Monday, June 22, 2020

Rote memorisation



The following is extracted from Greg Ashman’s blog post which you may read here.


Though they all agree that memorization plays an important role in mathematical understanding, teachers from the four regions do not fully agree on what that role is or to what degree memorization is important. Furthermore, there was a re-occurring concern of whether or not memorization should come before or after understanding. For teachers from Mainland China and Hong Kong, memorization can come before or after understanding. However, for Australia and US teachers, memorization can only come after understanding. Nevertheless, memorization after understanding is held in higher regard than memorization before understanding (or ‘‘rote’’ memorization), though some of the teachers from Mainland China say that perhaps the latter could be an intermediate or transitional step towards understanding the mathematics.

My comment: Greg is talking about math which is his forte. 

If memorisation is acceptable for math why is rote memorisation of Dolch words shunned by the Anglo world?

I leave arguments on math and physics to Greg as I only obtained a credit in my form 5 (year 11) in my math and physics. Let me stick with the basics of teaching kids to read in which I have more experience than Greg.


As far as reading is concerned kids can memorise the Dolch words with ease and it does not matter if they memorise before or after understanding. As Dolch words are frequently used words almost all kids know the meaning of the words when they are told to memorise them. I do, of course, ask the kids if they understand how to use the words memorized and I give them simple example sentences to ensure they understand the words memorised.


Science is not the process of dismissing anomalous results because they do not fit your preconceived ideas. Science is about actively seeking anomalous results.
Dismissing meaningful, large-scale success on the basis that it conflicts with smaller research studies – if such a conflict existed – would seem to have things entirely the wrong way around.

My comment: Exactly my sentiments. 

How did my findings that consonants should not be taught with extraneous sounds conflict with research studies? Do we really need research to prove something I have learned from my students who could not read when they came to me and are now doing exceptionally well at school/ universities?


Can what I have found by observing and ‘interviewing’ my students be called anomalous results.
Dismissing my findings when it does not conflict with any research studies (in fact, there is no specific research study) is entirely wrong. 


It is difficult to accept that educators like Dr.Timothy Shanahan, Dr. David Boulton, Prof Pamela Snow, Prof. Jennifer Buckingham, Robert Slavin, P.L. Thomas and many others I have written to are na├»ve. It is possible that they are the spokesperson for people with a vested interest.  


What does research actually say about memorisation and understanding? Well, as far as it goes, it seems to support a two-way, iterative relationship. So the East Asian teachers probably have this right.

My comment: Do we need research to show that rote memorisation of the Dolch words does work? 

Do children have problems understanding the meaning of frequently used words?


It is high time that the Anglo world in general and Australia, in particular, have an open mind to what I have been writing on for the past 10 years.


I have written to Australian ministers and educational establishments since 2010 beginning with The Hon Julia Gillard.

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