Rote learning is one of the most derided practices in education. It stands accused of deadening minds, of filling children’s heads with isolated, useless pieces of information, of destroying the joy of learning . . .
What is this evil, fascist practice which poisons the minds of youth? Well, it just means learning by repetition. You say something over and over again until it sticks.
And it does work, especially when done with a group of other people in regular, spaced out practice sessions. Chanting the alphabet, the times tables, or a poem together with a class will certainly make them stick in the mind after a certain amount of time.
So why should this practice of learning by repetition be seen as evil? As joyless? Rote learning is blamed for so many evils because it is seen as intrinsically connected to teaching which shuns understanding in favour of mere factual recall.
Now, have you ever met a teacher who shuns understanding? I haven’t. This mythical teacher is one of those nasty bogeymen invented by progressive ideologues to attack simple, effective methods that ordinary laymen can understand and apply.
When my year seven classes learned the ‘Friends, Romans, countrymen’ speech last term, they mostly learned it by repetition. We began almost every lesson by chanting it together, and it stuck. Some of them learned it more quickly than others, but by the end of the term, they could all recite it.
We didn’t only repeat the words. We discussed them. I explained them. But most importantly, we brought them to life by our vigorous recitation. Some pupils even began to invent a series of actions to go along with them (you can imagine how they acted out ‘I thrice presented him a kingly crown’, for example). They really enjoyed themselves.
Nevertheless, however much discussion, explanation, or imaginative engagement there had been, they wouldn’t have learned the speech properly without plenty of good old fashioned rote learning.
Hurray for rote learning, I say.