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Joy Vampires

Posted by MrsVance on March 19, 2008

Vampire Bat
Justin. “Vampire Bat.” Flickr. 03Jan2006. Flickr. 19 Mar 2008 .

Yesterday on the New York Times Freakonomics blog, Stephen Dubner asks, “How can the U.S. black-white achievement gap be closed?” I am not sure any clear answers emerge (better preschool preparation, longer school day/year and merit pay for teachers are some proposals that may have supporting data.)

But what caught my attention was the the statement by Andrew Rotherham, co-director of Education Sector and a member of Virginia’s Board of Education, that “good teachers teach; they don’t resort to drilling kids, rote memorization, or other strategies that suck the joy out of learning.”

What exactly does it mean to say that “good teachers teach”?

Is rote memorization never a good learning strategy?

Should students never be drilled?

I have seriously missed something. There is a wide-spread consensus (at least in the edublogosphere) that rote memorization is bad. I just am not sure why. Certainly it should not be the only learning tool employed. But it is one learning tool with which students should be familiar and able to utilize.

2 Responses to “Joy Vampires”

  1. Jamie said

    I think I agree with you — I teach college and have a slightly different perspective perhaps. My students often come to class waiting to be told what to know. They see knowledge as a consumer sees a product: they pay for it, get it, bank it, spend it on the test. I spend 2-3 weeks trying to unteach them that, because at this level, they need to learn that learning only happens when we want to know something, learn how to ask the right questions, learn how to discover some answers, and engage with others in making their own ideas. At a younger age, I can see where rote learning can be helpful. As a poor student, school was not a value in my home, and it wasn’t until I started doing well in spelling bees at school that I started getting good attention. So, in that sense, memorization boosted my confidence to want to do better and learn more. But I probably still need to look words up that I might have been able to memorize then; meaning the knowledge wasn’t very valuable, but the experience was — ? I use a question mark because I’m thinking through this. Perhaps teachers need to be more focused on the skill than the product at times. That is certainly true at my level — first-year college writing. I think this may even be true early on. Do we learn anything at school besides how to be good students? Knowledge comes outside school, when we are excited about materials presented in school, perhaps. And maybe rote learning can give kids a love of learning that will spill over to tackling other skills, like critical thinking.

  2. MrsVance said

    That is a really interesting perspective. I had never thought of rote memorization as a possible motivator. But it makes sense in your example.

    There are some students for whom rote memorization is going to work well. At least I think there will be some, based on the fact that this was a very successful teaching methodology for many many years. And there are some topics that seem to lend themselves to this methodology. Math facts come to mind…

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

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