CSH Planning for the Dialectic Student
The goal of Catholic Schoolhouse is to give resources equipping the parent to educate their children in an environment that uses classical elements and promotes family unity. As such, if you are looking for a “Grade 6 syllabus” or such type plans, you will not find it here. If you seek something special for your family, based on the idea that learning can happen together in a natural way, you have found your home!
The dialectic student is emerging from the grammar stage with a head full of memorized facts and interesting knowledge that has been acquired on the journey. The conscientious parent now begins to worry that they have what they need for the next stage. Some view these “middle school” years as sort of “clean-up” years. A time to get busy, get an organized plan and make sure my student is ready for high school. While this can actually be a useful approach, the dialectic stage is so much more. It is also the time to allow the students’ awakening skills of argument and contradiction to be cultivated and steered. Also called the logic stage, it is the time to help the student have fun with his new brain in the exercise of logic and analysis.
What does my logic/dialectic student need? Even though the goal of classical education is an integration of subjects, it is often helpful for parents to look at a list of skills this age student needs to acquire. I believe that if we can break away from checking the subject boxes to observe what our child is able to do, we will have found the heart of classical education. Remember, classical education must be teacher-involved. Once you put classical ideas into a strict structure or workbook, it ceases to be classical. Use workbooks as tools, not as the end to which you aspire.
You students need to learn to write, read, speak and think. If they have these skills, you are doing a fantastic job and are ready to continue to develop these skills while expanding your student’s knowledge… If they are lacking, don’t worry, you can still work on them with content that is of interest to your dialectic student!
Writing – writing should have begun from the very beginning, primitive writing encouraged right along with speaking. At this age the students becomes more self-aware and desires that his writing fit the norms. Guidance in format and style should be given so that the students does not become embarrassed and thus avoid writing. This is best done by introducing a variety of formats and using the subject area that the student is studying. His logical brain will enjoy selecting the correct format for the particular application.
Most of all, kids learn to write by writing. Writing should occur daily, of a quantity that challenges them. This does not need to be in a writing course, in fact, it should not be. Writing is of purpose only when it interacts with the world–many a student has decided “writing is dumb” simply because he was given “dumb” writing assignments. So, come up with a plan, just make sure there is enough quantity to practice, practice, practice. Like the piano, if your student is writing for at least 30 minutes a day, he will make progress. If she is delayed or struggles, it may take longer. The beauty with family education is that your plan can be fluid. Some good basic goals may be: Daily writing – Several paragraphs to one page. Weekly writing – 1 longer piece that is well-edited and reviewed by parent. Quarterly writing – 1-2 pieces that are of portfolio quality. These are not arbitrary assignments, but things with purpose that are relevant:
Daily – a way to share with Dad what was learned today, or a letter to grandma, or a paragraph recanting what you read aloud to the family, reporting on a science, math, or history topic.
Weekly – history report, famous scientist report, artist report, letter to an editor expressing your viewpoint on a current topic.
Quarterly – multimedia presentation, longer essay about a hobby or topic of interest, scientist, saint or artist report with greater development.
For texts look seriously at the Wordsmith series. Don’t worry about the posted grade levels, either Wordsmith Apprentice (kids are writing a newspaper) or Wordsmith(Creative writing and style) are very appropriate for dialectic students. We are using these in our chapters. IEW is also a good choice.
Reading – Reading is how you encounter the ideas and knowledge of others. This is how your student will encounter history. Reading is also a valuable way to gain knowledge of science and theology. “You are all the sum total of everything you put into your mind.” is one of my favorite quotes, reminding me of an important role I play as my students parent–gatekeeper of what goes into their minds. Make sure with advancing age that what your student puts into his mind is growing him in the desired worldview. This doesn’t mean just keeping out the bad, it also mean making sure that the good that develops their character is there. I once heard said by a school teacher, well, it isn’t valuable, but at least they are reading; anything we can do to get kids to read is good. Garbage. There is no value in reading for the sake of reading. While reading may be used to entertain, as a pastime, it always results in the acquisition of new ideas. Period.
If you haven’t discovered them, the American Cardinal Readers will give an exposure to a wide variety of famous and Catholic literature. They are grade-leveled through grade 8. They include poetry and short stories. While they don’t integrate with CSH, sometimes it is just nice to hand your students a book that will broaden their exposure in addition to choosing larger novels.
Speaking – speaking involves not just the formal speech, but also the art of conversation and argument. Giving you child ample opportunity to develop good conversation skills by discussion what you are studying will be of the most value. Next, look for opportunities to hone his/her skills of formal speech. This can be in a Catholic Schoolhouse chapter, with other families, or at your own dinner table. Studying the great speeches will give them examples to learn from. This can grow into the art of argument – the methodical, healthy communication of a point of view.
