Old fashioned methods that work

“The Need for Memorization, Drill, and Excellence”

by Donna Garner
Education Policy Commenator EdNews.org

As a classroom teacher who taught English for over 33 years, I have worked withliterally thousands of students; and I am tired of the education elites and high-paid consultants who tell educators never to use the “drill and kill” method for fear of boring their students.

At the beginning of the school year, I always used Bloom’s Taxonomy to explain to my students how every person must learn. I took the liberty of simplifying Bloom’s and broke the concept into three levels of a pyramid instead of Bloom’s six.

I drew a picture of a pyramid and struck three parallel lines to indicate three levels. Then I showed an arrow pointing from the bottom of the pyramid to the top. I said that all learners must go from the bottom of the pyramid to the top in order to gain academic mastery.

First, at the base of the pyramid is memorization. Every student must memorize in order to have a firm foundation. The base of the pyramid has the widest expanse which indicates the importance of memorization.

The second level is “teacher origination” where teachers (and/or textbooks, worksheets, etc.) present examples to the students based upon the memorized material in the first level.It is on this second level that students must practice, practice, practice, each time applying what they have memorized to a myriad of different examples until their responses become quick and automatic.

The third level is the “origination” level.In the actual Bloom’s Taxonomy, there are four parts to what I labeled as “level three.”Bloom has named the four parts “application,” “analysis,” “synthesis,””evaluation”; but I knew these terms would confuse students. Therefore, I lumped these four terms into what I called the third level, the “origination” level.

The students must memorize the facts (1st level), practice them in many examples until students gain quickness and confidence (2nd level), and then they will be able to implement what they have learned into examples they make up themselves (3rd level).

Unless a student reaches the third level, he has not really gained academic achievement. (At this point, I presented examples of third-level work which included an example of application, of analysis, of synthesis, and of evaluation so that students could see the differences.)

The lowest form of learning is memorization, and leaving a student at that level leaves him with useless information. He must learn to implement the memorized material by practicing at the second level and then to originate at the third level before it can be said he has attained true academic achievement.

Every student must pass through the first and second levels to get to the third level — even the most gifted and talented person in the world. The differences among students are determined by the time it takes a person to go through the three levels. A truly Gifted and Talented (G/T) student with great intelligence can memorize faster than a less intelligent person, and he can apply the memorized material to examples faster and originate faster.

Based upon my many years of teaching experience, I agree with Bloom that all students must pass through the same learning process; but the speed of acquisition is determined by individual student differences.

Stoked by well-meaning but sometimes wrong-headed parents and teachers around them, G/T students soon get the idea that they do not have to memorize; and, unfortunately, intellectual snobbery sets in.

These students have been told that they should go right into higher-level thinking and innovative group projects which seem much more intellectually stimulating than do memorization and drill. 

Because G/T students have high intelligence levels, they normally can get through elementary school without having to develop much self-discipline. All they have to do is to listen in class and because of their high intellect, they can generally make passing grades — not fabulous grades, perhaps, but passing grades.

However, when they get to the secondary level where the curriculum becomes more sophisticated and is based upon the memorized and practiced skills of the first and second levels of Bloom’s, many G/T students cannot perform at the third level and, consequently, hit the “brick wall.”

Because I taught at the secondary level, I saw what happened to many of these G/T students when they did not have the prerequisite skills and self-discipline needed to be successful students.They could not write a correct, complete, sophisticated sentence; and they often struggled when they had to write compositions. They were generally articulate and had high intellect but were “handicapped” when it came to writing their thoughts down on paper.

Of course, these G/T students loved doing creative projects where they could excel; but when it came to writing a cogent and organized paper and working through a well-sequenced and well-planned organizational writing project, they were sunk. These students had not mastered all three levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy.

Many of these same G/T students did not want to read a classic piece of literature because the reading level was too difficult; and because they had not learned to read with automaticity in elementary school, they did not have the self-discipline to push themselves to read at a higher reading level.

