This year my district mandated spiral review as a piece of math. For twenty minutes each day, we were expected to engage students in spiral review on topics outlined in our district curriculum. The reaction to this change has hit all ends of the spectrum from teachers teaching a whole separate mini-lesson on the assigned spiral review topic to others skipping this component all together. No matter where they are on the spectrum, the vast majority of teachers argue that it's just not working for them, and here's why.
Where Spiral Review Goes Wrong…
1. It's not data-driven.
A pre-planned spiral review can be great, as long as there is wiggle room. As we collect data, it should become more clear where our students are showing mastery across time and where the struggle continues. A pre-set plan for a year's worth of spiral review is the exact opposite. Instead, we should spiral in more opportunities to practice skills that data indicates are still a struggle with the occasional opportunity to practice those skills students have shown repeated mastery of.
2. Your spiral review takes too long.
Brain research says the average attention span is between 8-10 minutes. When we are spending twenty minutes on a single topic doing a spiral review (in addition to however long our actual lesson is planned to take), we aren't getting much for our time. Breaking the spiraled practice into two smaller chunks is a much better way to ensure that students are truly building automaticity with the skills.
3. There is no routine to make spiral review quick and predictable.
Knowing that the research says 8-10 minutes is ideal, it is important that students area able to get right into the practice. Without a clear routine, it is difficult to ensure that the students are spending those minutes on-task. The research showing that time-on-task is highly correlated to academic outcomes and learning means we cannot afford to spend time transitioning or giving general directions. We need to get down to the work.
4. It's really spiraled instruction.
This one is super common and a misinterpretation of the research on the benefits of spiraling. Spiraled practice, that is the repeated exposure and practice of previously taught skills, has been shown to positively impact student outcomes.
Also called distributed practice, this method has such a strong research-base that it is recommended by the Institute of Educational Sciences (IES). However, what happens is that spiraled practice becomes spiraled instruction, and spiraled instruction has not been shown to improve outcomes.
Instead of planning 1-2 week units and teaching pieces of the same unit five different times in the name of spiral review, design spiral review as a way to give repeated practice to those essential standards so students develop automaticity.
So what does all this mean?
Should you throw out spiral review?
The answer is a resounding NO! By following best practices, time spent on spiral review can help boost student mastery if you just do 3 things:
- Focus on distributed practice vs. instruction.
- Keep it short and focused.
- Have a routine and use your data to adjust.
With those small changes, you can reclaim the effectiveness of this research-based technique. Want to learn more about how I applied the principles of quality spiral review to math in my classroom? Click here to read more about how to design math spiral review or grab a two-week trial of my math spiral review absolutely free.