While teaching myself about the Trivium Method, this experiment occurred to me.
The experiment is to select a subject and work through it using grammar, logic and rhetoric with the goal of learning the Trivium. Many writings and presentations about the Trivium fail to provide examples of any length, or fail to give real examples at all, undoubtedly because doing so would be time-prohibitive.
Select a simple subject, one that you are already familiar with. By choosing a topic you know, it is easier to focus on the methodology without the burden of learning new material.
I have two boys in elementary school. Recently both expressed an interest in learning about Weightlifting. While I am surely no Atlas, I have enough knowledge of the gym to teach them some basic exercises. So I ask that they give daddy a day to prepare before we began. Unbeknownst to them, they had become part of my Trivium experiment. Secretly I have wanted to introduce Trivium concepts to them, so this experiment had both overt and covert goals.
After selecting your topic, begin by creating a list of key terms from your chosen subject. This is the grammar. For Weightlifting these included barbells, dumbbells, exercises, repetitions, sets, routine, etc. Quickly I began to realize how most of the words are borrowed from everyday usage, yet take on specific and specialized meanings when applied to a field. Make the effort to define each term. This brings clarity to your knowledge.
Next, identify the logic. It is useful to have chosen a relatively simple and self-contained subject so the logic is not unwieldy. With respect to Weightlifting I decided that the logic lives in the rules of strength training. For example, how does one select the proper amount of weight for a dumbbell exercise? The answer is to select a weight that allows you to perform about 10 repetitions with moderate difficulty. Logic–the art of non-contradiction–appears in many aspects: allowing muscles to recover between workouts, employing intelligent nutrition, using proper form, ways to avoid injury, major muscle groups, and so on.
Once you have your list of terminology, and have identified your logic, compose your knowledge by writing it down. I tried to limit myself to two pages on Weightlifting. Constrain yourself as this is an experiment to illustrate the Trivium, not an essay contest.
Keep in mind that rhetoric is not primarily a tool for oratory. Although I had a goal of teaching the subject to my sons, the plan was not to simply give them a handout. Instead, I was writing to clarify and internalize my own understanding of the subject. Working from memory, I wrote a quick draft and then revised it several times until I was satisfied with the content and flow.
In my case, I have the least working knowledge of rhetoric compared with the other parts of the Trivium. So my use of formal rhetoric techniques was rather undeveloped. Still, the experiment has had several marvellous outcomes.
Total time invested on the experiment was about two hours.
One consequence of the experiment was that it crystallized my comprehension of a subject about which I thought I knew. By going through the motions it was revealed where my knowledge was more extensive and where it was more limited. It also served to prepare me to actually teach Weightlifting to my kids. When I did begin teaching them, I came across as knowledgeable, prepared, and confident.
The experiment is not over. Eventually I plan to let them read my two-page summary as a refresher on the subject, and as a gateway for a discussion about the Trivium. I hope that by presenting the Trivium in light of a topic that we have covered together, and one in which they have a vested interest, that they will find it easier to see the methodology. If all goes well, they will be stronger and smarter for it.