Typically these G/T students also were poor spellers because they had not mastered levels one and two of Bloom’s, and they did not gain proficiency in foreign language classes because they refused to memorize the sound systems and rules of syntax.

G/T students often rebelled when required to memorize grammar rules, charts, and principal parts of various elements.These students generally chose to write the way they “felt,” wording their compositions and punctuating according to their feelings with little regard for established rules of communication.

Sad to say, as I followed many of these bright and gifted students’ lives, a fairly large percentage of them failed out of college, had tragic relationships, and/or did not achieve their dreams. Some even committed suicide.

The students, however, who made the decision to apply themselves to move through the three levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy by disciplining themselves developed a strong work ethic and became high achievers. I have seen countless numbers of these “strugglers” go on to establish successful careers and strong relationships, becoming contributing members of their communities.

I believe in Bloom’s Taxonomy and have seen the principles lived out in countless students through the years. Good teachers make sure that the majority of their students reach the highest level of Bloom’s. Good teachers are not satisfied with their students getting stuck at the memorization level. Good teachers do everything possible to motivate their students to attain the highest level of thinking skills, and good administrators support those good teachers’ efforts.

Donna Garner
wgarner1@hot.rr.com Published December 18, 2007

A reading of the above article is best paired with “How to Teach Your Child: A Necessary Order to Knowledge” by Lisa VanDamme who advocates that “there is a necessary order to the formation of abstract knowledge is that you must teach concepts and generalizations in their proper order” and that “an abstract idea—whether a concept, generalization, principle, or theory—should never be taught to a child unless he has already grasped those ideas that necessarily precede it in the hierarchy, all the way down to the perceptual level”.

Pupils read faster with old-style lessons

By Graeme Paton, Education Editor

Daily Telegraph 19/12/2007



Children given back-to-basics reading lessons are up to two years ahead of their peers, academics have said.

Researchers from the University of St Andrews found that pupils who learnt using “synthetic phonics” – learning letter sounds and blending them together to work out unfamiliar words – started to pull ahead of other children after a few weeks of primary school.

Academics compared pupils taught synthetic phonics in Clackmannanshire, with pupils in the North of England who used analytic phonics – learning whole words first, then splitting them into smaller parts. The team found the Scottish children were able to read words about two years ahead of the standard expected for their age.

Synthetic phonics was not made compulsory in schools in England until September, fuelling fears that failed reading schemes over the past decade have left thousands of children with an inferior education.

Learning how to read goes back to basics

By Liz Lightfoot, Education Editor


Daily Telegraph

Children will be taught to read using phonics in a return to traditional teaching, the Government said yesterday.

Within months, four- and five-year-olds will be learning to read using tried and tested methods which began to fall out of favour 30 years ago.

Under the scheme, revealed yesterday in a blueprint for literacy lessons, pupils will no longer be forced to remember lists of whole words from the moment they start school.

Instead they will be given the tools to work out the written word by a return to synthetic phonics, the method of teaching how sounds are represented by letters.

The new way of teaching reading called “Letters and Sounds” is being sent to schools this week with the expectation that it, or the commercial phonics schemes on which it is based, will be used by September.

Pilot schemes have shown that children enjoyed such an activity-based approach and learned to read fluently by the end of the reception year instead of having a three-year struggle using the previous methods.

The U-turn by the Department for Education follows nearly 10 years of contrary advice to teachers from successive education ministers, advisers and civil servants.

Campaigners for a return to phonics – which have included The Daily Telegraph – have repeatedly urged Labour to rethink its literacy hour, forced on all primary schools in 1998.

Research has consistently shown that the more systematic approach of phonics in which children learn to recognise and blend letters – such as “c a t ” or “c ar” or “p ie”, which gave them the tools to read words never seen befor – has eradicated the achievement gender gap in the handful of defiant schools which stuck to the phonics system.

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