Rote Memorization

Do teachers still use rote learning today, or is it an obsolete and no longer an effective learning method?

Rote learning is a learning process based-on repetition. Examples of rote learning are memorizing basic concepts like numbers, the alphabet, or multiplication tables. High school students need to have learned the periodic table, and copywriting students learn successful copywriting techniques through repetition. Understanding or facts is not a requirement for rote learning. The students can learn and repeat verbatim material memorized without understanding, critical thinking, or analyzing what they have learned.

How Does Rote Learning Fit Into An Education Today?

What’s The Difference Between Memory And Intelligence?

Intelligence is often associated with a student’s mental ability to memorize material. However, memorization is affected by physiological and environmental factors like distractions, stress, or lack of sleep.

Rote learning stores the information in the student’s short-term memory. If the student does not practice reinforcing the concepts or recall the material regularly, they may soon forget it. For example, after the holidays, teachers may find that students have difficulty remembering the last term’s material. Too much time lapsed for the students to recall what was stored in their short-term memory.

Another example is students cramming for a test, wanting to quickly rote memorize material they neglected to learn and practice during the semester. They may recall the material for the test but forget it soon after that because it was never cemented into their long-term memory.

Memory, therefore, affects a person’s ability to retrieve information and apply it to problem-solving methods. This ability to acquire and apply the knowledge and skills are defined as intelligence.

When’s The Right Time To Use Rote Memorization?

Although one would think critical thinking should be emphasized, rote memorization still has a role to play. Before students can apply their critical thinking skills, they need material to think about. However, knowledge without understanding could also be meaningless. It is a chicken and egg scenario.

Knowledge takes time to acquire, and the brain requires active learning to retain material in a student’s short-term memory. It takes more effort to get it into the brain’s long-term memory. Rote memorization practice plays a vital role in keeping the material long enough in the short-term memory that it becomes long-term memory knowledge. When stored in long-term memory, the student may remember the concepts and recall them for critical thinking and problem-solving.

Therefore, rote learning complements understanding. Rote learning and memorizing do not replace higher-level thinking but is a different education method that is also necessary. Learning rote helps students file facts; the brain is able to remember later. By quickly accessing the knowledge, the brain is free to apply and level up the student’s learning experience.

Rote learning is an easy way to learn certain things and sometimes the only method. For example, a child who learned to discern between left and right automatically also understands when to use the letters b and d when reading or writing without becoming confused.

Meaningful learning focuses on the learning process outcomes, relates new information to prior knowledge, and encourages understanding and active learning techniques. However, memorization and rote learning include learning the alphabet and basic arithmetic level—adding, subtracting, multiplying, and division—which requires rote learning. Mastering the subject basics helps the student automatically remember and use previous knowledge for new and more complex tasks.

Why Can Rote Learning Be Harmful?

  • Can Make People Into Passive Learners. Learning rote teaches students to follow the teacher’s instructions; they do not have to think for themselves or try and figure it out. It does not expose a student to using questioning and thinking techniques; it may create a learner’s passivity, an inability to think and search for a solution independently.
  • Hard To Look At Divergent Opinions. Rote learning teaches a student’s brain; there is one answer to the solution; it does not train the mind to explore and solve problems through different methods. Rote learning may inhibit students’ ability to search for different options than the obvious answer they memorized.
  • Best For Short Term Learning. Rote learning is often used for a specific purpose where the individual wants to remember something in the short term, like a phone number or address. After they have applied the knowledge, it becomes obsolete, and they forget it. If a student has that outlook with rote learning exercises, they may soon forget what they memorized. It takes repetition, dedication, and usage to store the knowledge in long-term memory.
  • Doesn’t Prioritize Understanding Over Repeating. When a student uses rote learning for a quick outcome, like cramming for a test, they learn the lesson without understanding it. For a short while, they can repeat what they have learned but cannot apply it in solving a problem or in a different scenario than the way they learned it.

Rote Learning Has Its Place

According to Bloom’s Taxonomy remembering is the lowest order and evaluating and creating levels the highest order of thinking. Rote learning is an effective way to help students learn and remember knowledge, facts, data, and information like learning the multiplication tables. With continuous repetition, it becomes part of the student’s long-term memory.

Practical knowledge acquired through rote learning and other methods teachers teach students now becomes available to the brain. The brain uses the data to evaluate by setting standards and judging accordingly or generating, planning, or producing new patterns or structures by combining knowledge learned.

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