Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Open book learning versus rote learning

       What is rote learning?

     Rote learning is the concept that you will memorize a procedure by endlessly repeating it until you “understand” it.  Some believe this is the only way to truly understand a topic in mathematics.  It is the “practice makes perfect” paradigm.  The rote learning idea is that understanding is derived from memorization and recall over time.  [edit:(9-24-2015) As we learn more about the human brain and the way it carves and hones pathways, we begin to see the the role of rote learning. We have come to learn that rote memorization of key concepts tends to in a way  free up "ram" ,working memory, in our brains. With key concepts being stored in long term memory, our brains are able to process higher level logic faster. ] Understanding means to comprehend or to grasp the meaning of. Students with good memories will just simply memorize the formulas and recall them on demand at test time, and the teacher will believe they understand the concept and move on.  Students who do not have great memories will struggle and get frustrated while trying to memorize the formulas. We can single them out in an attempt to give them extra help to understand, which in some cases actually embarrasses the students. [edit:(9-24-2015) A strategy to overcome singling out students with poor memory, is to implement a small section on memorization techniques. Proper application of memorization strategies can also teach concentration and focus techniques. (link '')]
 Embarrassment even in the smallest amount begins a psychological impairment on a child’s ability to learn. No matter how we approach the situation singling out one student or even multiple students can impair learning.  Now I am sure there are some very exceptional teachers with the amazing ability to approach a student to find out why they are failing with minimal impact. Unfortunately, not all teachers can do this; it is a talent of charisma that we just simply cannot teach everyone. We are now left with the question: How do we give the children that need this extra attention help without singling them out? We first need to remove the extra pressure of rote learning exercises. We can do this by utilizing Open book learning approaches.

                           What is open book learning?

Open book learning takes away the pressure of having to cram for a test. Relieving a student’s stress will create a better atmosphere of learning. In introductory courses, having a system based on pure open book examinations can cause some problems of students not studying or reading the material before the test. To alleviate this problem you can implement both open book and closed book exams.  The exams need to be structure for whether it is open book or not. For the open book tests do not put in direct information that can be simply copied. Present the questions where the students will have to apply the knowledge rather than recall or look them up and simply copy it from the book. Keep it random as well don’t let the students know what kind of test they are going to be having, so you don’t discourage study.

                      Don’t be one sided.

Stay flexible and implement all of these strategies together. The mechanical rote learning approaches should stay limited to introductory courses. Rote learning should never be the pass/ fail in math education.  A final examination should be on concepts and understanding not recall of facts that anyone can look up.  

The purpose of education is career preparation.[edit:(9-24-2015) The purpose of education goes far beyond career preparation. It is the cornerstone of human development and understanding our world. While career preparation is a tangible by-product of education, it is not the 'sole' purpose.]   An engineer can still build a great bridge even if they have to look up a formula. However; if they don’t have a conceptual understanding of what to look up or how to look it up they won’t be an engineer for long. 


  1. I was in total agreement up to "The purpose of education is career preparation."

    The purpose of TRAINING is career prep. The purpose of education is far broader.

    I still mostly agree with you. :)

    1. I agree with you on that. Education goes far beyond career prep. We also need thinkers, creators,and innovators.