Rote Learning Can Turn Reticent Students into Active Learners

We’re all guilty of it—calling on the willing student with hand raised and eagerly waving rather than waiting for a more reserved student to hesitantly choke out a response. However, doing so most likely favors the student who is a better rote learner rather than a more creative thinker.

The reason has to do with the way people remember information. Students who are quick to respond likely have strong working memories, which allow an individual to hold onto information and store it until it needs to be retrieved. Working memories cause the avid hand-raisers to readily withdraw ideas from their memory banks, making them have what we often refer to as a steel-trap memory. These students can access several ideas as they think, so they can quickly calculate, translate, or call out the right answer.

As any teacher knows, not every student has this ability, especially those with distractibility. These learners tend to not have strong working memories. However, researchers are now saying they are actually more creative. Having a poor working memory, (the non-steel-trap kind) makes ideas flow more freely instead of fitting into the confines of the working memory bank. When ideas bounce around, creativity results.

Consequently, when instructors favor the willing hand waver over the quieter student, they may be acting biased toward a specific type of learner. Therefore, teachers should  integrate practices that help students without high-functioning working memories. Ironically, rote memorization is one of these practices, and it is a learning strategy sorely missing in Americans’ educations today.

By requiring memorization, we actually help students master a subject. Below are strategies you can pass along to help students with lesser working memories become more proficient learners.

  • Chunking. Chunking is memorizing bits of information (chunks) and grouping them into a larger whole that is more easily retrieved. Example: memorizing a few new vocabulary words that are somehow linked instead of attempting to memorize an entire list at once.
  • Mnemonic Mnemonics are an acronym, rhyme, image, phrase, or song that act as a memory trigger. Example: I before E except after C and words that sound A as in neighbor and weigh.
  • Metaphors/Analogies. Metaphors and analogies are the best devices to remember complex subjects because they take previous knowledge and apply it to new information. Example: comparing the direct organizational strategy to an inverted pyramid, with information organized in descending order of importance.

These learning strategies can help even our tightest-lipped students join the conversation and become more active learners.

What strategies to you use to pull in reticent students? Share your ideas!



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