The pedagogy of Trinity School is based upon the conviction that education—
indeed, all of the intellectual life—is a search for truth carried forward by men and women working together in discussion, research and experimentation. Thus, the faculty and the students of Trinity School constitute a community of learners. As the students progress though the program they are expected to contribute more and more to this community.
The Trinity curriculum takes seriously the liberal arts tradition of the West. That tradition clearly recognized that the knowledge of reality was comprehended under certain specific habits of mind. We have built our pedagogy around the three liberal arts known as the trivium: grammar, logic and rhetoric. In a generalized form and as applied to our curriculum, this means that we begin the six-year course of instruction with an emphasis upon the elementary aspects of the subject being studied—the grammar. During the middle years at Trinity the emphasis falls on the relationships among the elements, especially the relationship of logical implication. In the final years of this course of study the students are expected to participate more actively in the search for truth and in the integration of these subject matters—rhetoric. This intellectual sojourn could be described as the gathering of data, the formation of hypotheses and the construction of theory.
THE TEACHER LEADS, FORMS, AND MODELS
We believe that the best way to learn is in the context of an authentic culture of learning—a community of learners. We also believe that the community’s order and vitality are dependent upon effective leadership in the classroom. The teacher provides that crucial element. The teacher’s dynamism, preparedness, knowledge, intellectual curiosity, and love for both the students and the subject, establish the culture to which the students are meant to respond and against which their performance is measured. Any intellectual or aesthetic habit of mind that marks the school’s culture is modeled by the teacher. Any expressed form of pedagogy we use always rests on the primacy of the teacher’s leadership.
THE TEACHER ASKS QUESTIONS
We believe that all knowledge begins in wonder, and at the core of wonder is questioning. As a pedagogical means, questioning happens at every level of the curriculum. The teacher’s question is a key lead—sometimes, the key lead—into the text, phenomenon, topic or problem under exploration. It is also the model for how the student is to ask questions and develop a sense of wonder and depth of inquiry. Finally, it is the chief means by which the student is challenged to press beyond the self-evident, the parochial and the unexamined. The rigor of a teacher’s questioning increases as the student matures; thus, the most developed questioning happens in our advanced curricula. In our seminars on literature the teachers use questioning more extensively than anywhere else in the program. We often refer to our seminars as “Socratic,” precisely because of the extensive role questioning plays. There, we rely on the teacher’s rigorous questioning to spur the students’ analysis, and we refrain from didactic instruction.
THE TEACHER COACHES
We believe that learning is largely a matter of trial and error, practice and performance. In the face of that reality, positive and negative feedback from the teacher is vital to the student’s development. In the practice of coaching, when a student performs proficiently, the teacher reinforces that performance; when a student makes a mistake or needs improvement, the teacher corrects the flaw or demonstrates the pertinent skill or method and guides the student to better performance. Every aspect of a student’s performance is under the direction of the teacher as coach. This requires great attention and energy on the teacher’s part; it requires an abiding affection as well: a love of learning and a love of the student experiencing the challenging process of learning. Coaching happens at every level of the program. It is the chief means we use to directly shape student performance.
THE TEACHER INSTRUCTS DIDACTICALLY
We believe that all our students should acquire basic ordered knowledge. The principal means for meeting that objective is the presentation of information that is largely factual, narrative and formulaic. In order to convey that information, the teacher relies largely on didactic instruction: lectures, demonstrations and explanations. All three modes of communication are filled out with questioning and coaching. At the same time, the teacher’s clear and lively presentation of the three modes of didactic instruction is necessary to a student’s adequate engagement in the subject matter at hand. Didactic instruction happens at all levels of the curriculum, but most extensively in seventh and eighth grades. Didactic instruction is the chief means by which we convey the foundational content of basic ordered knowledge.