Curriculum at Nova Classical Academy
Nova’s curriculum has been developed through collaboration between the parent-led Curriculum Committee, the faculty of Nova, and outside experts. It represents the vanguard of modern scholarship within the classical model. Our curriculum is both age-appropriate and accelerated; we push all students to achieve higher levels of competence at all times.
In all grades, history is the guiding principle. For example, as students study Ancient Greece in grade-five history class, they are also studying Ancient Grecian art, music, and literature. History is divided into four eras. Each era is studied in a four-year cycle, beginning with grade one. This allows for each period in history to be visited three times, once in each stage of the trivium (grammar, logic, and rhetoric). This “spiraling” allows for students to build from a broader to a deeper understanding of history, work with more sophisticated primary texts, and develop a clearer conception of how ideas have unfolded over time.
- Prehistory to the fall of Rome (grades 1, 5, 9)
- The fall of Rome to the Renaissance (grades 2, 6, 10)
- The Renaissance to the Industrial Revolution (grades 3, 7, 11)
- The Industrial Revolution to the present day (grades 4, 8, 12
The Trivium at Nova
Classical education rests on the concept of the Trivium: grammar, logic, and rhetoric—not as subjects, although these subjects are studied, but as the structure of every subject and discipline.
Every subject we attempt to learn, at any time in our lives, has its grammar, logic, and rhetoric, from reading and math, to gardening and law, to music and auto mechanics.
Grammar is the foundation of a subject. It is the collection of its parts and the mechanics of how they work. Without an understanding of the facts, no one can move forward. In the Grammar stage (K–5), students are exposed to a barrage of data in all subjects. This is the time in their lives when students readily absorb data and are able to repeat it. Sayers calls this stage the Poll-Parrot stage, where children can repeat back what the hear. The focus during the Grammar stage is for students to learn a great deal of information, but not necessarily to understand its meaning or importance. (click for detail)
Logic is the organization of parts into a whole and an understanding of the relationships among the parts. Students in the Logic stage re-visit the data they have learned and begin to develop their analytical skills by connecting together themes, ideas, and causes. For example, while students in fourth grade may learn of the United States Civil War, students in eighth grade learn about the precipitating causes, and can connect these themes to other conflicts like the Restoration, the French Revolution, and the Spanish Civil War. Sayers calls this stage the Pert stage because students are less accepting of authority and seek to define their own understandings. In the Logic stage, we encourage this critical bent by honing analytical skills. (click for detail)
Rhetoric is the ability to apply the foundational knowledge and logical understanding of a subject purposefully and creatively to solve a problem, express an opinion with clarity, or create something new. In the Rhetoric stage, students build upon what they have learned before: they have a solid foundation of facts (grammar), an understanding of how they all fit together, and why (logic). Now it is time for a student (young scholar) to make an argument. Everyone must put forth his/her answers to the great questions of time to take part in what Mortimer Adler called “The Great Conversation.” Sayers calls this stage the Poetic stage, referring to the Greek work poeia, meaning to make or to create. Students must create their own ideas and place them intellectually and morally within the context of the ideas which have preceded them. (click for detail)
Students at Nova receive homework regularly. Homework is integral to a student moving forward in a rigorous school. Nova’s position on homework is as follows: Homework is an invaluable tool to the learning process. It fulfills both academic and character education ends. At the same time, we recognize that students need leisure to relax, pursue other interests, and spend time with family. When we design and assign homework at Nova, we understand its three primary academic purposes to be:
- Preparation—allows the student to prepare for a challenging lesson by grounding him/herself in introductory materials. In turn, this allows for class presentations and discussions to be more engaging.
- Reinforcement—allows the student to practice concepts introduced in class to attain familiarity.
- Mastery—allows the student to practice concepts to the point of personal proficiency (necessary to move forward in a skills-based curriculum). In addition to the academic goals of homework, homework serves ends towards character education: it builds up the qualities in a child necessary to success throughout life, like discipline, planning, decision-making, and accepting responsibility for one’s actions.
Nova Classical Academy will design homework assignments to meet these academic and character learning goals. In addition, we will engage in norming of time demands to ensure that the homework load does not become egregious. We also encourage parents to become involved with their child’s homework in ways which facilitate communication, discussions, and sharing of lessons. In this way, parents and teachers continue to work together to educate the whole child.
