How does spiral review help long-term retention and learning?
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Spiral Review, Long-Term Retention

How will spiral review impact long-term retention for your students’ learning?

Spiral review can have a major impact on long-term retention. Cognitive scientist Jerome Bruner wrote decades ago (1960), “Even the most complex material, if properly structured and presented, can be understood.”

You can take a basic skill such as spelling the long A sound with the vowel digraph ai. Teach it two different ways:

  1. A 15-minute mini-lesson followed by a 15-minute written practice.
  2. A series of five 3-minute spiral review sessions spread over several weeks.

Results of Spiral Review

The 15-minute mini-lesson will likely result in an immediate and clear understanding of the spelling pattern. And students will be able to show mastery on the written task. However, you will find that students do not apply the skill in their writing 6 months from the date of the mini-lesson. This is because of a lack of long-term retention and recall.

The result is the commonly heard, “I taught this, why don’t they get it?”

I taught this, why don’t they get it? The answer, long-term retention & spiral review.Click To Tweet

On the other hand, the spiral review approach of five, 3-minute spiral review sessions will increase long-term retention and recall. Five spiral review sessions will give students more learning opportunities and chances to deepen their long-term retention and application. And they will take less overall instructional time (15 minutes vs. 30 minutes in the first example).

Don’t believe me? Read this case study of students who achieved greater than 200% growth in daily spiral review.

Students in the spiral review will not come away with a clairvoyant understanding after the first session. But their surface-level knowledge will deepen with each re-occurring spiral review. Also, their ability to retain and recall the knowledge in the long-term will improve.

Why does spiral review improve long-term retention, recall, and application?

  1. Learning is spread over time.
  2. Spiral review uses multiple exposures.
  3. The structure of the learning slowly progresses from simple to complex.
  4. Time to process the learning is increased.
  5. Time to attempt application of the learning is increased.
  6. Re-occurring spiral review is an opportunity for feedback and relearning.
A properly structured spiral review can increase long-term retention and application.Click To Tweet

Properly Structured for Long-Term Retention

Bruner’s quote from above assumes a few critical pieces are in place. The curriculum scope and sequence must be “properly structured” to optimize long-term retention and recall.

Current research affirms this idea. Here a few findings from a recent article on ERIC. Spiral review should be designed so that:

  1. The student revisits a topic, theme, or subject several times.
  2. The complexity of the topic or theme increases with each revisit.
  3. New learning has a relationship with old learning with an opportunity to add to the previous learning.

This is what we aim to do with our spiral warm-ups (browse our word study scope and sequence here). Each unit builds on the previous. There are ample opportunities to build long-term learning and revising in the spiral reviews. And…

We are developing more spiral review than just word study. In 2018, you will see the complexity increase from word knowledge to more advanced reading skills. But we’ll share more on that later.

Please download this review to see the theory and empirical strengths and weaknesses of spiral review.

[thrive_link color=’blue’ link=’’ target=’_blank’ size=’medium’ align=’aligncenter’]Download the Article (PDF)[/thrive_link]

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