link: rote learning


                                   BRAIN-ANTAGONISTIC TEACHING METHODS: rote memorisation

                                                            OR 'ROTE LEARNING'

Theme: In the framework of the traditional teaching paradigm, most teaching is done with a view to predetermined outcomes such as successful 'performance' on tests which emphasize the acquisition of data through memorization of factual material and isolated information i.e. 'rote learning'. Rote learning is conditioned learning... programmed learning... not necessarily with understanding.  Rote learning develops dependent personalities...

"Much of the problem in leading a child to effective cognitive activity is to free him from the immediate control of environmental rewards and punishments. Learning that starts in response to the rewards of parental or teacher approval or to the avoidance of failure can too readily develop a pattern in which the child is seeking cues as to how to conform to what is expected of him. We know from studies of children who tend to be early overachievers in school that they are likely to be seekers after the 'right way to do it' and that their capacity for transforming learning into viable thought structures tends to be lower than that of children achieving at levels predicted by intelligence tests ...They develop rote abilities and depend on being able to 'give back' what is expected rather than to make it into something that relates to the rest of their cognitive life. Their learning is not their own." (Jerome Bruner. On Knowing: Essays for the Left Hand, Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1962, 88)

Rote learning is 'route' or 'taxon' learning   Rote learning is 'route' learning or 'taxon' learning (from 'taxonomies' meaning lists, prototypes and categories which refer to generic terms such as 'dog', 'school' etc.) As taxon learning, rote learning is based on the brain's 'taxon memory systems'. Retention of taxon memories depends on repeated rehearsals. Lack of rehearsal results in loss of memoryor 'forgetting. Rote learning is inefficient because it activates only part of the brain's potential. Route learning is the traditional textbook learning for test-taking and grades. It involves specified 'routes' for acquisiton of knowledge

  When the brain is activated largely for the purposes of rote learning, a relatively small number of neurons are fired repeatedly resulting in rapid brain fatigue and inhibiting the formation of synaptic connections.

Traditional paradigm  Pedagogies based on methods of rote learning have been evident for centuries. In the relatively recent 'traditional' or 'behavioural paradigm' of education the fragmented and assembly line approach is based on the confusion of learning with school and 'schooling'. Learning as schooling places the emphasis almost entirely on the mechanics of knowledge - the knowledge that something is the case as in a 'fact' i.e. 'declarative knowledge', and knowledge of how something is done as in a 'procedure' i.e. 'procedural knowledge'. Declarative and procedural knowledge or 'data' which on its own does not  necessarily make sense is 'inert knowledge' or 'surface knowledge'. Surface knowledge which is unrelated to life experience is meaningless.

In the traditional paradigm of education emphasis is placed on  surface knowledge which is often  for the learners concerned.

  Traditional teaching methods are detrimental to brain function... 'brain- antagonistic' methods of learning  Teaching methods which impose meaningless patterns on the brain are met with its resistance to learning... are known as 'brain-antagonistic' pedagogies. Brain-antagonistic methods involve the processing of meaningless stimuli which are forced ]and meet with its natural resistance. The brain naturally resists the imposition of meaningless patterns and isolated facts which become meaningless when unrelated to meaningful experience. Brain-antagonistic pedagogies antagonize the learning process. The brain naturally resists rote learning of fragmented information which has no meaning in experience. Rote learning is a form of learning which is very tiring and taxing. With rote learning the brain is rapidly fatigued. When the brain is activated largely for the purposes of memorization, a relatively small number of neurons fire repeatedly and this is what leads to rapid brain fatigue. When the brain is used largely for the purposes of rote learning, only part of its potential is activated.

Pedagogies based on methods of rote learning have been evident for centuries... evident in the sixteenth century at the time of Montaigne. "'Tis the custom of pedagogues to be eternally thundering in their pupils' ears, as they were pouring into a funnel, whilst the business of the pupil is only to repeat what the others have said: now I would have a tutor to correct this error, and that at the very first he should, according to the capacity he has to deal with, put it to the test, permitting his pupil himself to taste things, and of himself to discern and choose them, sometimes opening the way to him, and sometimes leaving him to open it for himself. ... Cubs of bears and puppies readily discover their natural inclination; but men, so soon as ever they are grown up, applying themselves to certain habits, engaging themselves in certain opinions, and conforming themselves to particular laws and customs, easily alter, or at least disguise, their true and real disposition; and yet it is hard to force the propension of nature. Whence it comes to pass, that for not having chosen the right course, we often take very great pains, and consume a good part of our time in training up children to things for which, by their natural constitution, they are totally unfit." (Michel Eyquem de Montaigne (1533-1592) "Of the Education of Children", The Essays, The Great Books of the Western World, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1952 volume 25:64)

Teacher's role in the traditional paradigm  In the traditional paradigm of 'banking education', the teacher is an authority who decides what and how their students should learn through lecture and textbook. Lessons are designed with a view to specific 'learning outcomes' which are outlined in structured 'lesson plans'. Evaluation of learning is based on student 'performance' on 'objective tests'. And even though much is forgotten after testing, performance is measured in terms of a reward/punishment system of 'scores', 'grades' and 'grade averages'. These methods are characteristic of the 'student/teacher contradiction'  in which naturally protective ethical barriers are spontaneously set up between learner and teacher and the learner is prevented from engaging in natural learning. Teaching practice is based on the assumption that learning is a mental process which substitutes one stimulus for another in conditioned responses i.e. 'conditioned learning' or 'conditioning'. Conditioning is 'programming. Programming without understanding involves the separate functioning of 'emotions' and 'intellect' and its retention depends on the repetition of rote learning.

 Emphasis on conditioning and rote learning involves the unnatural imposition of meaningless stimuli on the brain.

