Three Stages of Learning
The foundational philosophy of classical education is centered around the idea that learning occurs in three stages, referred to as the “Trivium” (Latin meaning “three ways”). In each of these stages, students possess identifiable characteristics which naturally correspond to the maturing capacity of a child’s mind. Additionally, these learner characteristics help determine the best methods for teaching at each stage of development. The three stages of learning are defined as grammar, logic, and rhetoric.
GRAMMAR STAGE (grades Pre-K through 5th)
The Science of Correct Language Usage
This stage focuses on the fundamental facts and rules of a subject along with discovering and ordering basic information on a subject. Because young students’ minds function like sponges with the ability to soak up a great deal of information, there is much emphasis on exposure to facts in this stage of learning. Teaching methods such as singing, chanting, and recitation are utilized when presenting facts, appealing to children in this age range. Hands-on projects and manipulatives are also utilized in the grammar stage to provide greater opportunity for discovery.
In the grammar stage, a lesson on Abraham Lincoln would focus on primary facts such as:
- Where is his hometown and state?
- What was his wife’s name?
- Why did he wear that stovepipe hat?
- Against whom were his famous debates?
- Why is he so important to Americans?
LOGIC STAGE (grades 6th-8th)
The Science of Right Thinking
The logic stage builds upon the grammar stage by going beyond basic information (who, what, when, where) to seeking to answer the “why” of a subject. During adolescence, a student’s capacity for abstract thought grows tremendously. They naturally tend to question information at this time in their development; therefore, students in this stage are taught to analyze, reason, question, evaluate, and critique in order to gain understanding. Logic, the art of reasoning and arguing correctly, is also taught during the logic stage.
A lesson on Abraham Lincoln at this stage might include questions requiring reasoning such as:
- How did his upbringing influence his worldview?
- Why did he see the value in maintaining the Union?
- Why is his Gettysburg Address so enduring?
- What value assumptions compelled him to end slavery?
- How did his assassination affect Reconstruction?
RHETORIC STAGE (grades 9th-12th)
The Science of Expression
After obtaining core knowledge in the grammar stage and learning to question and evaluate the core knowledge in the logic stage, students then learn how to express and apply knowledge in the rhetoric stage. Debate, apologetics, speech, writing, and drama are emphasized at this time in order to help students become more effective communicators.
The following are example questions that might occur during a lesson on Abraham Lincoln during the rhetoric stage:
- After reading Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, discuss the effect it had on both domestic policies and foreign relations.
- Research Lincoln’s debates with Stephen Douglas; analyze how the debates propelled Lincoln and the Republicans to national prominence.
- Given your understanding of Lincoln’s ten percent plan, how did his assassination strengthen the position of Congress in controlling Reconstruction?
- How did Lincoln justify his restrictions on the Bill of Rights during the Civil War? How does this relate to presidential powers today?
For more information, see Lost Tools of Learning chart.