Imagine if maths were taught the same way that the Look, Cover, Write, Check method ‘teaches’ spelling.

Each week, children would be given a list of 5-10 calculations, perhaps 10×45=450, 5×60=300, 4×39=156, 76×89=6764, etc, depending on how far up the school they are.

They have not been taught times tables, nor have they been taught how to do those calculations. They simply learn them by rote, so that in the test at the end of the week they can write out the whole of each calculation from memory.

How many children would be able to deduce, over time, the underlying patterns and rules and simple maths facts which are common to these calculations?

A few would, of course, and would be able to apply this knowledge to other similar calculations. Some would work out a bit of it, and so might make a decent stab at calculations which are close enough to the learned ones for some inferences to be made.

Many would have no clue.

If the specific calculations did not happen to turn up in other class work, I think most children would forget the list within weeks.

Yet this is what we expect from children in the Look, Cover, Write, Check method.

Without work on phonics and morphemes, rote-learning the spelling of ‘whether’, or ‘stupidly’, or ‘procrastination’ is no more useful than rote-learning 35×16=560 but never looking at 3×1, 30×10, 5×6, etc..

Memorization is crucial for some things, but pretty useless for others. When ‘rote’ learning is discussed, whether positively or negatively, it’s absolutely essential for this aspect to be clear.

See Improving Literacy by Teaching Morphemes for more on better methods.

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