Brain-antagonistic methods of teaching (teaching for 'rote learning' or 'conditioned learning' actually inhibit 'real learning' as experiential learning because they inhibit the formation of new synaptic connections in the cortex of the brain.

Traditional teaching methods are 'brain-antagonistic'  The traditional teaching methods which emphasize facts and outcomes are ineffective in the development of the human potential for intelligence required for social adaptability - rational, spiritual, emotional, aesthetic, creative i.e.  'social intelligence'. Development of social intelligence depends on a learning environment characterised by respect for the individual's 'freedom' and their instinctive capacity for 'self-evaluation'. Since authoritarian methods teach to behavioural objectives, they can actually prevent real understanding of meaningful learning and are described as 'brain-antagonistic'. Brain-antagonistic teaching  ignores the role of the unconscious or 'emotion' in the process of learning. Meaningful learning engages personal initiative based on instinctive motivations or 'emotional drives' i.e. 'intrinsic motivation'. The various types of intrinsic motivation - 'motivational types' - are determined by a range of human motives for learning or 'human needs'. Human needs include the so-called 'higher needs' or 'spiritual needs' i.e. 'metaneeds' for 'ego-transcendance' as well as the basic psychological 'ego needs' for security and self-esteem. The motivational type depends on the individual's level of psychological development or 'sociocognitive stage'. Hence the importance of intrinsic motivated learning which engages personality development to maturity or 'self-actualisation'.

 "Route learning is the traditional textbook learning for test-taking and grades. It involves specified 'routes' for acquisiton of knowledge. Map learning involves the whole brain.... "Maps allow for the whole brain - feelings included... The brain is designed to deal with complex stimuli." (Nummela, R., and T. Rosengren. "The Brain's Routes and Maps: Vital Connections in Learning." NAASP National Association American Society of Principals Bulletin 72: 507 83-86 April 1988)

Emphasis on rote learning inhibits the development of 'conscience' and 'social intelligence'  The brain's  natural function is to detect patterns, find relationships and make connections as quickly as possible in order to adapt to the complexities of changing conditions i.e. 'adaptability'. Adaptability depends on the brain's ability to make meaning of experience or 'learn'. Natural learning involves the brain's ability to integrate isolated facts with experience and to resist fragmentation of information. Teaching methods which depend on rote learning of fragmented knowledge naturally meet with the brain's resistance and antagonize the learning process. So-called 'brain-antagonistic' methods inhibit the brain's natural capacity for making connections and reduce its capacities for understanding relationships. This leads to brain deficiencies such as inability to process complex stimuli and connect with the emotional or 'inner life' which is the basis for social life. Brain-antagonistic methods interfere with the brain's natural development - intellectual or 'cognitive' development, emotional or 'psychological' development, and spiritual or 'ethical' development i.e. 'moral development'. Moral development is a function of development of 'moral consciousness' or 'conscience'. Alienation from conscience leads to imprisonment of mind and lack of 'freedom'. Development of conscience is a function of development of 'morality' and occurs in a series of age related stages i.e. 'socio-cognitive stages'.

Overemphasis on the rote learning capacity of the brain is an inefficient use of its potential. Learning by rote inhibits the brain's natural capacities for making connections and reduces its capacities for understanding relationships. As a result, the brain can become deficient in carrying out the natural functions which are essential to complex learning the natural processing of complex stimuli. With deficiencies in the brain's capacity to process complex stimuli, there is little connectedness with other knowledge, or with the learner's emotional or 'inner life'.

Developed conscience is the source of human values for living or 'social intelligence'.

'Brain-compatible' pedagogies  Social intelligence which depends on the brain's ability to see links between learning and life is fostered by educational methods based on the brain's rules for complex learning i.e. 'brain-based learning'. So-called brain-compatible pedagogies enhance learning because they stimulate the brain's natural capacity for making connections between nerve cells or 'neurons'. They strengthen existing connections or 'synapses' and stimulate the formation of new ones. Brain-compatible pedagogies are based on recognition and respect for the learner's intrinsic motives for learning i.e. 'intrinsic motivation'.

Intrinsic motivation determines the extent to which rote learning is meaningful.

Implications for education  Overemphasis on predetermined outcomes, taxon memory and rote learning is an inefficient use of brain potential unless it is part of a larger pattern which is intrinsically motivating... a product of 'intrinsic motivation'.The inefficiency of rote learning deprives the learner of experiencing the real joys of learning and inhibits development of their natural capacity for personal creativity and intellectual growth and effective decision making i.e. 'adaptability'. It prevents the full functioning of the brain i.e. 'optimal learning' or 'optimalearning'. Optimalearning is effective because it involves the efficient use of brain potential...  involves understanding through expression and dialogue i.e. 'dialogical knowledge' - an outcome of teaching methods which are based on the resolution of the traditional 'teacher/student contradiction' i.e. 'humanisation' of education. Humane education is education of the whole person or 'holistic education'. Holistic education is education for the freedom to develop human potentialities... education for 'freedom' or 'libratory pedagogy'.

BRAIN-COMPATIBLE METHODOLOGIES Teaching methodologies are based on the integration of subject matter with life experience... respect for children's innate intelligence. Teaching for brain-based learning acknowledges the brain's ability to relate vast amounts of information to what has already been learned... allows for the learner's unique contribution. Learning takes place in different contexts. Brain-compatible methodologies encourage holistic thinking and a global perspective or 'wholistic perception'. Good pedagogical method is based on sound theoretical foundations. Teaching for the enhancement of learning... Brain-compatible pedagogies... They teach for learning which is meaningful in contextual frameworks. They provide for the individual's needs as well as for cultural differences and commonalities.

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