Rote Learning: Right or Wrong?

In today’s classrooms, teachers are expected to teach higher level thinking skills. Vocabulary like analyze, synthesis, Bloom’s, flexible thinking, and rigorous-based.

When students learn HOW to learn and think critically, it definitely sets them up for a successful educational experience and beyond.

But should EVERYTHING in the classroom be taught with open-ended and challenging criteria?

I personally do believe there is a place and time for rote learning, but of course, it shouldn't be used solely as your only form of instruction.

Advantages to Teaching with Rote Memorization

I am a firm believer in moderation of most things. If it’s an “all or nothing” approach in teaching methods, I am weary of it.

There are so many different ways to teach. Lots of different types of learners. Varying skill levels/background knowledge. And toss different personalities into the mix – and you have a nice smorgasbord of everything in between.

That why differentiation is key to reaching as many students in our classrooms as possible.

Effective teaching choices have a combination of all the above.

I personally do believe there is a place and time for rote learning, but of course, it shouldn’t be used solely as your only form of instruction.

Examples of Memorization Learning

While there are certainly a million different low-level knowledge topics students could straight out memorize, here are a few that are pretty important as basic building blocks.

  • Alphabet – phonics and phonemic awareness are awesome, but if you don’t know that the letter A is an A, how do you know what sound it makes?
  • Math Facts – This one I might get pushback from. Yes, there are other alternatives to memorizing math facts, but sometimes students tend to use those alternatives as a crutch.

When my (now 25 year old) daughter was in second grade, her teacher was a big believe in Touch Math. It definitely helped her to learn how to add and subtract. BUT to this day, she still cannot answer a basic math fact sum, such as 9+8 without visually adding up the dots in her head.

That became a huge problem as her learning progressed and there were many school nights filled with tears in her middle and high school years from getting higher level math problems wrong due to incorrect computations.

  • Sight Words – The word sight is literally in the title. These words are not usually able to be sounded out (the, goes, enough, sign) and instead just need to be learned through repeated exposure.
  • Spelling Words – My son is a terrible speller, and as a result, his writing prompts in middle school are atrocious. His reading and comprehension is far above the norm, but for whatever reason, his phonics instruction never seemed to “stick” so he has the worst time sounding out words.

For him, we used flash cards to improve his spelling. While it’s not a perfect solution, it did help tremendously.

Would you like premade worksheets and games to teach or review contractions?  
Click HERE to grab them and save yourself time!

Packet include 11 pages with a poster, contraction word search, and 18 contraction puzzles!

Contraction Packet Cover

Once you build from the basic knowledge, then you can continue to increase the rigor and project-based learning options so that students show understanding of the concepts that utilize the low-level memorization they did in the beginning.

How about some Math Minutes to help with basic math facts?

This 8 page packet includes 2 worksheets each for addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division.

How to Use:

  1. Pass out the worksheets to students upside down.
  2. Students write their name on the backside.
  3. When everyone is ready, you tell them to flip and do as many facts as they can in 2 minutes. (You time.)
  4. At the end of 2 minutes, pencils go up, and all papers are collected.
  5. Grade and when a student works their way up to 90% or higher, they get to move on to the next one.

It would be up to you whether you take the Math Minute as a grade. There are certainly pros and cons to both sides.

Another warm-up activity before passing out the quizzes is to do “Around the World” with math flash cards. That gets their brain moving in the right direction and good informal practice.

I personally do believe there is a place and time for rote learning, but of course, it shouldn't be used solely as your only form of instruction.

How do you use rote learning in your classroom? We would love to hear more ideas in the comments below!


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