The Trivium Explained

Often, classical education is thought of as a defined three-stage process called the trivium. A closer look reveals that the trivium is an instructional method that includes the three elements of the classical disciplines. These elements are grammar, logic, and rhetoric. This pedagogy is applied from the earliest lessons, both formal and informal. Parents and teachers alike realize that all humans, regardless of age, experience changing stages of development. In order to meet the needs of the developing students so that they can gradually comprehend, the best teachers instruct by applying the three elements as they are appropriate for the students apart from age.

The Elements of the Trivium

Grammar

Although the three parts of the trivium are applied to all learning for all students, regardless of age, they are most often understood in application to the developmental age of the students. The first stage, grammar, is not the “subject” of grammar; rather, it is the study of the basic facts of different subjects. This stage applies to children of approximately six to ten years old, the stage when children are the most receptive to information and will readily memorize. Focus is placed on reading, writing, and spelling; an elementary study of Latin; basic math skills; and developing observation, listening, and memorization skills.

The aim at this stage is to give the students the tools to master the elements of language and to develop a general framework of knowledge. Along the way the students are taught and expected to make application of logic and rhetoric so that as each student matures, mastery of these elements will emerge.

Logic

The maturing students naturally begin to demonstrate independent or abstract thought initiating the next stage of development for children ages eleven through thirteen or fourteen. Commonly called the logic stage, students of this age often express sincere questions and a desire to search for the reasons behind long-held principles and truths. Building upon the foundational skills, the wise teacher will recognize this tendency to question and to debate, and utilize it as a tool to mold and to shape the students’ mind. This will be done by teaching logical discussion, engaging in debates, and demonstrating how to draw correct conclusions and support them with facts. The pedagogy equips students with language and thinking skills, making them capable of detecting fallacies in an argument. This is the stage in which the students begin to actually pick up and to use the tools mastered in the earlier years of learning. They begin to develop the skills to define their terms, to make accurate statements, to construct an argument, and, at times, much to the chagrin of parents, to see fallacies in the arguments of others. This molding of thought and communication skills is not to promote in students a superior, critical, or negative attitude, but to cultivate discerning and thoughtful students, students who know when to follow and when to lead.

Rhetoric

The maturing students begin to master the skills of language and logic. The rhetoric stage emerges in students at approximately age fourteen and above. As the students advance in the trivium, they can use language, both written and spoken, eloquently and persuasively, to express what they think; a natural yearning for young adults.