Who Leads the Dance…Pedagogy or Particulars?
by Tom Garfield
PART IV. Re-tooling our teaching, instead of relying on great content
First, look at the students, then cut with the grain…
Teaching classically, i.e. with a view toward preparing them for future learning, requires that we re-examine the way we view the students and their growth. Dorothy Sayers noted three levels, poll-parrot, pert, and poetic. She was adopting the premise of beginning formal education at about eight years old (based on the historical, Greco-Roman model). But we may have four through seven year-olds. They are profoundly different than their third grade fellow students and require specific, well thought-out preparation for the “full” grammar stage. So, we must teach to four, not just three, levels and their corresponding characteristics.
The students in this pre-polly stage, as we have named it (keeping with the alliteration), are very sensory driven and, like the older grammar students, are not deep thinkers. But they are quite a bit younger and, at this point, that means a great deal. They still need us to help them make some sense out of the world and more particularly, the way to learn about it (see the Lost Tools Chart). This is a crucial time in which we can help them build mental “shelves” upon which later material will be “stacked,” mostly through memorization. We do this by using all the students’ senses to our advantage. They are still young enough to enjoy tasting, touching, moving, singing, hearing as ways of gaining more understanding. Their senses are like five-lane highways all flowing into their brains and at their age traffic is flowing well in all lanes. Why not use those lanes? It won’t be too long before these students get older and, as with most adults, the lanes narrow to about two, sight and hearing, for most brain-traffic.
Consider: Why do our grandmothers remember the little songs and poems from their youth? It’s probably not because of the intrinsic value of the content, but rather because of HOW they learned them. That is, most likely through repetition, singing, chanting, at a particularly appropriate time when those techniques appealed so much.
Then the poll-parrot, pert, and poetic students need us to use the same approach. That is, consider their natural, God-given strengths and affinities, then arrange and tailor our chosen content to fit the classical teaching methods we employ.
Remember where we got the trivium, from the first three of the seven liberal arts. It was a way of learning how to learn so that when the students mastered the learning techniques in grammar, logic or dialectic and rhetoric, they could move into the hard core academic content of the quadrivium: geometry, music, arithmetic and astronomy.