Cognitivist Learning Theories
Classical education, from a research base, is most closely aligned with cognitivist learning theories. These theories postulate that children generate knowledge and meaning through sequential development of an individual’s cognitive abilities, such as the mental processes of recognize, recall, analyze, reflect, apply, create, understand, and evaluate. The Cognitivists’ (e.g. Piaget, Bruner, Vygotsky) learning process is adaptive learning of techniques, procedures, organization, and structure to develop internal cognitive structure that strengthens synapses in the brain. The learner requires assistance to develop prior knowledge and integrate new knowledge. The purpose in education is to develop conceptual knowledge, techniques, procedures, and algorithmic problem-solving using verbal/linguistic and logical/mathematical intelligences. The learner requires scaffolding to develop schema and adopt knowledge from both people and the environment. The educators’ role is pedagogical in that the instructor must develop conceptual knowledge by managing the content of learning activities.
Classical education is time proven with a history of over 2,500 years in the West. It began in ancient Greece, was adopted wholesale by the Romans, faltered after the fall of Rome, made a slow but steady recovery during the Middle Ages, and was revived in the Renaissance. The classical inheritance passed to England and from England to America through colonial settlement. At the time of this nation’s founding, classical education was thriving. Jefferson heartily recommended Greek and Latin as the languages of study for early adolescence. Plutarch’s Lives of the Noble Greeks and Romans was often recommended by men like Jefferson and Franklin, and Hamilton seems to have given it special attention during his military encampment at Valley Forge. Eighteenth-century Americans venerated and trusted George Washington in large part because he reminded them of the Roman patriot Cincinnatus. So important has classical education been in the history of the West that it would only be a slight exaggeration to say that the march of civilization has paralleled the vibrancy of classical schools. Such a long tradition of education continues to be relevant today.
A classical education is more than simply a pattern of learning. Classical education is language-focused; learning is accomplished through words, written and spoken, rather than through images (pictures, videos, and television). This is important to understand because language-learning and image-learning require very different habits of thought. Language requires the mind to work harder; in reading, the brain is forced to translate a symbol (words on the page) into a concept. Images, such as those on videos and television, allow the mind to be passive. In front of a video screen, the brain can “sit back” and relax; faced with the written page, the mind is required to exert energy and work. A classical education, then, has two important aspects. It is language-focused and it follows a specific three-part pattern: the mind must be first supplied with facts and images, then given the logical tools for organization of facts, and finally equipped to express conclusions. Riggs Institutes’ reading program, The Writing & Spelling Road to Reading & Thinking, is a brain-based approach with multisensory instruction that addresses all learning styles. Riggs began with Dr. Samuel Orton, a neuroscientist who researched the functioning of the human brain in learning language skills. In collaboration with teachers, he combined his multisensory techniques with classical and Socratic instructional approaches to teaching. Riggs is an “explicit” phonics approach as defined and recommended in a Federal Compilation of Reading Research: Becoming a Nation of Readers, 1985. Scientific research supports the Riggs method (Source: K.K. Stuebing, A.E. Barth, P.T. Cirino, D.J. Francis, and J.M. Fletcher, “A response to recent re-analyses of the National Reading Panel report: Effects of systematic phonics instruction are practically significant,” Journal of Educational Psychology, 100(1), 2008: 123-134. The explicit phonics approach is often used as a remediation technique in non-classical schools, when students begin to fall behind in reading. We believe that utilizing explicit phonics with all students from inception will reduce the need for remediation in the future. Accommodations for students with special needs will be implemented throughout various stages of the learning process according to the students’ IEPs. For example, a student may need additional time or an alternate technique to memorizing the phonetic sounds.
For grades K-7, math will be taught using the U.S. edition of Singapore Math, an English equivalent to the national mathematics curriculum used in Singapore. Singapore is the world leader in mathematics achievement, according to at least two major longitudinal studies. According to the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS), an international comparative study designed to measure achievement at the fourth and eighth grades, Singapore ranked in the top three countries in both fourth and eighth grades in every year the study was conducted (1995, 1999, 2003, 2007, 2011, and 2015). The Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), a triennial international survey that evaluates OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) countries by testing the skills and knowledge of 15-year-old-students, has also consistently ranked Singapore highest in mathematics. The PISA survey has ranked Singapore in the top two countries for mathematics in 2009, 2012, and 2015.
Singapore Math was developed in 1981 by the Curriculum Planning and Development Institute of Singapore. Educators in the United States began implementing Singapore Math in 2000. Topics are taught to a mastery level with detail and consistency, and the textbooks are designed to build a deeper understanding of mathematical concepts as opposed to offering simply definitions and formulas. Professional development accompanies Singapore programs so teachers are better prepared to facilitate lessons. Singapore Math has a consistent emphasis on problem solving and model drawing, with a focus on in-depth understanding of the essential math skills recommended in the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics Curriculum Focal Points, the National Mathematics Advisory Panel. Students using Singapore Math learn math concepts thoroughly, but they also master essential math skills more quickly, and it has been reported that by the end of sixth grade, students have mastered multiplication and division of fractions and are able to complete difficult multistep word problems comfortably, ensuring they are well prepared to complete Algebra I in middle school and described in Section 3-A above, (Source: John Hoven and Barry Garelick, “Singapore Math: Simple or Complex?” Educational Leadership 65:3, November 2007).