From Spiral Curriculum to Spiral Learning?

In the 1960’s, Bruner argued that curriculum should be designed as a spiral, with learners of all ages and abilities capable of learning key concepts at varying, intensifying levels of complexity as they develop.  This idea validated the capacity to learn what matters as inherent in all people in a rather radical way.

Today, in the context of the need for further radical understanding of human capacity, I wonder what it would it mean to imagine not only curriculum but learning, and even learners ourselves as spirals.  We could envision learning as a process of turning around a center both established and emergent. In this process, circles, cycles, and bows comprise the prevailing imagery, rather than timelines, races, ladders . . .  rather even than storylines, as narrative itself gives way at times to the creative process of generating knowledge.

In this connection, education has something to learn from traditions of non-linear thought.  This is a philosophical warrant for arts education, certainly, and also for considering the roles of intuition, inspiration, and emotion in learning. Recently, I’ve been trying to appreciate the past spirally — as nourishment for creativity, not simply as something to improve upon or evolve beyond or not be conditioned by.

In teaching, it can be hard to remember that life means everything is always moving, and is capable of doing so in every direction. For me at least, there’s pressure to look for movement/growth in one area or direction, expect stillness in others, and blur out the rest.  Maybe this is sometimes necessary, but perhaps less often than I was trained to expect.  When I picture learning as spirals, it is easier to remember the capacity to move in all directions — back (but differently each time), forward (taking, taking off from, and changing what was behind), and around to connect more and more together.

In the coming time, we are going to continue to need strong approaches to countering many forms of human diminishment in and outside of school.  What image of learners and learning are you taking forward to strengthen your approach?