Thursday, June 23, 2011

The Classical Method of Learning

Talk to any homeschool mom and one of the first questions she'll ask you is "what method do you use?". Well, here's your answer: we use the classical method.

I've always loved the classical method of learning. The classical method began in the Middle Ages and was the approach used to educate some of the greatest minds in history. This approach teaches the student how to learn for themselves. The five tools of learning, known as the trivium, are reason, record, research, relate and rhetoric.

In the grammar stage, (grades K-5) the students minds are like sponges. They soak up information and absorb facts, facts and more facts. Contrary to the modern disdain for it, there is absolutely nothing wrong with an emphasis on knowing by heart and mastering important information during this stage of learning. Whereas it is dull and laborious later, young children can easily retain information and love to display their mastery of it. The students are basically taught the grammar (words, definitions, etc.) of the core subjects. They memorize math facts, history timelines, definitions used in various subjects. The idea here is to hammer in a 'peg' that they can come back to in the later stages to 'hang' further information on as they learn. Mastering the facts gives the student the foundation of further understanding.

During the next stage, the dialectic stage, also known as the logic stage, (grades 6-8) students will spend much of their time doing some serious reading, writing, studying and research. During the dialectic stage the student’s capacity for formal reasoning develops. So why not stick the peg where it fits? This is the stage when learning facts is not enough. Questioning and arguing is commonplace, and often even a nuisance. Children reaching this age are eager to challenge ideas and exercise their newly developing reasoning abilities. Learning formal logic and the correct methods of reasoning fit in this stage like hand-in-glove. Logic, as a subject, matches the structure of their developing minds. Amazingly, classical and Christian schools have been quite successful in teaching college level logic to eighth graders (including formal syllogisms, fallacies, truth tables, and digital logic)!

All of the tools come together in the rhetoric stage, (grades 9-12) where communication is the primary focus. They learn the skills of wise and effective presentation in language. Rhetorical skill is the culmination of the process of learning. It brings knowledge and understanding together to be expressed in a wise, persuasive form.

If you'd like to read more about Classical Education, I would recommend the following books:
The Well Trained Mind (Jesse Wise)
The Well Educated Mind (Susan Wise Bauer)
Recovering the Lost Tools of Learning (Douglas Wilson)
Teaching the Trivium (Harvie and Laurie Bluedorn)

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