Learning Levels - SLO Classical Academy
Inquire Visit Tour
San Luis Obispo Classical Academy San Luis Obispo Classical Academy

learning levels

At SLO Classical Academy, our learning levels are a bit different than what you'll find at other schools (probably doesn’t come as a surprise!) and are determined by where a student is in their progression through the trivium.

pre-grammar stage

Little Wonders

While these levels do not officially fall into the traditional Classical Education model, but we know these years are essential to introducing and preparing students for their educational journey. The first of its kind, we call this stage our pre-grammar stage, as this is where the student introduction to classical education begins.  Children at this age see memorization as an enjoyable task. For that reason, at the preschool level we attend to setting a strong foundation for reading, writing, math, poetry, and literature—all while making sure we leave ample time for play and exploration.

Each day is filled with opportunities for our Little Wonders students to experience purposeful, high-level, and mature play; well-distinguished children’s literature, poetry recitations, math, music, and art.


The Playful Learner

Fostering a love for learning

We accomplish this in Preschool by providing children with plenty of time for play, reading books, exposing children to a variety of experiences (music, art, dance, etc.), encouraging children to actively explore their world, answering their questions, and modeling a value for education, learning, and knowledge.

Strong academic skills

We lay the foundation for success in language arts and math skills.  Math is taught through hands-on tasks and meaningful activities that prepare our young students for subsequent stages of mathematical thinking. The children are prepared for the beginning stages of reading via teachers reading aloud and engaging the children in conversations about stories, as well as recitation of nursery rhymes and poetry as a group.

Strong character

We have the opportunity to build a foundation to help guide and shape the character of our children as they grow, giving them an inner compass to help guide them through life.  To achieve this, we set an expectation for moral behavior, read good literature full of great examples, use teachable moments, recognize strong character traits, incorporate the golden rule, assign responsibilities, and—most importantly—model good character.


The Natural Learner

Strong academic skills

We lay the foundation for success in language arts and math skills.  We work together using a unified math program and place the students in ability groups.  We use manipulatives in math to develop a strong understanding of concepts before introducing paper/pencil activities. Home educators teach leveled reading and phonics, while the teacher at school introduces sight words, word families, journaling, handwriting, and various other language skills.

Strong analytical skills

Using our literature-based program, students are given opportunities to analyze literature weekly.  They discover literary techniques and use them in class stories as well as writing activities at home.  Students discuss character traits, determine right and wrong, and use ideas presented in these classic stories to make decisions about their own lives and behavior.

Strong character

We build a foundation of responsibility, respect, obedience, cooperation, public speaking, practicing kindness and learning to be a good friend.  There are so many opportunities to develop strong character at this stage!

grammar stage

(1st – 4th grade)

In the elementary years (grades one through four) the mind is equipped to absorb information.

Classical education relies on a three-part process of training the mind, known as the trivium.  The first part of the process begins in the early years of education, where children spend time absorbing facts, methodically laying the foundation for advanced learning. As a result, children at the primary and intermediate levels are the first of the three stages in the trivium, known as the “grammar stage.”

In the grammar stage, children receive the foundation for all other learning, just as grammar is the foundation for language.  As children move from preschool and kindergarten to grades 1-4, they will continue to study what was introduced in the early years, with the addition of grammar, history, geography, science, and Latin. All of this information is part of the laid foundation for the second stage of the trivium, the “logic stage.”

(1st + 2nd)

The emergent Learner

The primary years at SLO Classical Academy provide the underpinning for success in SLOCA’s overall goals: to establish a foundation of learning that nurtures and motivates independent, analytical thinkers. Eventually, these natural leaders can effectively communicate and support their ideas orally and in written form. In order to achieve this, at the Primary level we work towards:

Strong academic skills

Primary students achieve a sound academic foundation in math, reading and writing. Home educators are committed to basic reading instruction as the groundwork for all other content areas. They read the assigned literature with their student and help their ability to grasp new concepts through discussion. Teachers at school create lessons to build on thoughtful processing and synthesis of conceptual understanding. Additionally, Primary students at SLOCA are introduced to Latin through song and recitation in a way that keeps it light and enjoyable, yet foundational for future studies.

