This method was the core of Bantu education in South Africa. Here's how a Bantu education class would go:
Teacher lectures for 15 minutes. Sometimes the teacher will repeat a statement multiple times, and the students are expected to state the last word of the statement.
Teacher: "There are three types of what?For the second half of the class, notes are written on the blackboard and the student copies them word for word into their notebooks. Tests consisted mostly of fill in the blank questions. The first level of Bloom's taxonomy was good enough. But those who held the power were intentionally trying not to educate students.
Teacher: "Correct, there is physical -"
Teacher: "sexual -"
Teacher: "and emotional -"
Rote memorization goes against everything I've learned and everything I've practiced. I've always considered it one of the deadly sins of education.
But last week, my South African counterpart and I decided that our seventh graders need to know their multiplication tables before we go into long division. Some of these students can't count by 2s, much less multiply. So, although it's killing our progression with the curriculum, we're hitting them with everything we can.
We started with Mad Math Minute, but we're giving them 10 questions to complete in the 60 seconds instead of 30 to save on paper and because three or four students out of 49 get through the 10. We're having them make flash cards and study them in class and at home. I'm doing a series of lessons using the number dots.
And we're counting aloud in class by 2s, 3s, 4s, 5s, through to the 12s. On the 2s, 5s, and 10s, to a hundred, on the others to X times 12.
The idea made me cringe.
But it was the way I learned them. Full class repetition, every time we lined up for gym, lunch, and recess.
So maybe rote memorization has its place in very rare circumstances, when building a foundation of facts so that you can learn more complex facts - like in math and maybe sometimes in science.
Then Christian throws this wrench into my works:
Every one of my 10th graders -- 4 sections worth (the entire 10th grade for our school, actually) -- were given the following non-negotiable challenge the first week of this 3rd quarter:
Each of you has been assigned the challenge to memorize Percy Shelley's "Ozymandias," a 14-line poem centered on the historical fragments of one leader's "cold command" that lies "half sunk" in sand long after his proclamation of greatness was supposed to inspire "[d]espair" in those standing before him.
You are to write out the full poem -- word for word, punctuation mark for punctuation mark -- without making a single mistake of any type. Not even a single comma out of place or a missing moment of capitalization. Perfection, in other words.
There are 2 possible grades: "zero" or "A+". Nothing in between. Until you ace it, you'll have a "big fat zero" in the gradebook for an assignment that is the equivalent of a major essay.
Granted, you can re-take the challenge over and over again (outside of class) anytime this quarter until you ace it...but don't be tempted to wait too long to get it done. Trust me. You do not want to be trying to 're-memorize' it weeks from now after forgetting about the assignment as the rest of the syllabus takes over.
That being said, this will be a real test for many of you. And it'll be a great warm-up as we prime our brains/imaginations for doing similar work -- on paper and in front of an 'audience' -- once Shakespeare comes knocking on the classroom door later this semester.
[All italics are the author's.]
I'm sure his students could pull it off, but for me the question was why. What are they going to learn from memorizing Shelley? But my mind was a little more open to the idea since I had been doing it in math class, and I asked Christian for his rationale.
Fair enough, though I question a few of his reasons - the purpose of "analyzing" a poem is to enter it and own it and I think approaching that through the multiple intelligences is more reliable way for students to own the poem
The rest of the reasons are cross-curricular study skills, and
I'm not going to ask my students to memorize poems anytime soon, but these experiences do keep me mindful of the toolbox I have available, even though some of the tools aren't popular according to where the pendulum was when I graduated. (Dan planted the seed for that thought a while ago here.)
Update: Added link to new post about using Multiple Intelligences theory with poetry analysis.