Persona Life Skills Spiral Curriculum
Dr Leila Khouja Walker, Chief Product Officer at Persona Education, presents research evidence and a framework for schools and colleges adopting a multi-year Spiral Curriculum for developing student Life Skills. Using Persona Life Skills, students can develop 22 Life Skills progressively over three levels. Throughout the curriculum students repeatedly reflect on their Persona Insights and Persona Adaptability to inform and deepen learning.
By Dr Leila Khouja Walker, Chief Product Officer
What is a Spiral Curriculum?
In a ‘Spiral Curriculum’ – an approach widely attributed to the psychologist Jerome Bruner – key learning concepts are presented repeatedly, with increasing depth and/or across different contexts. Re-engaging with concepts over time keeps them fresh and allows the student to keep building upon them.
It is based on the three principles of:
1. Cyclical learning
2. Increasing depth on each iteration
3. Learning by building upon prior knowledge
The approach also highlights that learning is a never-ending lifelong process.
Benefits for developing Life Skills
A major global OECD report published in September 2021 showed – shockingly – that 15 year-olds report 30% lower levels of social-emotional skills than 10 year-olds. This fall in skills and wellbeing results in less agency and purpose, poorer academic attainment and lower employability.
“Students use their immediate learning environment as a reference point when assessing their competencies. This is relevant from an intervention and child development perspective because students typically use their immediate learning environment to develop their skills through scaffolding.”
– OECD, Beyond Academic Learning
The OECD suggests that a possible explanation is that the development of social-emotional skills is not systematically built into school curricula to the same extent as the spiral development of cognitive skills, such as reading and mathematics.
Spiral learning enables students to go back and look at previous learning and understanding. It is similar to incorporating or weaving together new details with old knowledge. The new knowledge has a context to relate to, which was built in previous classes. This slowly creates residual knowledge by repeating concepts and skill development, rather than students attempting to remember a whole complex concept, or develop a skill to a higher order level, all at once.
Benefits of a Spiral Curriculum approach for teaching and learning with Persona Life Skills include:
- Understanding is consolidated as skills are revisited
- New skills learning is more readily adopted
- Depth of skill development is gradually increased
The spiral structure also facilitates connections between topics across different subject areas, supporting a cross-curricular approach.
Persona Life Skills supports a Spiral Curriculum
Research by Bandura/Harvard University in 1999 established that having good self-knowledge – in other words knowing yourself – accelerates and deepens the acquisition of Life Skills such as communication, problem-solving and resilience.
That’s why the Persona Life Skills pedagogy – designed for and with young people – starts with students discovering their own and others' unique mix of personality styles using our personality insights framework.
Then in the learning modules focusing on life skills or life challenges, students reflect upon their own unique mix of personality styles, or 'Persona', which they are able to view in the Persona Insights screen upon completion of the Persona Insights quiz. This provides students with insights on their personality characteristics in different contexts, and how they are likely to think, communicate and behave in different situations.
They are also provided with suggested aspects to be mindful of, and growth area mindset tips. In some modules they are also asked to reflect on their peers' personalities, using the Persona Community screen.
This repeated reflection on ‘self’ and ‘others’ builds the foundations of a Spiral Curriculum for Persona Life Skills.
Skill development progression
When we created Persona Life Skills one of the important pedagogical principals we built in was the progressive development of each skill, so students could clearly advance their understanding and acquisition of skills over time.
So, we developed a model for skills progression, in which students can build each of the 22 social-emotional Life Skills individually, and combine them to master six Skillsets. See our Life Skills framework details and definitions here.
Persona skills framework
In partnership with Pearson, we defined three learning levels: Start, Apply and Challenge:
1. Start: Students gain a basic understanding of the Life Skill across different contexts, learn to recognise it and see its benefits.
2. Apply: Students learn how to apply the Life Skill in relevant scenarios, and consider – through their Persona Insights – how their own and others’ mix of personality styles, and their thinking, communication and behaviour, can affect this.
3. Challenge: Students challenge themselves to become more adaptable, considering the needs and preferences of others as well as themselves, and working on their growth areas to achieve mutually beneficial outcomes.
These levels are reflected in the 66 self-directed learning modules in Persona Life Skills – 22 skills x 3 levels.
To support students' engagement as they progress through the development of the 22 Life Skills, learners receive digital PDF certificates.
In our feedback surveys, typically 80-90% of students say they appreciate this recognition of their achievements. Certificates can also be shared as proof of skills development with a prospective employer, next stage education eg. college, training provider or university, as well as family and teachers.
Example Spiral Curriculum
Inside the Persona Life Skills platform, in the Teacher Resources section (sign in required) we have included a three year Spiral Curriculum which provides a ready-made learning journey comprising around 12 hours activity per year.
The modules are grouped into themed Units, each comprising one teacher-facilitated module and two related self-directed modules, ie. ~90 mins learning time per Unit. Most teacher-facilitated modules can be taken as self-directed modules if preferred, though the learning experience will be richer if led by a teacher with a group of students.
Note that each Unit covers three or four of the 22 Life Skills, which are then repeated in future Units, allowing students to use their prior knowledge of each skill, and to deepen their understanding as they revisit the skill in a different context and at a higher level.
With over 80 learning modules in total, and with new modules always in the pipeline, also Persona Life Skills offers schools and colleges the flexibility to design and deliver their own Spiral Curriculum, to suit different combinations of year groups or grades.
Thanks to the possibility of both online or blended learning, and both teacher-facilitated and self-directed learning modules, the curriculum can be delivered in the way that best each school/college's timetable and available resources. For example, you may wish to allocate one term per year, or a block of X weeks, to cover Persona Life Skills for a specific Year/Grade. Or you could spread the Units across a whole academic year, with 1-3 Units per term. The choice is yours!
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Persona Education offers free access to its Persona Life Skills online learning platform for secondary schools and colleges interested in developing their students’ social-emotional life skills, to boost wellbeing and employability. To request a live demo of the platform please get in touch – we would love to talk to you!
About the author: Dr Leila Khouja Walker has been working in the education sector for 25 years. An ex-teacher and pastoral deputy head, she is now a respected edtech and pedagogy thought leader, leading development of the personality insights life skills e-learning app Persona Life Skills, at the Bristol based edtech company Persona Education Ltd. www.persona-life.com