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The Tools of Learning and The Learning Process

One of the definitions for the word tool is “anything that serves as a means: as, books are a scholar’s tools“. (Webster’s dictionary) The primary definition of tool identifies it as an implement or instrument used for work. In considering these two definitions one can ask, “If the work of a child’s (or a person’s) life is to learn, then how will that occur?”. In other words, what are the tools of learning? Whatever these tools are, they will be instruments to do the work of learning, and serve as a means to learning. The classical model identifies these tools of learning as the trivium: Grammar, Dialectic (Logic), and Rhetoric.

I. The Tools of Learning Defined:

A. Grammar – The terms, words, ‘facts’ of a subject

B. Logic – The ‘thinking through’ of a subject: understanding the use of the terms, words, and facts

C. Rhetoric – The expression of understanding; the ability to express, in original thought, the concepts of a subject as conveyed through facts. Maturation at the rhetoric level is the ability to write clearly and speak persuasively, in an accurate manner, on the subject at hand.

As children mature, they go through stages which parallel exactly the type of learning that takes place with each tool of learning. Young children learn to speak by imitation. They delight in repetition. As they grow they become more abstract in their thinking, forming their own conclusions and exhibiting their own reasoning by the early teen years. Children are taught with the grain when the tools of learning are used. Learning remains the exciting process that God intended.

II. The Levels of Learning Explained:

The tools of learning correspond with the levels of learning. (1)

Levels of Learning Tools of Learning

1. Rote (Memorization) Grammar

2. Recognition (I’ve heard/seen that somewhere before.) Grammar

3. Restatement (I can put that in my own words.) Logic

4. Relational (I see how ‘this’ relates to something I’ve Logic

already learned.)

5. Realization (I understand this and I can explain it to you.) Rhetoric

The tools of learning are just that – tools that aid in the learning process. How does one learn by rote? By concentrating repeatedly on words, facts, and terms. How does one learn to restate a concept into one’s own words? By thinking about the words already learned, then searching one’s vocabulary for corresponding terms. The operative word in this process is thinking. The tool of learning at this stage is, of course, logic. Finally, when one is able to express a concept or principle in original thought, and convey it in a manner that renders understanding in another person, then true learning has taken place. The tool of learning at this stage is rhetoric. Rhetoric is defined in Webster’s dictionary as “the art of using words effectively; especially the art of prose composition”. By using this tool, Realization, which is the highest level of learning, occurs.

At the level of Realization, through the use of the tool of rhetoric, a subject is mastered. Would it then be proper to state that a person at this level of learning, classically trained, is a knowledgeable person? No. True knowledge and wisdom only come where there is a marriage of classical and Christian education. The Bible clearly states that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge and wisdom (Proverbs 1:7 and 9:10). In Christ are all the hidden treasures of wisdom and knowledge (Colossians 2:2-3). Apart from Him, education is philosophy and empty deceit, according to the tradition of men, according to the basic principles of the world (Colossians 2:8). Any education that excludes Christ and His word is foolish; it does not lead to wisdom, light, and truth, but to darkness and corruption (Romans 1:22-23).

Through the use of the trivium children are given the tools with which to learn. Through the use of Scripture children are given the truth and light which leads to true wisdom. Knowledge, understanding, and wisdom – King Solomon wrote in Proverbs that they are worth more than gold, silver, and jewels. To mine these jewels, one must just use the resources that God has already provided.

copyright 2001, revised copyright 09/2008, Cheryl Nester. All Rights Reserved.

End note for Levels of Learning:

1. Kay Arthur, Listing of levels of learning, Precept Ministries Lecture Video, Precept Ministries.

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