Strong analytical skills

Using our history, literature and science as opportunities for discussion, students are challenged to apply ideas from the past to the present.  As students are exposed to new information, they have the opportunity to discuss and digest what they are exposed to so they learn to absorb increasing amounts of information. The student’s ability to get the big picture, themes across literature and history, and the ability to make connections with their own lives are promoted with assignments in all areas.

Strong character

The early establishment of responsibility for self is paramount. There are many opportunities to help students grow in this area from the simple (like completion of assignments on time and bringing materials to school) to the profound (a discussion in history about people who were enslaved in our country). Community service, behavior accountability, and discussion help the students grow towards autonomy and responsibility.

(3rd + 4th)

The assisted Learner

The intermediate level of the SLO Classical Academy is an extremely important time in the life of a classical learner. The assisted learner is now able to put in more structured and concentrated effort to their studies. This is a big change from the “learning strategy” of an emerging learner in the primary level. Intermediate students are now exposed to longer pieces of great literature. They are introduced to in-depth discussions about character, theme, and historical context. History instruction begins to explore the details that underpin the “big idea” themes. The success of the assisted learner at this point depends largely on the parent/teacher partnership between home and school. This is the stage of learning that prepares students to become Independent Learners. In order to achieve this, students, parents and teachers work towards:

Strong academic skills

Basic skills in all areas of learning continue to be of paramount importance. Students will also gain age appropriate basic math skills. During the two years as an intermediate student, the students will grow in their level of independence.  This will be excellent preparation for the following year of Lower Middle School.

Strong analytical skills

Using our history, literature, and science as opportunities for discussion, students are introduced to critical analysis through guided discussions of what they read, hear, and say. The student’s emerging ability to get the big picture, the themes across literature and history, and the ability to make connections with their own lives is nurtured. Teachers create lessons that build on thoughtful processing and synthesis of conceptual understanding.

Strong character

The responsibility for personal character lies with the individual assisted learner. Respect for others and respect for self become the main boundaries for all intermediate learning and interactions. This respect surrounds all aspects of academic success, from basic assignment completion to the creation of a safe classroom environment where honest discussions and interactions with literature and history can occur.

logic stage

(5th – 8th grade)

The logic stage is where children in lower middle and upper middle school begin to connect all the facts they learned in the grammar stage and discern the relationships between them. Children in the logic stage soak up information, but instead of passively accepting the information, they work with it—determining its value, its rationale, and its place. The ability to work with information in this manner prepares them for the third stage of the trivium, the “rhetoric stage”.

Students begin to ask why, and critical thinking skills are introduced and applied—evaluating, discovering connections, placing facts into a logical framework, and studying the arguments of others.

Lower Middle School
(5th + 6th)

Emerging Independent Learner

The Lower Middle School (LMS) is a transitional period when students are moving from concrete thinkers in the grammar stage to burgeoning logical thinkers. Building on the foundation set in the primary and intermediate levels of our school, LMS seeks to shepherd students through this time by introducing them to logical thinking with English grammar, pre-logic exercises, and encouraging connections in history and literature. Students are challenged to seek the meaning behind the content they learn in all subjects.

Strong academic skills

The goal of this stage is to make use of the student’s emerging independence and translate their desire for independence into ownership of their education. Students at this stage must begin to learn the why and how of the subjects they learn. Students are ready to understand the system of English grammar and how the parts of speech work together to form well-crafted sentences and are then developed into meaningful and purposeful paragraphs. Students continue to sharpen basic math skills and strengthen their understanding of how these concepts work together and the relationships between numbers and how they work in space and time. Reading and writing go hand-in-hand throughout the curriculum at SLOCA, and in this stage students will learn this relationship is integral to becoming part of the great conversation in which we learn from authors and historical figures of the past while communicating ideas in the present and into the future. The Latin curriculum used allows the student to read and understand Latin from the very first day of class. Home educators continue to reinforce the work done at school, but more and more students are encouraged toward own their education.

