March 8, 2023 | Brent Harris
I’ll admit it. Not a great title for a piece. The word “spiraling” often refers to something going out of control. Instead of picturing a person’s life spiraling into disarray, picture a pair of figure skaters performing a beautiful endless spin on the ice. You know the kind of spin where you wonder how they don’t take each other’s heads off? One of those. Spiraling Content refers to the revisiting of a certain topic or concept within the same class, but also from class to class. For example, in Social Studies class, the 6-8th graders are learning about early civilizations, and in Language Arts class, 7th and 8th grade students are reading “The Epic of Gilgamesh,” the oldest known written story, which came out of ancient Mesopotamia. It all spirals together into a patchwork of information that builds and reinforces and builds and reinforces.
When I was in high school, I read “The Red Badge of Courage” in my Language Arts class. After reading the book, I had to give a presentation explaining the plot. Since my high school was located in Ontario, the American Civil War wasn’t taught in our history classes. I had to do a deep dive into the American Civil War and then attempt to explain the whole conflict in a short five minute presentation, while also doing justice to the plot of Stephen Crane’s novel about a character battling with bravery and cowardice in the American Civil War. Having not learned much about the Civil War before then, I found the overlap between Language Arts and my History class very refreshing. I don’t know if there was a big emphasis on Spiraling Content in my youth, but over the last handful of years, it has become much more prevalent in schools.
At Mustard Seed School, students learn about the same concepts from different class perspectives. A couple weeks ago, I had a meeting to prepare for the 6-8th grade trip to The Met, and I was so impressed with my coworkers’ abilities to make connections between the different class subjects. Art and History and Science all fused together into one amazing curricular hodgepodge, and as a result, concepts were reinforced. When a certain topic is taught to students in different classes, each with their own unique spin on the topic, students learn in a more well-rounded way. Each subject area is a different avenue, and each avenue can burrow and settle in each student’s brain in a new and unique way.
Even though as a teacher it requires a little bit more preparation and organization, the three year “Cycle” in the middle school really opens up teachers to teaching topics over different subject areas. As I mentioned before, History and Language Arts are dancing together right now through Early Civilizations and the art and literature that came out then. Last year, we read “The Diary of Anne Frank” while learning about WWII. Spiraling Content is a great way to reinforce learning and casts a wider net on a unit or topic. It happens regularly in our classrooms at MSS, and we believe it to be a very helpful way for students to learn in a more holistic manner.