

Starting from the basics and easily accessible, the level of difficulty is increasing, which means two great advantages.

The first is that the student feels that he has control of the situation and that it is not so difficult for him to learn the new knowledge because he already dominates the previous one.

The second is that he notes that he is progressively learning more and more, being an aspect that contributes to the development of positive emotions and also encourages motivation and interest in learning more.

3. Integration

Traditionally, the teaching has been done in such a way that the content of the subjects was shown completely independently of each other. Even, within the same subject, the content is seen one year was radically different or not at all related to that of later years.

For example, it is common that in the institute the subjects that chemistry and biology are explained in a completely separate way, without using it as an interesting link topic such as organic chemistry and digestive system fluids, for example.

Another case, this time within the same subject, is how biology is usually taught in high school. The first year focuses on the anatomy and functioning of the systems and apparatus of the human body, while the following one is obscured by the chemical composition of the organism and the structure of the DNA.

With the spiral curriculum method, it is not only intended to interrelate the knowledge given in the courses of the same subject, but it is also intended to relate to other subjects.

This integration is a great advantage since the knowledge applied to real-life does not distinguish between subjects or disciplines. In everyday life, what has been learned is applied in various contexts and without borders.

4. Logic sequence

Although this advantage may seem identical to that of traditional linear education, there is a nuance to be taken into account.

Linear education follows a sequence in which knowledge goes one after the other, according to teachers’ preferences.

Here, in the spiral curriculum, this sequence may also imply that knowledge goes one after the other, but after a while, the passage of classes through this knowledge will be repeated, and the level will be increased. There are a hierarchy and a progressive increase in difficulty, and this difficulty is made based on what students have seen.

5. Higher-level objectives

In traditional education, what is sought is that students memorize what is given in class and expose it in an exam or a job.

In the spiral curriculum, students are invited to participate in their training, showing that things seen in class will always have a greater degree of complexity, which invites them to investigate on their own.

For example, related to the previous example in biology, the respiratory system can be explained at the beginning of the course. In future classes, you can explain that certain diseases affect this system, inviting them to search for their medical problems related to breathing and what treatments exist for each of them.

6. Flexibility

This type of curriculum is flexible since it takes into account the assimilated by the students, being able to modify the level of difficulty of the following phases of the spiral, in addition to modifying the content to be related.

Thus, no one is left behind and it is guaranteed that everyone has well-established knowledge, in addition to facilitating constructive learning.