Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Rote Learning | "To Be, or Not To Be"

I have to share this quick story.

As we were wrapping up a background study on the Arab-Israeli conflict, I asked my students a couple of questions to help them empathize with both the Palestinians and the Israelis.
  1. Should the majority ethnic group be in control of the law of the land?
  2. If the law of the land is to protect the people, should it protect all people equally?
One, two, four, then six or seven students began to recite Hamlet's "To be or not to be" soliloquy. I was more than caught off guard and very pleased over what I heard because it wasn't the sound of rote memory. It was the intersection of practice and application – only this time it was interdisciplinary.

I had nothing better for them in the remaining five minutes of class, so I asked them to summarize the lesson we can learn from both the Arab-Israeli Crisis and Hamlet.

An eager student raised her hand and said: "Both situations teach us that we sometimes have to make tough decisions that do not leave us with a desired outcome."

This is a perfect example as to how important it is to require students to memorize key vocabulary, multiplication tables, and Shakespeare. How else will they be able to recall information efficiently. If you need to look it up every time, you'll be surpassed by those who already know.

I am a big fan of essential questions and lessons that transfer across disciplines. All the same, I want my kids to be able to calculate math without calculators and remember causes of key events in history. Further, I'm convinced that the employment of essential questions facilitated the application of the soliloquy. 

To think that Understanding by Design replaces rote learning is shortsighted. Unfortunately, some educators are quick to interpret new approaches as a call to throw the baby out with the bath water.

take a brick-by-brick approach to developing as a professional. The lower thinking levels of Bloom's are crucial to support the middle and higher levels. 

This experience with my 11th graders was an reminder of a lesson I Iearned long ago. It was a bright spot at Holliston High School, and an important moment when a teacher realizes that the effect is real.