A Little Old Fashion Rote Memorization is Good After All

When she was forced to teach her students Latin and Greek word roots, high school English teacher Suzanne Kail thought that such "drill and kill" method would backfire. (Progressive educators tend to think that rote memorization would surely kill students enthusiasm for learning, hence the term.)

But is a little old school learning really that bad?

As soon as she began teaching her students the Greek and Latin origins of many English terms — that the root sta means “put in place or stand,” for example, and that cess means “to move or withdraw” — they eagerly began identifying familiar words that incorporated the roots, like “statue” and “recess.” Her three classes competed against each other to come up with the longest list of words derived from the roots they were learning. Kail’s students started using these terms in their writing, and many of them told her that their study of word roots helped them answer questions on the SAT and on Ohio’s state graduation exam. [...]

For her part, Kail reports that she no longer sees rote memorization as “inherently evil.” Although committing the word roots to memory was a necessary first step, she notes, “the key was taking that old-school method and encouraging students to use their knowledge to practice higher-level thinking skills.”

That’s also true of another old-fashioned method: drilling math facts, like the multiplication table. Although many progressive educators decry what they call “drill and kill” (kill students’ love of learning, that is), rapid mental retrieval of basic facts is a prerequisite for doing more complex, and more interesting, kinds of math. The only way to achieve this “automaticity,” so far as anyone has been able to determine, is to practice. And practice. Indeed, many experts who have observed the wide gap between the math scores of American and Chinese students on international tests attribute the Asian students’ advantage to their schools‘ relentless focus on memorizing math facts.

Annie Murphy Paul of TIME has more: Link

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