Strong analytical skills

Just as the ability to speak, walk, and read all require a combination of training and developmental readiness, logical thinking develops when teaching and logical readiness meet. Emerging independent learners need support from adults in their lives to test the waters of reasonable thought. It does not require a teaching degree to recognize middle school children want to exert their wills, but their wills are not to a level of maturity to make them completely tolerable. Rather than fight against some of the unreasonable claims of these emerging thinkers, the teachers at SLOCA begin equipping students with the tools of reason. We call this instruction pre-logic. Students are exposed to logical fallacies, writing strategies, and Socratic questioning, sharpening their abilities to think and communicate in an orderly and thoughtful way. Mastery of thinking skills is not the goal; rather, recognition of faulty thinking and practice in the tools of reasoning well.

Strong character

With greater maturity, personal responsibility for one’s actions becomes more important. As emerging independent learners, it is important for students to recognize how individual character fits within the greater community of learners at SLOCA and beyond. Teachers and home educators continue to partner in maintaining and implementing age-appropriate standards of excellence and personal responsibility. What is distinct about students entering into the logic stage is they will likely test the waters and question the validity of boundaries. It is important to offer support through logical consequences and reasonable conversations regarding standards of behavior.

upper Middle School
(7th + 8th)

Independent Learner

The Upper Middle School (UMS) is a natural extension of the SLOCA’s goals, namely, to establish a foundation of learning that will nurture and motivate independent, analytical thinkers.  These natural leaders can effectively communicate and support their ideas orally and in written form. In order to achieve this, students, parents and teachers all work towards:

Strong academic skills

Continued support of basic skills in all areas of learning continues at this stage, but with more emphasis on cultivating the students’ burgeoning logical thinking skills. Students are taught formal logic at this level to strengthen their independent thought, while grounding it in well-reasoned principles. The goal of this stage is to make use of the growing independence. Ownership of their individual ideas is emphasized even more at this stage as students grow in their independent, rational capacity. Students at this stage maintain a desire to understand the why and how of the subjects they learn. Students continue to study English grammar and use writing skills persuasively and with greater eloquence. Longer papers are assigned at this level, requiring planning and greater synthesis of ideas. In math, students strengthen their abilities to think abstractly and logically through algebraic functions. Students read more complex novels and primary texts and are prepared to dialogue intelligently regarding major themes and ideas presented by the authors. While parents are still integral to motivating their UMS students, the goal for this stage is to enter high school as independent learners who appreciate the value of their own education.  In Latin, the students use various methods to help achieve a mastery of grammar, vocabulary, and translation.

Strong analytical skills

Using our history, literature, and science as opportunities for discussion, students are challenged to apply ideas from the past to the present. As students have mastered the simple absorption of information, they will be asked to critically analyze what they read, hear, and speak. Teachers create lessons that build on thoughtful processing and synthesis of conceptual understanding.

Strong character

As they prepare to enter high school, UMS students are the role models for rest of the student body. As such, how they act and treat others is of paramount importance. Community service, behavior accountability and discussion will help the students grow towards autonomy and responsibility.

rhetoric stage

high school

During the rhetoric stage students study the principles of self-expression and begin to implement them in both writing and speech.  They apply the rules of logic learned in the second stage to the foundational information they learned in the grammar stage, and they begin to express their thoughts in a coherent and refined language.  The rhetoric stage is the last and final stage of the trivium.

All classes are designed to enable students to excel in college, as they will be equipped with abilities to make connections, think critically, and express themselves well.

Our goal for students at the high school level is for them to become independent learners.  Students take responsibility for classes, assignments, studying, etc. Our high school students attend school three days weekly (M/W/F), allowing them greater independence and two full weekdays to work on assignments or commit to other interests.  Our small class size (maximum of 16) allows students to be known and invites them to reach their full potential. The more intimate setting also helps students develop real-life relational skills and appreciation for each other’s unique personalities; additionally, it provides a safe place to grow, make mistakes, and be encouraged by their classmates.

SLO Classical Academy High School (SLOCAHS) offers quality, college-preparatory classes, which will prepare our students to meet expectations of colleges. Our history and English classes are rich in literature and writing instruction.  We provide lab science classes and math with an emphasis on learning to think mathematically. Elective classes often include rhetoric, speech, debate, current events, and art. SLOCAHS offers studies in advanced Latin as well as the opportunity to study modern foreign languages. Because of the grounding in Latin, students in classical high schools experience great success in nearly every language.

interested in add-ons and extracurriculars?