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Rote Memorization and Critical Thinking

Does rote learning compromise or assist a student's ability to think through problems?

Children with neurobehavioral challenges experience unavoidable physical and biological challenges in the classroom, so it’s crucial to make sure these students are not burdened with additional obstacles presented by an inappropriate teaching method. In this era of standards-based education, schools are feeling pressure to prepare students for testing, and this pressure tends to result in more rote memorization. Are critical thinking skills being overlooked in schools today? Parents need to be aware of the following three touchstones in order to engage in productive conversations with their children’s teachers:

Critical thinking is undervalued for all students

“The United States ranks 24th out of 29 developed countries in critical thinking,” according to research cited by University of Texas at Dallas neuroscientist Dr. Sandra Bond Chapman. She goes on to explain: “This is a problem across the nation. We’re missing the critical brain years and building a brain that doesn’t reason.”

Dr. Chapman feels that students with ADHD are especially vulnerable to this critical thinking deficit, regardless of their intelligence. However, the relationship between memorization and problem-solving strategies is not a simple one-or-the-other type of opposition.

Memorization is a cornerstone of critical thinking

William R. Klemm, PhD, senior professor of neuroscience at Texas A&M University, points out: “We think and solve problems with what is in working memory, which in turn is memory of currently available information or recall of previously memorized information . . . Numerous studies show that the amount of information you can hold in working memory is tightly correlated with IQ and problem-solving ability.”

In his explanation of the ways in which memorization trains the brain, Dr. Klemm explains that strategies must be developed to facilitate the essential art of memorization. Other neuroscience research also supports this idea, with researchers finding that, “as young math students memorize the basics, their brains reorganize to accommodate the greater demands of more complex math.”

Brain development affects the foundations of learning

Rote learning can be an important tool in building a foundation for higher-level critical thinking skills. However in students who struggle academically with conditions like ADHD and learning disabilities, this approach can be challenging. Poor working memory is common in children with ADHD due to their tendency towards distraction, which can lead to a weakened ability to think critically about a problem. 

Dr. Robert Melillo, one of the founders of the Brain Balance Centers, has published research demonstrating that children who struggle with ADHD and other learning disorders are actually showing evidence of weak brain function in the left or right hemispheres. When these children receive extra help that targets and strengthens the area of their individual delay, they are able to catch up with their peers and experience new learning success. 

If your child has poor working memory and needs to improve his or her executive function skills, we invite you to consider The Brain Balance Program. Once we determine which brain processes are under-developed through our comprehensive assessment, we create a customized plan for your child to improve neural connections and lay the foundation for proper brain development. Contact us today to learn more!

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