Rote v/s Conceptual Learning

What is Rote Learning and how is this different from Conceptual Learning?

Some topics need to be learnt by rote and some by conceptual learning. We cannot do away with rote learning, but we need to shift from heavily focusing on rote learning to focusing on conceptual learning.

Let us take an example to understand:

Ms. Sarita, a primary grade teacher gives two activities to her pre-schoolers one followed by another:

  1. Recite the numbers from 0-10
  2. Arrange the following numbers in increasing order- 3,9,5,6,2,1,7,8

What type of learning do you think she should follow for each of the activities?

1 – Since this involves recitation, the best way for students to recite is to memorise. This means this should be taught using Rote Learning. This will then lay the foundation for further learning involving the number system.

2 – Since this involves students arranging a given set of numbers in increasing order, it is important Conceptual Learning is used so that students can transfer this skill of “arranging in increasing order” to any scenario. But to be able to do this, students should already know the correct order of numbers from 1-10 which they would’ve learnt by Rote Learning.

In activity 1, the students recite the numbers from memory, however, in activity 2, they associate the number with its value. Though Activity 2 involves conceptual understanding, knowing the numbers is the base skill for the same.

Here are some strategies that help in rote learning:

Associating– the essence of the method is to create a combination of new information and what is already well known. For example- Using mnemonics to remember a rule, name, etc.

Repetition– repetition helps us remember things better.  Revision at increasing intervals helps to embed knowledge. For example- frequent recitation of numbers from 1-100 helps in memorising number names.

Visualize– Our brain remembers images better, what can be seen and touched, and then presented. For example-when reciting multiplication tables- we often seem to remember we wrote them in our notebooks.

Here are some strategies that help in conceptual learning:

Using categorizing, naming, and sorting activities– In order to understand individual concepts, students need to grapple with examples, non-examples, and attributes of a concept. For example- grouping similar objects in one basket.

Asking students to make connections– By drawing out connections between concepts such as protest and rights, students can zoom out to see the big picture of their learning. For example- using graphic organizers.

Planning for transfer– Once students have formed connections between concepts and articulated these as understandings, we can provide them with opportunities to apply them to new real-life situations. For example- inviting students to share similar experiences from their life.

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