I stumbled across an article in The Telegraph about the heated debate on rote learning in the new curriculum, which brought some thoughts to mind.
I, for one, am actually old enough to remember my Grandfather (b. 1911) entertaining us children with endless rhyming lists of everything from the world’s capitals to German grammar. But I also remember his concern that we kids didn’t really seem to know anything.
This was a concern we were implicitly taught in school to consider slightly “lame” – when I grew up in the seventies and eighties, the Danish education system was already about creating individuals who could think out of the box.
What no-one seemed to consider was that the necessary prerequisite for thinking out of the box would be the existence of a box in the first place.
And while an analysis of the possible reasons for a specific historic event does need free thinking skills and critical understanding, the historical event itself – upon which the whole discussion must rest to make any sense – does need a firm grasp of factual knowledge.
To get to my point, Cooperative Learning is often accused of being all about opinionated discussion and higher level thinking skills – essentially a didactic method wholly unsuited to learning hard facts.
This is, in my experience, simply untrue. On the contrary, take something as basic as flashcard sets with essential names, dates and definitions: The many, many ways of working with flashcards offered by Cooperative Learning make this method an ideal way to review the same cards over and over in endless variation, concealing the rote.
And especially so when memorization is followed by activities where the facts are assimilated and contextualized through presentation and discussion, using the many knowledge sharing activities of CL.
Facts or free thinking?
Well, with Cooperative Learning, is it too much to ask for both?