A case for rote memory

18 Aug

One thing that most educators agree on is that rote memory is bad. One often sees phrases like “unthinking memorization” and ” rote learning without understanding.”  But research continues to show that rote memory is an essential component of learning. Here, for example, is an AP story about recent research on the brain and math learning:

“Sometime in elementary school, you quit counting your fingers and just know the answer. Now scientists have put youngsters into brain scanners to find out why, and watched how the brain reorganizes itself as kids learn math.

The take-home advice: Drilling your kids on simple addition and multiplication may pay off.”

Automaticity, the ability to respond rapidly and accurately at a basic level, is essential for higher level performance. Automaticity is primarily learned through rote memorization and it is a prerequisite for those higher level skills we value. Opposition to memorization undermines higher level thinking.

Rather than eliminating rote memory, we need to find ways to make it more effective and less burdensome.

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