“My chief objection to a quarrel is that it ends a good argument.” –G.K. Chesterton
Thinking – ah, the elusive thinking! This is probably the skill that most demonstrates good classical education. None of us recognize a subject known as thinking, but realize it is a skill used in all subjects. If you can look at the three skills above in the same way, you are on the road to classical education! So, how do we teach thinking? We look for opportunities. Places where we can categorize, sort, analyze and process information. Believe it or not, memory also increases thinking ability. If you think about it, in order to memorize a child has to figure out how to insert ideas into his brain in a way that he will be able to retrieve them. Wow, I call that thinking skills! At this age, students should continue to memorize, but add more analyzing and processing. Critical thinking press has some appropriate resources.
Grammar and diagramming the English language as well as the study of Latin are excellent tools for practicing thinking and analysis.
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Yes, that all makes sense, but don’t we need to teach subjects? In a classical environment, all of the above are taught through subject content. You read content, you write about content, you speak about content, and you think about content. This is the fun part. Catholic Schoolhouse has already laid out a three-year cycle of content for you, now you just need to use that content to help your student learn at this higher level.
Grammar – consider this a logic exercise and not a writing exercise. Grammar lays the foundation for further language study. Understanding diagramming and grammar is also essential to achieve proper punctuation as the student progresses through high school level writing. At this stage, unlocking the pattern is perfectly suited for their brains and can be quite fun.
If you feel your student needs a good course, Grammar Recitation from Memoria Press comes in three levels and covers everything from the beginning. Start at any level, as the book includes the recitation from the prior levels. Rex Barks Diagramming is a text that can be used to teach diagramming to your family with unity.
History – you will wish to continue to build on your student’s understanding of history. The dialectic student begins to love to see connections between events and put them in order. While they have already memorized a timeline, it was likely just that. Memory. The dialectic student will take joy in seeing how other people and beliefs he is encountering fit into that timeline. He loves to say “Aha!” and “But what about?” History contains facts, but many history books are really one opinion from a viewpoint. He should be beginning to integrate history with religion, literature, art, music, architecture, and geography analyzing the full picture of history and relating it to their own life and vocation. At this age it is very important that he/she has ample opportunity to discuss what he is encountering and be asked thoughtful questions about the material, not just narration. The question “How did that impact our world, and my life today?” will give their dialectic brains a good workout!
For companion texts, consider All ye Lands (Tour II) and From Sea to Shining Sea (Tour I). Light to the Nations I and II are a little more challenging, but line up very well with Tour II and Tour III. They are enlightening texts that give the Catholic perspective on many tough issues.
Geography – At the dialectic level you will begin to look at people and places in the geographical context of history, to gain a greater understanding of how features affect mankind. Causes of population shifts and cultural influence are most evident in ancient and medieval times, but can be seen throughout history. Scholars should begin to explore particular events and places in connection with their place on the history timeline so that a deeper understanding can take place between geography and how historical events have been affected by their surroundings. Encourage the conversation in your home about why Rome expanded rapidly once it left the continent, why we don’t see influence from China until much later, etc. These answers are all relevant to the study of geography. Your dialectic should student begin to map historical events, but could continue to review the continents with the younger siblings, if you feel it is beneficial. It is as simple as having them find out where events took place and add them to their maps each week.
This is a great time to encourage budding cartographers to make their very own maps, from scratch. There is no better way to master a continent than to draw it! While a book is absolutely not necessary, our chapters are using Draw Africa in Tour III to give form to the quest for mastery.
Literature – Classical literature selections should deepen the scholar’s understanding of history, religion, science and art. A thorough study of great literature improves analytical and communication skills, and provides a bridge to understanding people and events. Great literature stirs the soul and awakens the scholar to that sense of wonder, adventure and possibility, sadly missing in the lives of many.
The very best thing at this age is to read, read, read. Then ask those thoughtful questions so the student begins to think about the motivation of characters. Learning specific literary terms and styles can be helpful, but can wait for the high school years. Exposure needs to be across the genres, not just historical fiction. Look at your child’s reading list to see that is is well-rounded, also including great works of literature that may have nothing to do with the time period.
Science – contains three components: observation (labs), knowledge (text or research), and entering the great conversation(history and influential scientists). A blog post from Clasically Homeschooling explains this very well.
Labs: Discovery remains very important and the introduction of journaling will help him to process and analyze that which he encounters. Catholic Schoolhouse has labs laid out for all levels which correlate to the memory work.
History: A couple of free books worth looking at to join the great conversation: Catholic Science and Catholic Scientists, by Fr. Zahm and What Catholics have Done, by Fr. Martin Brennan. This is a great opportunity to work on writing, discussion and presentation skills.
Texts: At the middle school level you can continue to explore science with a unit approach built around Catholic Schoolhouse memory work. Look at each quarter as a whole, and gather resources for exploration. One visit to the library can yield a basket of books on the topic. Additional supplementation report writing, (to expand research skills) family presentations (to teach siblings), and free internet options can put learning into action. Chemistry4kids.com, Physics 4 kids.com by Rader, are just a couple in an excellent series with well-written content. They even include quizzes after each section to test retention.
