April 6, 2011

Learning by Rote

In 2000 I traveled overseas to another country to learn a foreign language. My classmates and I learned the abc's and the basic phrases via patterns. We re-iterated the same sentence over and over inserting different words as we went. It was my first introduction to rote learning and I loved it!!! Not only did it cement my knowledge for the new language but it made it flow out of my mouth without thinking. I had the rhythm of the language not just the rules and vocabulary in my head. If you have ever learned piano, you know what I mean. If you don't practice it again and again it never comes easily. It never becomes second nature. It is what Charlotte Mason knew when she wrote about habits. It is the initail hard work of setting the habit that deterrs us, but it is the almost effortless performance of it after it is formed which seals our faith in the old method of repetition. Here is a quote from Dwane Thomas a teacher of Latin and orginator of Visual Latin;

"I've been teaching for over 15 years. During that time, I have seen some trends come and go. Someday, when I am old, wearing shorts and dark sock pulled to high, I'll say I have seen many trends come and go. Until then, a few trends.

Some things remain constant. One of the constants in my own in experience has been a hatred of rote memorization. Not from the students, though. I am not sure my students care. If I want them to memorize something, they usually do it. The older ones complain a bit, but they do it. The younger ones don't complain at all. Instead, they raise their hand to tell me they saw a fox on the way to school that morning.
It's the teachers and the parents that hate rote memorization. Not all of them, of course, but you get the idea. It just isn't popular. "Nobody does that anymore," they say. Which could be part of the reason schools in America aren't doing so well, I suppose.
I believe in rote memorization. In fact the word "rote" may come from the Latin word "rota" which means, wheel. Rote memorization is memorization by repetition. Wheels don't chase new, exiting, and fascinating ideas. They simply perform the same task over and over again. Not very exciting. At all. Perhaps that is one reason memorization by repetition has been abandoned by so many educators. It is boring. Admittedly, it can be boring.
But, repetition is probably the oldest way of learning. It is the way Kung fu and the other martial arts have been taught for years. It is the way Aristotle taught his students to write. The master and student perform the same patterns over and over again until the student begins to internalize the lesson. The student may not fully understand why he is asked to do this. He may not even understand what exactly the lesson is. Then, one day, the training takes hold and the meaning of the lessons becomes clear. The student has internallized the basics. Now, standing on that foundation, he begins to see the hidden nuances the master has seen all along. From this point forward, mastery of the skill develops.
Learn the endings in Latin. Read the stories. Then re-read the stories. Then do it again. And again. In time, you will be grateful for the foundation you built. You will read in another language, and you will start to see nuances in the English language that few ever see."
-Dwane Thomas

Rote learning doesn't have to be boring. Try thinking of it as a review, just over and over again. I use games alot to review and to repeat something I want my kids to really get. I hit the topic from all sides. Games, copywork, recitation, hands on projects, read about it, write about it, tell about it, and flash cards. Have fun, keep the reviews short, vary the way you review, and above review, review, review.

1 comment:

  1. This article is silly. America would have never made the progress it did in science, mathematics, and engineering, if advice of this article were followed.