Spiral Curriculum

Curriculum Shorts (Some short musings about curriculum)

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In his book, The Process of Education, Jerome Bruner wrote that:

‘A curriculum as it develops should revisit… basic ideas repeatedly, building upon them until the student has grasped the full formal apparatus that goes with them’

This idea was central to the spiral curriculum. It should also be central to any knowledge-rich approach to education today. In every subject there are ideas, concepts – foundational knowledge upon which a subject studied is built. (Some examples: Empire and Colonialism, Revolution, Drawing, Painting, Sculpture, The Novel, Poetry, Sauces and Gravies, Particles, Cells, Staging, Physical and Mental well-being…) Some of these might be argued about, and should be, but the point is ascertaining what are the organising principles around which a subject curriculum might flow. These ‘basic ideas’ recur.

If we think about painting in an art curriculum we know it covers a lot of different techniques, tools, paints, styles, eras, artists, etc. and each time we revisit ‘painting’ we learn more about painting as a whole as well as the particularities of painting being taught at the time. It would be ridiculous to teach painting all at once and never return to it. By returning later the learning is reinforced and, if we take into account forgetting as a way of forging better learning, it seems sensible to keep returning and building upon what was done before rather than leaving it so long as to render it completely forgotten or so lost in the midsts of time as to be difficult to resurrect. ‘We do painting in the Autumn term of y7′ doesn’t really cut it.

By spiralling around, we return, but when returning we build upon previous knowledge and expand the pupils’ repertoire, their knowledge.

What are the organising principles, ideas, concepts, precepts, the foundational knowledge in the subject that you teach? A knowledge-rich curriculum can be built around these, ensuring good retention, good thinking, ‘joined-upness’, good progress and a curriculum in which the central narrative(s) and tenets are clear.


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