The other option is to break from Catholic Schoolhouse memory work and move to a more serious text. I know there is a lot out on the internet about whether one should support non-Catholic textbook producers, but the Exploring Creation with . . series is still one of the best texts to make at-home study accessible and enjoyable for the older student. General Science and Physical Science are available for middle school. (completely different format that the elementary texts) Purchase directly from the author, Jay Wile to avoid supporting Apologia Ministries, which seems to be taking a more evangelical twist. These will prepare your student well for high school. They can be a handful for some students who are new to the expectations of a textbook, so spreading them over three years is nice. Our chapters have an established course to cover the two books over our three tours.
If your student is in middle school, each elementary Apologea book could be easily covered in a quarter. They are as follows for Tour II with links to purchase on Amazon if you like: Q1 – Exploring Creation with Botany, Q2 – Exploring Creation with Astronomy, Q3 & Q4 Exploring Creation with Chemistry and Physics These would be good books to own if you would like your science at home to match the CSH science. Don’t bother with the notebooking journals, the textbooks are enough.
Also, encourage the folks at CatholicScience.com to continue their endeavors. My Temple to the Holy Spirit is a nice Catholic human body study from Catholic Heritage Curricula–we add it to the anatomy unit in General Science.
Math – Math at this stage should begin to engage the dialectic brain. Tedious drill can turn a student away from math forever. While practice is necessary for mastery, just like with a sport, if you wish your student to be open to a career in math, engineering, or science, you must find a program that fosters a love of math in your student. They must get out on the field and play to see the relevance of the drill. (Catholics in these fields are sorely needed as an antidote to secular thinking in what is a large swath of society) Then, talk about it with excitement. Let your child delight you as he discovers theories about numbers for the first time. To supplement your exploration, you will likely use a text. Math in Focus, by Marshall Cavendish, is a good middle school course. Teaching Textbooks takes an effective, traditional approach to math.
Religion – Religion is something we live; theology and doctrine are subjects we study. Even so, most of us Catholics have grown up calling the study of theology and doctrine under the one category of “Religion.” These are also the years in which students are formally prepared for confirmation, although I question whether this can be a formal process, as Confirmation is the culmination of a desire that grows in a catechized heart.
In addition to the study of doctrine, scholars should explore how the Faith transformed history, moving through the timeline. Catholic Culture should permeate all areas of life in order to experience the Faith in a deeper, richer way. Doctrine was developed gradually throughout history, so your experience will be a gradual development, each bit of knowledge building on the last.
The Baltimore Catechism continues to be an excellent resource for knowledge of doctrine at this stage. Move into a higher number, perhaps # 3, for more detailed discussions. don’t cast side the Catechism of the Catholic Church as a resource for adults. Family reading and discussion of this excellent resource would be a great way to grow your students knowledge base. There are several adapted for teens, such as YouCat and Father McBrides Teen Catechism, but it is not necessary to bring things down to the engaged dialectic student. They crave knowledge of the adult world!
Relationship with Christ is very important to foster at this confusing time. This can only be achieved by allowing for quiet in our life to listen. Carefree timelessness has been recognized as a necessary ingredient to fall in love–and we wish our children to fall in love with Jesus. Daily Mass (with a few minutes of quiet prayer after) and adoration will give space in your child’s busy life. Daily journaling may help them sort through who they are.
Bible reading is a necessary anchor to know God and Jesus–you can’t love who you don’t know. Pick a book to read aloud, then give all your students a few quiet minutes to draw, write, or reflect after reading.
Logic and Philosophy – The dialectic brain is having a second burst of growth in new synapses. While memory may actually be slightly more difficult, reasoning is becoming his “thing.” You may have noticed him trying to “reason” his way out of parental requests! The wise parent gives his/ her student an outlet for this activity, to grow and foster it for useful purpose. (Contradicting should not be allowed, providing a reasoned argument or proof can be allowed and even encouraged.) Mapping in geography, diagramming sentences, logic books, puzzle books, even the vocabulary building Wordly-Wise series helps focus these skills. It is not necessary to overburden your student by adding a whole class, just be mindful of where you are integrating this.
If you have several students ready to expand their skills, look at the Art of Argument from Classical Academic Press. It will introduce logical fallacies and help them direct their arguing to useful purposes.
Once you feel they have a handle on this, consider introducing formal logic into their curriculum around 8th-9th grade. Memoria Press Traditional Logic is challenging, but effective if you need to join them in learning the language of logic for the first time.
Fine Arts – it is so easy to drop the fine arts that were such a delight at the grammar stage as the pressures of middle school mount. This is a huge mistake, as it is one place where the four skills actually interact in the adult life. The enjoyment of the arts, through reading, the being able to think and speak about them is so important in life, as it leads us to recognize the beautiful and leads us to the good and the true. Students should deepen their knowledge of art history by studying additional artists, movements, and styles and learn how to look carefully at individual works by analyzing their use of line, color, form, texture, and composition.