Spiral practice, not instruction

Spiraled instruction stifles learning, writes Coach G in Ed Week.  “We touch on lots of topics each year,” then review the same material the next year and the year after that.  In his first teaching job, “Algebra 2 was such a rehash of the district’s Algebra 1 course that some teachers called it ‘Algebra T-o-o’.”

Consider, for example, area and perimeter, which students are first exposed to in third or fourth grade, and see again in middle school. Yet when area and perimeter come up in high school, most teachers–including me at first–teach them from scratch.

The problem, of course, goes back to the disconnect between kids seeing something and actually learning–and retaining–it. But if it didn’t sink in for them the first, second, or third time a teacher presented it, why should we present it again?

Instead of spiraling touch-and-go instruction, teachers should spiral practice, Coach G writes. “Instead of limiting assignments to recent content from the current course, we should also include problems on earlier content from that course AND previous courses.”

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  1. This is so true

  2. This is one of the things I’ve loved about Singapore math. We’ve done 2nd grade and 1/2 of 3rd grade so far this year (my kid likes math). At the end of each chapter are cumulative reviews, so you can refresh any forgotten concepts. The word problem sections interspersed with the practice problems also bring in older concepts. For instance, when multiplication is taught, some word problems might involve measurement or money to refresh those concepts. If, during application of a concept, you find that it wasn’t really properly understood the first time, you can pull practice problems from the ‘mental math’ and test books (or get a topic-specific workbook if you’re really stuck).

  3. Chartermom says:

    My kids used Saxon Math in elementary school and I seem to remember that previously taught material was always included in practice and homework sheets.