Three Roads

I intend to teach my children, and I advocate that everyone who can should do the same. And that everyone who can’t should re-evaluate whether he can.

One of my fascinations is theories of learning. Both because I intend to teach my children and because there are things I, myself, would like to learn. This fascination has already born fruit in the structure of the one educational book I’ve made. Alphabeasts presents the letters of the alphabet in reverse order, with a pause to review the entire alphabet every four or so letters, under the theory that this will help a child learn it more effortlessly and confidently.

Three unrelated (and yet perhaps related after all) concepts have been brought to my attention of late. I want to look at each in turn.

  • The Trivium
  • Smart Notes
  • Direct Instruction

The Trivium

Coincidentally, as I am comparing three educational roads, “Trivium” means “where three roads meet” (tri vium). No, it is not a recursive concept that refers to the Trivium, Smart Notes, and Direct Instruction.

Though this is me using Smart Notes to try and learn about the Trivium…

The go-to text is Teaching the Trivium by Harvey and Laurie Bluedorn, which came highly recommended to me by a homeschooler who has done better with his children than I expect to do.* The concept of the Trivium goes something like this:

All learning passes through three stages.

  1. The Grammar stage, where the student memorizes relevant facts.
  2. The Logic stage, where the student learns the theories, patterns, and abstract principles, that is, how the facts interconnect with one another.
  3. The Rhetoric stage, where the student learns how to apply their knowledge to the external world.

The contentions of Teaching the Trivium, then, include:

  • All learning, from a toddler learning to toddle, to an adult learning a fourth language, passes through these stages.
  • However, as children grow, they pass through phases where they are biologically turbo-charged for a specific phase. They are top-notch memorizers around age 10, start to develop a capacity for abstract thought around 13, and a need to turn around and create something of their own around 16.

There’s more. A lot more. Teaching the Trivium is a beast of a book, with guidelines on how to apply this concept to different subjects, and I’ve not finished it yet. But that’s your bedrock.

Smart Notes

How to Take Smart Notes is an explanation of/advertisement for the Zettelkasten method of organizing your thoughts. But I came across it not because I was looking for a way of organizing my thoughts, but because Reverend Jon Fisk somehow connected it to the idea of learning and to his understanding of productivity systems like Getting Things Done.

I’ve not read Getting Things Done, and I don’t understand the connection Rev Fisk has made there. But he’s recommending to the world not the productivity angle, but the learning angle. Namely, if you externalize your thoughts by taking notes, and you internalize your notes by rewriting them, you can cut through the white noise of our media-saturated era. Especially if you are taking notes on the Scripture.

There’s a curious symmetry between the Trivium and Smart Notes. To wit:

  1. The Grammar Stage is input. You read the book. You take the note. You extract the fact.
  2. The Logic Stage is the Slip Box. You collect your notes together in a way that allows you to cross-link them freely and allow clusters of thought to grow.
  3. The Rhetoric Stage is harvesting a cluster from your Slip Box to turn into a finished work, e.g. a book.

How to Take Smart Notes is focused on academic work, but I think it has great and useful implications for producing almost anything. E.g. I’m attempting to use it to produce illustrated kids’ books even as we speak. However, my question here is “how does this apply to learning?” Can I Smart Note my way into learning Greek? Can I Smart Note my children into learning Greek? And thus, the parallel to the Trivium is intriguing. But let’s step away from the realm of hypothesis and into the realm of the Scientific Method.

Direct Instruction

Rev Fisk is also a man who has demonstrably done better with home schooling than I expect to do*. And this morning on teh Twitterz (sic), Rev Fisk retweeted a thread going on about the absolute best of the best experimentally proven education systems that has been ignored by science: Direct Instruction.

Because the concept is so new to me, I can’t really say much about it. I’ve read a couple of blog posts. I can’t vouch for the studies because I haven’t looked into them. At best I can vouch for a man who vouches for a man who vouches for the studies. But if it is true, it looks from my distant overview like an in-depth hyper-efficient refinement of the Grammar stage of the Trivium.

Anyway, I need to study all this more. If this is the way to learn, well, it’s not just my kids that could use some learning. I’ve got a lot I want to learn as well.

Especially, I want to learn if this exists, and if so, what it is:

Are these three different angles of viewing the key to actual learning, or are they three contradictory systems, only one of which is the One True Way? I don’t know. But I’d like to find out and use the heck out of the answer.


*Though if my children are better equipped to teach their children, at least I’m long-term pushing in the right direction. But, for their sake, I need to do the absolute best I can.

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