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Is there a place for rote learning?

Is there a place for rote learning?

Anyone over the age of 60 can still recite lists of things they memorised at school. Latin verb conjugations, perhaps, or an entire textbook conversation in French, or the kings and queens of England in order.

Having students commit vast amounts of information to memory was a cornerstone of educational excellence for many years. Being able to ‘recite’ was something to be proud of. Educators progressed in thinking about learning, however, rote learning for its own sake fell out of favour.

“It’s fine for a student to be able to say ‘3 x 6 is 18’, for example,” says Therese Connor, NAC Director of Teaching and Learning. “But if they don’t understand that dividing up 18 lollies between 6 people would give them 3 lollies each, it’s not very useful.”

Connor says that ‘explicit instruction’ is an integral part of learning, a phrase she prefers to ‘rote learning’. “What’s important is helping a student understand in different situations and different combinations,” she says. “We focus on not just the ‘what’, but the ‘why’ and the ‘how’ as well.”

For a student learning early maths, seeing how 3 x 6 can equal 18 in multiple situations, multiple ways and multiple combinations is what helps ‘surface’ learning become ‘deep’ understanding.

Memorising the sum is still useful, and Connor points to learning games in the classroom that take the place of old recitations of things like times tables and Latin verbs. However, rather than the parroting of the ‘right answer’ being the pinnacle of the student’s learning, it’s seen as one tool in their toolbox that will help them to solve a bigger, real-life problem… being fair with those lollies.

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