Thursday, December 30, 2010

Mastery vs Spiral vs Incremental Approach to Homeschooling

I admit to having never heard these terms before we started homeschooling. I figured all curriculums were pretty much the same at the core. I was wrong. They are very different approaches. I hope that this post gives you some insight as to which approach might be more appropriate for your child(ren). Both of these approaches can be found in all subjects, but are more likely to be brought up in the context of math(although can apply to language arts as well) so that is where I will focus when writing this blog post.

What is the Mastery Approach?

The idea behind the mastery approach is simply, that in order for a child to have a firm grasp on a concept in order to be able to do more advanced concepts. Therefore, specific topic (ie...adding single digit numbers) is taught until that skill is mastered. You might also see this labeled as sequential learning.

What is the Spiral Approach?

The spiral approach is what we most commonly see used in "brick and mortar" schools. This style of curricula is based on the idea that the student will learn through repetition. Topics are taught once and then you move on. The next lesson will review the previous concept(s) while also introducing the new one, thus, building on to each lesson. Generally, a wider variety of concepts can be covered when using this method over a mastery approach.

What about Incremental Curriculums?

These curriculums are basically in the middle. They present new material, but still give plenty of time to master the material before moving on to the next topic.

Which is better?

Like most topics regarding children, the short answer is, whatever works for your child. Some children are able to pick up on topics and are ready to move on quickly. Spiral curriculums allow for a faster pace and will definitely keep your child from getting bored with topics they have already mastered. Some children require more time and do better when they are able to focus on one topic at a time. Some need a bit of both. I suspect most benefit from a mixture of more than one approach. For example in our house we use a mastery approach to math and a spiral approach with language arts. It's what works for us.

What are Some Mastery Curriculums?

Math U See


What are Some Spiral Curriculums?


Analytical Grammar

Rod and Staff

What are Some Incremental Curriculums?



I have only used a few of these curriculums. We settled on Math U See for our math and Abeka for our language arts. There are reviews to just about every curriculum available on Homeschool Review, so be sure to check it out before you buy!


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