School of Grammar (K-5)
Nova’s School of Grammar content draws from the traditional Western canon. It is designed to maximize the young child’s innate developmental receptivity to absorb and retain large quantities of information. Reading is emphasized along with spelling and handwriting. Phonemic awareness (phonics) and orthographic analysis (rules of spelling) are taught to enable decoding and encoding. Nova’s emphasis on history provides the backbone for the sequenced spiral of the general curriculum. Science emphasizes an understanding of key scientific concepts in addition to using the scientific method as a grammar for scientific thinking. In math, Nova uses the Singapore math curriculum, which is heavy on visual and verbal problems, to develop arithmetic skills. The study of Latin is introduced in grade three and progresses alongside the students’ understanding of English grammar. Together, the study of Latin and English grammars teaches students the structural underpinnings of language and expands the child’s vocabulary in preparation for more sophisticated levels of communication. Oratory skills are taught starting in Kindergarten and center around Aristotle’s Rhetorical Canon of Delivery (public speaking). The curriculum of Oratory School comes from the school’s general education and specialist curricula to work through the 14 progymnasmata, which are exercises for teaching children oratory while exploring the nature of virtue.
School of Logic (6-8)
The content for the School of Logic should be more challenging than that of the School of
Grammar. It should be primary text in the most comprehensible translation available, but some
content may be abridged for length. Between the Schools of Logic and Rhetoric, students will
read many of the great works in the Western tradition; care should be given when selecting
sources to ensure that if a text should be read by an older student (for maturity, comprehension,
etc.) that it be read in the School of Rhetoric. Thus we design the content of the Schools of Logic and Rhetoric together.
Logic-stage sources should emphasize analytical thought in the author and/or in the instruction
of it. It is critical that that the themes and ideas which are the focus of student study connect
together between units and subjects. At each moment the School of Logic student should feel
that his course of study is a tapestry of interwoven ideas and thoughts, and that he is working to
discover and then connect ideas together.
The dominant pedagogical style in the School of Logic is the dialectic. Dialectic is a style of
instruction whereby an answer is arrived at through the exchange of logical arguments. Plato
believed that only through the exchange of ideas could knowledge develop, and Hegel famously
developed the modern model of dialectic: presentation of a thesis, contradiction through an
antithesis, and final resolution to a synthesis. The basic idea behind dialectic is that only
through interchange of ideas/thoughts between interlocutors can true knowledge be discovered
(in contradiction to lecture which can only deliver a simple idea to another person). In the
School of Logic that interchange is governed by the dynamic of a teacher to discipline of
knowledge, but the process of interchange remains the mechanics by which the student grows.
In this stage virtues are interrogated for their logical benefit to school and society; students are
asked to connect their understanding of virtue, their actions, and a potential outcome. Such
work is done through critical exploration of literature, history, and application of all sciences
and arts. Teachers use homeroom and class time to introduce topics worthy of discussion;
students bring their critical eyes to any situation and can be asked to explore and explain how
they understand virtue to be working or to be supposed to be working.
Praxis (where idea and practice meet)
In the School of Logic students engage regularly in dialogues with their teachers. The
substantial form of the interchange is question and answer: the teacher asks a question and the
student gives as thorough an answer as possible. The teacher then pushes the student further
towards ultimate knowledge by continuing to ask questions about his answers which show the
weaknesses in it, forcing the student to reply with stronger and stronger ideas. Thus the teacher
leads the student to a (teacher-known) end by forcing the student to use logic to grow his
understanding from known to new, from incomplete to more perfect ideas about topics.
School of Rhetoric (9-12)
The content of the School of Rhetoric continues Nova Classical Academy’s focus on primary texts, rather than secondary works or textbooks. Our students study both Great Ideas and Great Books with the goal of a well-formed understanding of the great ideas, texts, events and people of Western civilization. In keeping with the model that we have employed successfully since the start of Nova Classical Academy, we here continue the practice of using history as our guiding principle and continue our division of history into four eras. The School of Rhetoric advances previous instruction; students work with increasingly advanced primary texts in order to both develop a deeper understanding of history and a clear conception of how ideas have unfolded over time.
Nova’s School of Grammar explicitly defines for students the nature of virtue as a good, repeated habit through the cardinal virtues of fortitude, justice, temperance, prudence, and wisdom. Students learn the behaviors associated with these virtues and are taught to look for them in the school’s rich content and in their daily lives. Once they can see them in the exemplars of others, they are taught specific ways to apply virtuous frameworks to their own choices.
The texts chosen and modes of instruction work to support Nova Classical Academy’s commitment to virtue education. Our aim in instilling habits of intellectual inquiry is to perfect students’ abilities to think for themselves and to choose freely a life that embodies virtue. The interplay of rich texts and rigorous seminars affords students a chance to grapple with the most fundamental questions and to contemplate the answers provided by a variety of thinkers. The seminars are more than an arena for intellectual conversation: they are also moral exemplars of how we wish our students to treat others and their ideas. In this sense, seminars serve as regular exercises in the norms and practices of civil discourse. Seminars advance moral and intellectual excellence by bringing to life the cultural expectation that our students strive to be respectful, tactful and kind even in the heat of rigorous intellectual disagreement.