Mike the Psych's Blog

What if psychologists ruled the world? In real life?

Rote learning rules – again!

stick_figure_walking_up_books_1600_wht_3441Neuroscience is proving that learning your times tables should never have gone out of fashion.

Practice makes perfect and sitting, listening and learning facts helps you to recall facts and knowledge and make good decisions.

Helen Abadzi, a cognitive psychologist who worked for 27 years as a senior education specialist at the World Bank, believes textbooks, homework and learning tables and phonics (however see below) by heart are vital for children’s education.

Those without the automatic and unconscious ability to do mental arithmetic, and those without facts at their fingertips, are unlikely to progress to analytical thinking.

Speaking at the Cambridge Festival of Ideas she said traditional teaching methods had been part of the education system for centuries for good reason. Some people may not like direct instruction such as “repeat after me” but it helps students remember over the long term.

Such techniques ensure that children acquire fluency and automaticity in basic skills which are prerequisites for higher order thinking.

People rely on their working memory but it only holds information for a short time so if people can only read or calculate slowly they will forget what they have seen and so can’t make good decisions.

So when mental arithmetic becomes automatic and unconscious it frees up space in working memory for more complex calculations.

Criticising those who called for the abolition of homework, textbooks and times tables, she thinks it’s important to understand the benefits of practice.

Those who practice the most forget the least over time”. Overlearning protects us from forgetting because consolidation requires repetition of small bits each time.

And she warned about technology – not today’s over-reliance on Google to answer all your questions, although that is a major problem – but multitasking which prevents children from consolidating information (and is actually impossible).

Good to hear someone talking sense but what a waste of our children’s education having had to put up with so-called “progressive education” in the past. No wonder Gove had a tough job when he was in charge of education.

PS. And there is more evidence from the success of Asian children being taught maths the “mastery” way. This focuses on ensuring that all pupils grasp each concept before  moving on. It boosts children’s enthusiasm and is popular with teachers.

9780198358220However teachers worry that they don’t have time to cover all the topics and poor readers struggle as it relies on text books. The Inspire Maths books aim to develop children’s understanding of core mathematical principles and reasoning skills with a combination of whole-class instruction, including questioning by teachers, and activities in mixed-ability groups with picture-based problems and use of cubes, counters, and shapes

The approach is widely used in Singapore, Shanghai, and Hong Kong. Critics say it is nothing but rote learning. Well so what, see above.

PPS. Another blow to  so-called “progressive educationalists“. Research among secondary pupils show that “project-based learning” is less effective than single subject teaching.

Working on cross-curriculum projects to encourage independent learning skills doesn’t improve their motivation or literacy and may have a negative impact on poor pupils.

Pupils who were involved in such projects in eh first year at secondary school made months’ less progress in literacy than those taught in separate lessons for each subject.

The Education Endowment Foundation, which carried out the research,  said “We found no evidence that PBL had a positive impact on pupil literacy or their engagement with school and learning”.

So let’s get back to teaching the facts shall we?

Note on phonics

Experts at GL Assessment say an over-reliance on phonics means that although pupils can sound out words they don’t necessarily understand them. Sentence completion tests may measure how well someone has mastered phonics but not if they understand the meaning – which means they won’t read as well as they should

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Author: mikethepsych

He says he's a psychologist but aren't we all?

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