The Medium – Is Learning by Rote Memorization So Bad? –

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Published on: September 20, 2010

The Medium – Is Learning by Rote Memorization So Bad? –

The word “drill” has come to define bad teaching. The piercing violence that “drilling” evokes just seems not to belong in sensitive pedagogy. Good teachers don’t fire off quiz questions and catechize kids about facts. They don’t plop students at computers to drill themselves on spelling or arithmetic. Drilling seems unimaginative and antisocial. It might even be harmful.

But while drilling might not look pretty — students doing drills don’t tend terrariums or don wigs to re-enact the Constitutional Convention — might it nonetheless be a useful way for some students to learn some things? By e-mail, E. D. Hirsch Jr., the distinguished literary critic and education reformer, told me that far from rejecting drilling, he considers “distributed practice,” the official term for drilling, essential. A distributed practice system, Hirsch explained, “is helpful in making the procedures second nature, which allows you to focus on the structural elements of the problem.”

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