Comments (22)

Comment RSS
Neurologist/Teacher/Grad School Ed faculty/Author

Rote memorization Is necessary but doesn't have to be unpleasant

Was this helpful?

There are many situations where memorization by repetition and practice is necessary. In most academic contexts there needs to be a base of foundational knowledge build from repeated experiences or practice. In learning to speak a foreign language one needs domain knowledge of vocabulary words. To do mathematical computations one needs a consistent set of representations for specific quantities. To develop larger funds of knowledge and construct concepts that are based on specific designations, such as the hours of a day or the distance represented by a foot or meter, facts must be memorized by repetition, practice, or experience.
But rote memorization does not have to be unpleasant. The best way to promote any behavior is by its association with pleasure. Because most children enjoy playing games (in real time and space or on computers) the practice of facts is promoted by incorporating it into games. You mentioned math so I’m including a list below of computer games or fun practice sites I reviewed and included in my book, Learning to Love Math: Teaching Strategies that Change Student Attitudes and Get Results. It was published last year, so some of the sites may have changed or have started to charge for use.

Interactive Math Fact Practice

AAA Math (K–8 interactive arithmetic lessons)

Aplus Math (K–8 interactive arithmetic games and worksheets)

K–8 interactive arithmetic games:

DimensionM (online multiplayer video games where K–12 students compete
and collaborate with other players)

Discovery Education®: Brain Boosters

Explore Learning: Gizmos™(interactive online simulations for
grades 3–12)

Interactivate: Activities (K–8 interactive arithmetic games and worksheets)

Interactivate: Area Explorer (interactive activities about area calculation)

Kinderweb PreK–6 interactive arithmetic games Cooking by Numbers (metric recipes)

The MAA Mathematical Sciences Digital Library (links to math news,
events, and free game sites)

Math Cats: Tessellation Town (tessellation activities)

Elementary Literacy Specialist and Title I Teacher

I would be interested to no

Was this helpful?

I would be interested to no more about rote memorization and how to get away from it. Many teachers struggle to get away from using rote memorization, particularly when teaching math facts. Is there value in flash card practice? Or should we be utilizing a strategy that enables the executive functions of students when learning math facts?

Trouble Downloading PowerPoint

Was this helpful?

I can't get the downloadable PowerPoint link above to work - Skillsets for 21st Century Success: Executive Functions. Can you help me with this?

Arts Integration Specialist

This is a wonderful article,

Was this helpful?

This is a wonderful article, Judy. Thanks for sharing your unique insights! Your research and study are exactly the reason that I advocate for arts integration. When we use the arts as a vehicle for learning the content areas, students are able to make those deeper, meaningful connections. We know that the brain engages differently when we use the arts and by combining this with the subjects of reading, math, social studies and science, students can learn the essential creative skills needed for deep problem solving and innovation - exactly what we need for 21st century education.

You're right - we are no longer a factory model society. In the 21st century, we need to build creativity, innovation and imagination skills in our students so that they can make personal meaning and application of the knowledge we are providing. Creativity is hard to assess on a standardized test. Let's continue to look at ways in which we can extend, expand and engage our learners - both in and out of the classroom!

If you're interested in more professional development this fall on arts integration, or in arts techniques that you can use directly in the classroom, registration for online classes is going on now at You can also check out for online classes in fostering creativity in the classroom.

Let's continue to build our resources and knowledge together to revamp our educational practices!

Neurologist/Teacher/Grad School Ed faculty/Author


Was this helpful?

Understanding by Design Meets Neuroscience: Teaching to the Test and Rote Memory Tests as Measurement of Achievement are Not Neuro-logical for Successful, Joyful, Learning. ASCD Edge
The below is only part 3 but you can go back to the others or download full pdf
Go to link in the column on right side of page when you scroll down to “Shared Group Documents & Resources” to download “Judy Willis’ Complete Series of 3 posts Understanding by Design Meets Neuroscience or use direct link:

Neurologist/Teacher/Grad School Ed faculty/Author

sign up for my Aug 10 free ascd webinar MEMORY

Was this helpful?

NEXT ASCD “Ask Dr Judy” WEBINAR: What Makes Memories Stick? August 10, 2011 3pm EST. Registration begins Aug 1, 2011

Archived Webinars all at
· Strengthening the Brain’s Executive Functions: The Real Higher Order Processing April 13, 2011
· How to Promote a Learning-Receptive Emotional State 2/2/2011
· Maximizing Student Memory by Learning from Mistakes 10/14/2010
· How Can I Motivate My Students? Fall 2010
· Why Don't Students Pay Attention? May 11, 2010 (The first 10 minutes have a voice repeat/delay, but that goes away and the rest is clear.)

It is illuminating to find

Was this helpful?

It is illuminating to find out how to put your ideas into practice. Thank you for this article!

President, LearningWorks for Kids

Executive functioning for the real world

Was this helpful?

Hi Judy,

Another great and informative blog. Your point about explicitly teaching "how to" use executive functions is particularly important for children with learning, attentional, and social/emotional difficulties. These kids tend to struggle in generalizing or transferring skills from one situation to another. Parents and teachers need to find ways to help the kids reflect and connect executive skills taught in the classroom to real world situations.

Making parents, teachers, and kids more aware of the importance of executive functions may be helpful. One source of information for this is on our soon to be totally revised website . There is also a section for children that explains 8 different "thinking" or executive functioning skills . I hope these are useful for your readers.

Urban Counselor -Chicago

Lynn, Well said. The testing

Was this helpful?


Well said. The testing movement needs to be retired, Ironically, who is keeping the "accountability" movement accountable? When we collectively wake up from our bad case of NCLB, we will openly wonder how we abdicated our leadership & ushered in an absurd de-facto micromanagement of our classsrooms.

Retired ESL for adults and elementary school teacher in California

My information on why we have

Was this helpful?

My information on why we have universal free education in the U.S.A. is that it's required in order for a democracy to function. The beginnings of free education in the U.S A.predate the assembly line type jobs that Ford started. I had a very traditional education in the 50s and 60s, full of rote memorization, yet I am a keen critical thinker with well developed higher thinking skills. We did have discussions, some hands on work in biology labs and information put into context with movies.
The types of skills needed are those that a parent needs to raise a family, just as much as those needed by an executive. I and many teachers I know hate how the time needed to the teach to the test has taken away teacher initiative, control and creativity and has left little time for anything else in the classroom. The testing movement is just another money sucking, untested program that has taken funding away from educations. The direction to which J. Willis points us can be an improvement, if it is fully funded and implemented. Education is not as complicated as we make it. If we had 10 to 1 student - teacher ratio, money for field trips and making learning fun, interesting, challenging and in context, money to take students out into the community to apply learning and involved parents, we would have and educated public, one which would not have accepted Bush's invasion of Iraq or allowed the banks to send us into a world financial crisis.

see more see less