The Natural Stages of Learning

A classical education partitions the goals, activities and content of a child’s learning into three fundamental stages of learning which are aligned to the natural development of a child’s inclinations and cognitive capacities.

Grammar Stage (Kindergarten – 5 th Grade):
This age’s distinguishing cognitive capacity is memorization. Children at this age love to memorize and they are good at it! In this stage the ‘grammar of learning’ or, the verbal, written and conceptual building blocks of future thought and understanding is built up through memorization strategies involving repetition, rhyme, song, etc. The fundamental elements or tools of reading, writing, mathematics, history, linguistics and the study of nature are put into place to be built upon in a child’s succeeding stages of learning. The three cognitive goals in this stage of learning are: 1) Paying attention as a willful activity of attending
2) Memorization as an exercise and development of this faculty
3) Imitating as an ability to recognize keyelements and being able to replicate them afterward, both in the correct sequence and accurately.

Logic Stage (6 th – 8 th Grade):
This age’s distinguishing cognitive capacity is to experience meaning or to understand. These students love to argue from a point of view (have you noticed?!) Students at this stage are guided by the educator posing essential questions, which promotes key habits of deeper thought, including: organizing, comparing and contrasting, conducting research, ordering ideas, and writing from another’s perspective. This approach comes to include an introduction to the elements of argumentation, formal logic and debate. Students are trained in creating written exposition that is organized, carefully worded and informed. There are three cognitive goals in this stage of learning: 1) Prioritizing and summarizing details by identifying the few, key elements that define the content, 2) Identifying similarities and differences through comparing and contrasting key ideas and essential details, 3) Making and evaluating inferences based on partial evidence and prior knowledge.

Rhetorical Stage (9 th – 12 th Grade):
This age’s distinguishing capacity is to apply, judge and express learning. In high school classical education settings, students are guided in analyzing, synthesizing, deriving judgements and communicating persuasively their positions.