Curriculum Approaches to Learning

There are different types of curriculum design used to introduce new concepts to students and effectively guide them through instruction.  Here are three of the most common approaches:

Mastery Learning

Under the Mastery Learning Model, students must completely master simple concepts before proceeding to more complex concepts within the subject. For example, a student must demonstrate that he can confidently and correctly read simple words in a sentence before reading a book. The teacher helps the student build a strong foundation before advancing to progressively more difficult material.

Spiral Learning

Under the Spiral Learning Approach, the teacher introduces a new concept and provides students some practice before reintroducing concepts taught earlier in the year.  When reinforcing prior learning, the teacher introduces material at a deeper level. For example, students who were introduced the concept of multiplication are then exposed to the concept of multiplying fractions. The approach works well for gifted and talented students who grasp concepts quickly and can understand how related ideas interconnect.

Unit Study

A Unit Study Curriculum uses hands-on activities to investigate a subject from multiple perspectives.

For example, a unit about the American Revolutionary War could explore colonial life (i.e., dress, art, music, games, and food), Revolutionary War weaponry and the science behind it, sources of conflict with Great Britain, and the influence of religion and philosophy. Students would read primary sources and examine artifacts. Often the unit ends with a culminating activity such as a presentation day to give students the opportunity to present the knowledge they have learned.


By understanding the type of curriculum the teacher uses, you can help your child succeed. For example, if your child is struggling to understand a math concept and you know that concept will be revisited later in the year (Spiral Method), you can encourage him to practice during the interim.