What do they mean by “spiral up”?

empirebloom   *Design by Literacy Coach J. Hayhurst (2005)


Terms such as “spiral up” or “staircase of complexity” can only confuse those trying to figure out the nuances associated with the common core. After an afternoon of researching “spiral up”, “staircase of complexity” and “spiral staircase”, I decided this is one of those terms that sounds great but is impossible to explain without an image.

So.. I found my way back to Benjamin Bloom (see image above) and his genius of how to move from lower to higher order thinking, cementing prior knowledge before adding new information.  The image reflects higher order thinking in a very straightforward “upward bound” approach, but hidden from view is the spiral staircase that allows students to “spiral back around” as they progress upward. The common core standards are a backwards design approach, with the far reaching goal embedded in being college and career ready.  The “spiral up” approach basically explains how the standards are introduced in one grade, and reinforced in consequent grades with more complex texts and increased critical thinking requirements. “Spiral back” means students are reviewing and reinforcing skills within one standard at different levels of complexity, always moving forward, but maybe not all at the same pace.

When a student is becoming proficient the particular skill is based on a standard that might have been introduced in kindergarten, reinforced in the first grade, and attained in the second grade.  The literacy spiral explains the concept visually by defining stages of development and proficiency within the framework of developing reading, writing, and spelling skills at specific grade levels.


The Spiral Staircase Model from a1998 study, Preventing Reading Difficulties in Young Children. (Snow, C.E., Burns, S. M., & Griffin, P. (Eds.).Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press).

Understanding both the vertical and spiraled alignment of common core state standards with college and career readiness from the most formative years, is critical to understanding the impact of the common core on the youngest learners. The spiraled approach is consistent with self regulation learning theory.  More to follow on this connection in next post.

Screen Shot 2014-01-07 at 10.11.28 AM

(Zimmerman, 1996)


*Jennifer Hayhurst, Literacy Coach at South Country Central School District created the Bloom’s graphic in January 2005. Retrieved from Google Images January 7, 2014.

2 thoughts on “What do they mean by “spiral up”?

  1. The image you used to explain the Staircase of Complexity is something I created. Thank you. I merged Bloom’s Taxonomy with Raphael’s QAR (Question Answer Relationship). Bloom drives instruction through critical thinking – Raphael is like a vehicle to drive student engagement with text.

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