I remember when I first started learning how to drive a car. I was taught simply the basics: how to turn it on, which pedal was the gas, which pedal was the brake, and how to steer. Then it was a matter of experience behind the wheel. I was not taught the inner workings of the car and even when I learned how to drive a manual car, it wasn’t necessary for me to know why the clutch transfers power from the engine to the wheels. It was necessary to know the what and how first.
Currently in education, the trend is “Higher Order” questioning. There is a push to ask the interpretive and evaluating questions before the students have the basic knowledge of the facts understood. Let’s consider Bloom's Taxonomy, a classic that was written in 1956.
My simple example of how I learned to drive a vehicle can be analyzed under Bloom's Taxonomy as follows:
Remember: Which pedal is the gas? Which pedal is the brake? Where does the key go to start the engine?
Understand: When does the car stop? When does the car turn to the left? What is a car used for?
Apply: When I pushed the pedal, the car stopped. What happens when I push the pedal at different speeds? When I reverse the car, why does the car move to the left when I steer to the right? How do I parallel park a vehicle?
Analyze: What are the functions inside the vehicle and how do they work together to convert gasoline into mechanical energy? What principles of physics are used in determining the rate of acceleration or applying sufficient force to the brake to stop the vehicle? How does the mass in the engine protect the driver by reducing the rate of deceleration during a head on collision?
Create: How do I design and build a vehicle?
While higher order questions such as analyze and create are important, it is almost impossible for a first time driver to analyze the inner workings of the car. Fundamental skills like remembering and understanding must occur for the higher order thinking to be successful.
Let’s compare this to the West Virginia Academy School model. We will be using the Classical Model developed centuries ago by the Greeks. This model is referred to as the Classical Trivium, trivium meaning three stages.
The Grammar stage (ages 0 - 9) similar to the Remember and Understand stage in Blooms Taxonomy - This stage is where our main focus is on obtaining foundational knowledge and facts. Young children have a propensity to learn facts with relative ease, through songs, rhymes, and repetition.
The Logic stage (ages 9 - 14) similar to the Apply and Analyze stage in Blooms Taxonomy - This stage is where our main focus is on critical thinking. During the middle school years, students naturally begin to think more independently and have a tendency to argue. Logic teaches students to think and analyze. Ultimately helping them formulate opinions and arguments in organized facts and statements.
Rhetoric stage (ages 14 - beyond) similar to the create stage in Blooms Taxonomy - This stage is where effective communication is the ultimate focus. Once a student has obtained the facts in the grammar stage, and developed the necessary skills to organize those facts into arguments, the student is now ready to focus on developing effective communication skills to share their ideas with others. This would be in the form of research papers, speeches, debates, etc.
While there is a focus specific to each stage all skills are being developed during all the stages. Knowledge builds on knowledge. Studies have shown that “where schools emphasize broad factual knowledge, students become more curious and engaged. They’re being set-up for success.”*
*Adapted from Why Core Knowledge Promotes Social Justice, You Can Always Look It Up — Or Can You, and Why General Knowledge Should be a Goal of Education in a Democracy, all by E.D. Hirsch, Jr.