Last Updated September 14, 2009
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Jerome Bruner's Concept
of the Spiral Curriculum
The lower middle section of
Diego Velazquez's
Las Meninas 
1656, Oil on canvas, 
Museo del Prado, Madrid 

     The KISS pedagogical perspective is highly influenced by the work of Jerome Bruner. Among other things, Bruner argues for "a spiral curriculum in which ideas are first presented in a form and language, honest though imprecise, which can be grasped by the child, ideas that can be revisited later with greater precision and power until, finally, the student has achieved the reward of mastery." (On Knowing, 107-8) 
     KISS Grammar is built around this philosophy. One linguist, for example, objected to the initial KISS presentation of prepositional phrases, noting that it is too simple and does not include phrases that include clauses. But, as is explained in several of the other essays, KISS is designed around five levels that form a spiral curriculum. The levels are also designed to teach the easiest and most frequently occurring constructions first. Consider the question of prepositional phrases.
     In the first level, students are taught to identify simple prepositional phrases -- "in the house," "around the yard," "with blue eyes." At this level, the KISS objectives are to enable students to understand the concept of a prepositional phrase, to learn to recognize the most common prepositions, and to learn how to ask the question "whom or what?" after a preposition to identify the phrase. Later, in Level Two, KISS spirals back to prepositional phrases. At this level, students refine their concept by learning to distinguish prepositions from words that look like prepositions, but that may not be, as in "Put on your thinking cap." Level Two also gives students a clearer concept of prepositional phrases by helping them distinguish when "to" is and is not a preposition. (Some grammar textbooks may touch on this question, but if students are going to analyze real sentences, they will need more practice here than most textbooks provide.) 
     At this level, students also learn to use a simple sentence-test to  distinguish when words such as "after" function as a preposition, and when they do not. If a sentence answers the question "what? after a word that looks like a preposition, then the word is not a preposition:

a.) They watched television after dinner.
b.) They watched television after they ate dinner.
Because "they ate dinner" could be a sentence, the "after" in (b.) is not a prepositional phrase. Some teachers might want to rush in and teach students that in (b.) "after they are dinner" is a subordinate clause. In KISS, however, it is perfectly acceptable to tell students that it is a subordinate clause, but KISS suggests that you not teach subordinate clauses at this point. Simply tell the students that they will learn about clauses in KISS Level Three. For now, they need to learn how to identify prepositional phrases in real texts.
      KISS Level Three begins with the concept of "clause" and compounded main clauses. It does not take most students long to master these two concepts, and once they have, KISS introduces subordinate clauses. Here, the concept of clauses that function as objects of prepositions is formally introduced -- "They were talking about what they want to do on Friday." In the fifth level, the concept is expanded still more to include phrases with noun absolutes -- "With paint splattered all over, it didn't look like a professional job." As Bruner suggests, students cannot master all of this at one time. The simple concepts need to be presented and mastered first.
      Bruner makes another important point that probably also distinguishes the KISS Approach to grammar from almost all others: "Perhaps the most basic thing that can be said about human memory, after a century of extensive research, is that unless detail is placed into a structural pattern, it is rapidly forgotten." (Process, 24.) Most approaches to grammar focus on individual constructions. The students study them, and then leave them to go on to another construction. These pieces are never put together into a structural pattern that students can use to analyze and discuss their own writing. A KISS approach, on the other hand, teaches students to use a limited number of grammatical concepts to analyze (and thus be able to discuss) the structure of sentences. It adds constructions to the students' analytical toolbox, but the student must always use the constructions that were previously studied. In effect, the students gain conscious mastery of the "structural pattern" of English.
      As you use the KISS Approach, you may see that it spirals with other constructions. For example, simple subordinate clauses are taught in Level 3.1. Here students should learn to identify the frequent clauses that function as nouns, adjectives, or adverbs. Once students have mastered these, KISS Level 3.2 introduces several advanced questions about clauses, for examples, semi-reduced and other ellipsed clauses and clauses that can be explained as interjections. But even at this level, students will not be able to explain the function of every clause they may find in a text. Both subordinate clauses that function as appositives and subordinate clauses that function as delayed subjects are introduced in KISS Level Five. The principle is simple--start with the simplest and most frequently used types of a construction. Once students have mastered these, KISS spirals back to add examples from the outer fringes. (See the following essay on Piaget and Vygotsky.)