Imagine learning something brand new. A week goes by, a month goes by, two months go by, maybe more. Now you have to take a test on that new information. How are you going to do? Not so well, I imagine. This is exactly what we are doing to students every year. The solution? Teaching standards continuously throughout the year instead of in one big “chunk”.
It’s simple, really…there are two main ways of presenting information to our students. One, we present information in “chunks” by teaching one skill at a time. Or, two, we “spiral” standards in small doses throughout the entire school year. Instead of teaching fractions in October and hoping our students still remember them by the time April rolls around, we touch on fractions continuously throughout the year. In the first method, the chunking method, most students will not be successful. We are not giving them enough time to truly grasp the concept being taught. We are also not giving ourselves enough time to really teach, and reteach the standards to our students. In the second method, the spiraling method, we are providing multiple opportunities for our students to be successful, and for us to assess our students, reteach when necessary, and see where they still need help. Students may not completely grasp a concept the first time around, but by having multiple experiences with the concept throughout the year, they will surly have time to fully understand it by the end of the school year.
**Let me take a moment to clarify. Chunking and spiraling simply refer to how information is presented, not taught. Many teaching strategies can be used in both methods. For me, spiraling is just ONE important component of an effective classroom, not the only component.
By now you must be wondering how this will actually look in a classroom. I’m sure there are many different ways to approach spiraling the standards, but I can only tell you what has worked in my classroom. I must warn you…I am a teacher who likes things that are effective, yet “low-maintenance”. The strategies I’m going to mention do not require a whole lot of prep-time, and are very easy to implement.
When I decided to start spiraling, I knew I wouldn’t be doing it 100% of the time. My goal was to spiral when I could, and when it made sense. Here is what I did…
- Whole Group Lessons – this is probably one of the only areas I used the chunking method. I taught for an entire week or two on one specific skill. When I was done teaching and assessing a concept, I moved on to the next one. This was my time to lay the foundation for each skill I presented. This is definitely NOT spiraling, but was what worked for me in my classroom.
- Small group instruction – I used small group instruction to reinforce my whole group lesson, and also provide at least 5 minutes of spiral review. Each day I would focus on a previously taught skill, and provide extra practice with that skill. The spiral part of my group lessons moved at its own pace. This was great because it also promoted differentiation in my teaching, which is a whole other topic.
- Centers – Each week I made a point to incorporate at least one “spiral” center in Reading and Math. I would choose a game/activity that reviewed a previously taught concept. Each week, we would revisit a different skill. I kept a collection of various games and activities that I could easily set out for my students to use.
- Calendar Math – Calendar math is a fun way to review key math concepts on a daily basis. You can read more about it in this post.
- Homework – my homework routine has always been a “strictly spiral” review. I don’t feel it is effective to send home work on something my students literally just learned in class. More than likely, they are going to complete the homework incorrectly, and I will just have more reteaching to do the next day. Instead, I use homework as an opportunity to have my students practice skills they have already fully learned. This constant daily homework practice is a key component in the spiraling that happens with my students.
- Morning work – Just like homework, I use this time to review previously taught concepts. It can be as simple as posting 4 review problems on the board to have your students work on before the day starts.
- Spiral Assessments – Spiral assessments are used to continuously assess my students’ true progress throughout the school year and monitor how they are learning. This helps guide my lessons and any reviewing I feel is necessary. You can read an entire post about these assessments here.
I used this model for years in my classroom, and here is what I noticed….
1. ALL of my students met the standards by the end of the school year! I never had to stress about my students learning the standards right away because I knew they would have the opportunity to practice and learn the standard throughout the year.
2. My struggling students were able to feel success more often. Instead of always being faced with a new concept they didn’t quite understand yet, they were able to continue to work on standards they were more confident in.
3. There was no need to review standards at the end of the school year before high-stakes testing. With spiraling, students are keeping standards fresh all year long.
4. My students’ parents were more involved and aware of what their child was learning in class, and how they were progressing.
5. I was more aware as a teacher as to how my students were progressing, and where they needed more support.
When I was in the classroom, spiraling was a must. Now, as a homeschooling parent, I make a point to include spiraling activities with my daughter on a daily basis. I have seen firsthand how effective spiraling can be, and I strongly encourage all teachers and homeschooling parents to give it a try. You won’t regret it!!!
Here are a few FREE resources that you can use to help you get started.
Spiral Assessments } Available for grades 1-12
Calendar Math (not free)