Sunday, October 12, 2014

The Rote Memorization Strawman (Dear Katie V3 #5)

Dear Katie,

In my last note I wrote to you (Google This) is about the disdain that some educators display toward "rote memorization" as if it is archaic and out of touch for modern times.  I hope I established that there is a reason that students should learn facts "by rote" and that it is based on a simple idea that I was taught in Ed Psych, younger minds are more concrete and develop into abstract thinkers as they develop. (Yet, there seems to be a push to have them to be abstract thinkers when they are not developmentally ready).  The facts they memorize become the building blocks for deeper and richer understanding of texts, mathematical problems, solutions to problems, etc.

Rote memorization is an easy target because those that attack it have built a straw man.  When they say rote, the picture that is induced is one of a strict teacher who drones the same questions as he/she walks up and the perfectly straight rows, in order, again and again, until the student has repeated the correct answer so many times that just like Pavlov's dog; when the teacher asks the question (the bell), the student responds with the right answer (salivates).  The term "rote" reminds people of a classroom that the students are bored out of their skulls, where 50 minutes feels more like 500, and half the kids are asleep on their desktop, drool coming our of their mouths.

Teaching facts by rote does not have to be a boring classroom.

You have been in my classroom.  Would you define it as "boring"?  When I do the "game quizzes" where kids compete as teams over the course of a marking period in order to win the "class championship", I am practicing nothing more than "rote memorization".  I am reviewing vocabulary terms over and over again in order for the students to memorize it.  It would be rare for one of my students to refer to these games as boring.  In history, when a student knows people and events by "rote", they will better understand sources they read, see, or hear, be able to defend or explain stances they take on certain questions (because they will equipped with the facts to back it up), and make connections between different eras and regions throughout world history.

Memorized facts are the foundation that higher level thinking is based.

But rote learning can be seen in other ways also.  What do people think the video games are for little kids that asks the user to shoot down the right answer to math problems?  It is the modern version of the teacher walking up and down the aisle asking kids "What is 1+1? What is 2+2?".  Current online classroom games such as Kahoot ( turn you classroom into a game show as students review materials they are asked to memorize.

A teacher that only teaches material by rote in middle and high school are not preparing their students well.  Students at those levels need to be guided in how to incorporate the facts they memorized into their expressions of thought and their creation of new ideas and schemes.

However, to dismiss all "rote" learning as a technique of days gone is disingenuous to how students learn and what will be need in their chosen field or profession.  It seems that every job as procedures and steps that need to be memorized and and for the person to be able to know automatically in order for the worker to be most effective.

I don't think you would be going to a doctor for very long who google searched you every symptom or entered them into WebMD.

Uncle Kevin

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