What is Rote Learning—and is it Effective? A Battle Between Memory and Intelligence
Rote learning can be described as the memorization of information through repetition. Rote learning is best illustrated by numbers and the alphabet. Multiplication tables and spelling words are two examples that are slightly more difficult. High school students must memorize scientific elements and chemical numbers by rote. Many teachers use rote learning, even though they don’t realize it.
Is rote learning still relevant in 21st-century education?
Is rote-learning an obsolete technique? Or is it still valid for classroom use today? Associative learning, metacognition, and critical thinking are replacing rote learning as a foundation for higher learning.
It is always beneficial to have meaningful relationships with basic skills. However, in today’s learning environment, rote learning is more important than teachers realize. We have to use our unique teaching methods to create the best learning environment possible for our students. It is important to be open-minded about “the right” approach.
Memory and intelligence are two different things
Intelligence is often measured by the ability to remember things. Although the two are closely linked, memory is not always an indicator of intelligence. The level of intelligence a student has does not depend on his working memory.
A deficit in working memory most often results from the structure of learning. Consider working memory as a filing cabinet. Finding the right information is more difficult if each piece of information is stored in a different file. Finding the information becomes even more difficult when there are distractions, stress, sleep deprivation, and other factors. Effective memorization is not about memorizing the entire information. It involves categorizing the information and identifying the sections within each section of the filing cabinet.
Intelligence is not measured by memory. It is more dependent on the interaction of training and environmental factors.
Is there any problem with rote learning?
It is not considered higher-level thinking or critical thinking when rote memorization is the primary focus of learning. Arguments against rote memorization claim that students are not able to develop creativity and learn to solve problems, think critically, and analyze them. Instead, educators advocate for more collaborative or constructive learning in the classroom. The foundation of learning is weakened if the majority of the student’s time is spent on repetition.
Teachers are often criticized for teaching to the test, a reference to standardized testing. They are also criticized for using rote memorization to teach foundational skills. Role-based rote memorization becomes an end in and of itself rather than a means to an ending, which is why it fails to be a building block for critical thinking.
If rote learning is viewed as an either/or proposition, it is often stigmatized as something that “lazy” or uninformed teachers use. In reality, rote learning and higher-level thinking are intimately linked.
What is rote learning and why is it useful?
Teachers can also use rote learning to build higher-level critical thinking skills in subject areas that are difficult to memorize.
Rote learning is a building block
Think about this: What is the best way for students to learn the alphabet and multiplication tables? How can high school chemistry students progress if they don’t have the Table of Elements memorized?
Although it is not the end in itself, rote learning is essential if you are to engage in higher-level thought. It’s not possible to do basic algebra or engineering math if you don’t know how to multiply and lookup operations. This would be a tedious process. It is unlikely that you will experience breakthroughs or “ah-ha” moments.
These same principles apply to spelling, too. Even though word processors have spell-checked, spelling is still essential when filling out forms or writing letters. Writing is easier and quicker when you know how to spell.
Students must learn the basics of knowledge and then memorize it so that they can refer back to it when learning more advanced material.
Rote learning does not have to be either/or.
Rote learning and memorization are not the same thing as higher-level thinking and should not be used in place of one another. However, rote learning is a cornerstone of higher-level thinking and should not be overlooked. In today’s technologically advanced world, rote memorization may be more important than ever. You can think of rote memorization as your brain’s filing system. The brain can make big leaps in learning if it can quickly access the information while performing a task.