The Importance of Spiral Review for Effective Student Learning

SCREEEEEEEECH!!! That’s the sound heard in many classrooms as teachers are forced to hit the brakes on teaching engaging lessons and creative activities that they know are beneficial to their students because it is time to spend WEEKS preparing for whatever test their state or district has decided their students must take.

This was the problem I faced each year in my third grade classroom and was something I was hearing was an issue in classrooms all over the country. 

To make things worse, I found that although my students would demonstrate proficiency in a skill or concept at the time it was formally taught, they would often show misconceptions when we would review for the standardized tests in the spring. This was true for both math and ELA.

I desperately needed a solution and am thrilled to say I found one: SPIRAL REVIEW!  (Don’t worry if you are thinking, “What does spiral review mean?” I’ve got you covered with a simple definition below!)

This blog post will…
  • describe what spiral review is
  • explain why it is important for you as a teacher
  • suggest 5 ways to incorporate it in your elementary classroom

What is spiral review?
Spiral review is the idea that after introducing and teaching a foundational concept or skill, students continue to practice it regularly throughout the school year in order to maintain what they have learned.  It is an integral part of every 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and 5th grade classroom.

Why is spiral review important?
  • Spiral review gives students the opportunity to practice key concepts and skills regularly, which helps them maintain foundational skills throughout the school year that they need for higher level learning opportunities.
  • If a student does not achieve proficiency with a concept or skill when it is first taught, he or she has many more opportunities to strengthen their understanding and reach mastery.
  • Spiral review empowers teachers to quickly assess students to see where they are currently performing. Then teachers can use this information to provide purposeful data-driven instruction that meets the individual needs of her students. 
  • It promotes confidence amongst students because they are familiar with the content.
  • It serves as the perfect center, because students can work on it independently.
  • It reduces the amount of class time required for test prep, since students get continued practice throughout the school year.

5 Ideas for How to do Spiral Review in Your Classroom
  1. Morning Work: Consider setting up a daily routine in your classroom where your students work on a spiral review task right after they finish unpacking their things. It’s a quiet independent activity that helps students start the day on the right foot (while you take attendance, lunch count, and check for notes without interruptions).
  2. Calendar Time: Perhaps you could implement a spiral review routine during your calendar time, which lends itself especially well to reviewing math skills.
  3. Small Group Instruction: Think about starting the first 2 or last 2 minutes of your guided reading or guided math group with a quick review to help students get settled after a transition and get the practice they need.
  4. Centers: Whether it is part of your Daily 5, Daily 3, math workshop rotations, or something else - use your centers to reinforce and provide practice opportunities to your students through fun and engaging games or other printable resources.
  5. Homework: Send home a spiral review worksheet each night so students get the practice they need. Both parents and students love consistent homework, because it takes all of the guesswork out of it! Learn more about my homework system here!

5 Tips for Implementing Spiral Review in Your Classroom
  1. Incorporate content area word walls into your classroom design. Use these boards to play games which will enable your students to regularly access important vocabulary and will help them to internalize it.
  2. Designate a container to house any pages you had copied during a unit and planned to have your students complete, but didn't get around to doing. Use these pages when you have spare minutes to fill, as independent work during math workshop, or when you are planning for a substitute teacher.
  3. Have your students design games as a culminating project to a unit. Make these games available throughout the remainder of the year for additional practice. As an added benefit, this is a fabulous activity for your students seeking enrichment and early finishers.
  4. As you find online games that are great for reinforcing specific concepts, write them down on popsicle sticks and place them into a cup. Start or end your time in the computer lab by randomly picking a stick and having your student spend some time playing that game.
  5. If you are teaching a lesson and are interrupted by the phone or a visitor, instruct your students to "turn and talk" to a neighbor about everything they remember about (fill in the blank). You'll want to practice this a few times, but once the expectations are established it'll be a great way to make productive use of time that would otherwise be wasted.
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