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September 25, 2013


Educators talking about alternatives in education (including myself) lay a lot of emphasis on the understanding of the child about what he/she is doing. But, there is no alternative to rigor (repetition in various forms) to master a subject.

Often rigor is confused with rote. Rote is the process in which a child repeats the same thing without any understanding in an effort to learn it by heart. Rigor is repeating something after understanding or applying something learnt in multiple contexts in order to help the brain rewire to internalize something learnt or improve the understanding of what is learnt from different contexts.

Babies love repeating something they are getting a hang of. When they learn a new skill say crawling, they keep doing it. When they learn walking, they can't get enough of it. If they learn to say a new word, they will try to use it at every opportunity. As adults we get so busy with our jobs/lives that we forget what it means to learn something substantially different. It pays to think what it would take to learn a new musical instrument. Now imagine trying to do it without any rigor or repetition by understanding it...

Where does this all change? Why are some children unable to or apparently uninterested in rigor? Is it because they don't understand or didn't understand for so long that they have given up?

I have been trying to figure out how to reignite the desire to learn through understanding, but also to remind children that to master something rigor and independent work is indispensable.

This hits the children hard in 7th grade (in TN) where a multitude of abstract ideas really take off with algebra, geometry with algebra and the works. Children apparently understand something in class and think they have got it, do not work at home, because their teacher is so cool and they got it in class. Come a clean slate the next day and expect me to start from scratch.

Even though I start every class with what did we learn yesterday, it works well for experiments and ideas they saw and worked on, but not as well for abstract ideas if they didn't give it a look...

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