Friday, January 14, 2011

Waiting for Rote Learning

After the documentary film Waiting for Superman hit theaters last year, the website has been hosting a range of debates about educational practices and issues.

One of the latest is: Debate: Does Rote Learning Have a Place in the Classroom? (Click on the link to add your opinion and see what others are saying. Thanks to those who've mentioned The Core!)

At Classical Conversations, our Foundations program is based on the fact that young children's brains are naturally wired to memorize. The Classical Model emphasizes mastery of facts during the early years. This gives students a foundation on which to build later learning and a solid framework where ideas can be categorized and compared as students mature.

See this excerpt from Dorothy Sayers' "The Lost Tools of Learning":
Looking back upon myself (since I am the child I know best and the only child I can pretend to know from inside) I recognize three states of development. These, in a rough-and- ready fashion, I will call the Poll-Parrot, the Pert, and the Poetic--the latter coinciding, approximately, with the onset of puberty. The Poll-Parrot stage is the one in which learning by heart is easy and, on the whole, pleasurable; whereas reasoning is difficult and, on the whole, little relished. At this age, one readily memorizes the shapes and appearances of things; one likes to recite the number-plates of cars; one rejoices in the chanting of rhymes and the rumble and thunder of unintelligible polysyllables; one enjoys the mere accumulation of things...

In Foundations we also spend time doing fine arts and science experiments, because young children thrive in hands-on learning, but hands-on learning builds from -- and depends on -- the terms, methods, and information they're memorizing.

I think this reader (Dr. Phil Rutherford / Australia) on Waiting for Superman says it well. He comments, "Research and experience tells me that learning by rote does more than just enable a student to recall facts or mathematical solutions - it helps shape the brain so that any kind or depth of knowledge can be gained, stored and recalled at will. Critics of rote learning only look at the action, not the result. And this result is a lifetime of more effective and efficient brain activity. Getting rid of rote learning does nothing but condemn a child to useless brain activity."

What's your take on the question? What terms do we need to define in this debate?


Unknown said...

I once heard a mom say, "Why memorize facts when you can either look them up or use a calculator?" Wow. Why, indeed? We have had an on going dialogue about this very subject for the last few years. She has witnessed my children grow through the Foundations program and she is wondering how to get her children involved. The well spoken, intelligent young people that emerge from Foundations into Challenge programs are the perfect answer to any such objections as my friend had. Thank you for providing this practical tool with which to drive into the vast sea of knowledge and emerge as masters.

(Foundations Tutor: Alexandria, VA)

Carletta said...

Leigh, I really think we have to take another look at fun and self-esteem, which is what so many seem to think is important when we talk about education nowadays.

We need to realize fun can involve more than just crafts and games. For children, memorization is fun when you're using a variety of techniques like the ones used in Classical Conversations. It is also fun to encounter those memorized facts in everyday life. My children absolutely love coming across something they've learned from CC while reading or doing some other activity.

As for self-esteem, true self-esteem comes from having achieved something of value. When my children are able to recall something they've learned they feel good about themselves. My oldest, especially, has really grown in confidence since we began CC. He sees himself as smart and capable - not because of anything I've said, but because of what HE has accomplished.

I was not sold on Classical Ed and rote memorization at early ages before joining CC, but I have witnessed the benefits first hand and we love your program!