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Some Mnemonic tips for the Tiger Mother

I heard the currently infamous Chinese “Tiger Mother” on the radio this morning, espousing her view that it is essential to go through a certain amount of rote learning of any subject or skill before you can go on to be creative with it.

This actually seems to me to be, in general, not a bad approach. She used the example of piano playing. I agree that there is probably no sense in most people trying to be creative with playing the piano before they have mastered the finger movements necessary to hit the right keys at the right time. That just results in a hideous cacophony.

Likewise classical painting (Chinese and Western) requires the mastery of certain skills before you can become creative in the use of those skills. Modern western art, of course, does not require this grounding and, depending on your viewpoint, you might think that it is the weaker for that and results in hideous messes being passed off as art.

And in general, it seems that any discussion of any sort is likely to be more useful and enjoyable if the participants are first armed with some basic knowledge: historical facts for a historical discussion; scientific facts for a scientific discussion.

The real question then should be, “How should children learn these basic facts?” Or, since human brains learn most effectively when they are motivated, we can re-frame the question is by asking “How can we motivate our children to learn these facts?” I think that there are two main answers to that:

  1. We can motivate our children by standing over their shoulder and scolding, disciplining and shouting at them until they become motivated to learn as the best way to get them to shut up. This is what is needed for the “rote” learning approach of the Tiger Mummy to work, and it is what she gave her kids.

  2. Or we can work out what they find fun and interesting anyway, and then make sure that by doing that, they learn the stuff that we want them to.

Now there is probably something to be said for option 1. Doubtless it has worked well for the Tiger Mummy and her brood. But at Memrise we think that there is also a lot to be said for Option 2 as well. At least is will lower your blood-pressure and stop your voice going hoarse. It will also let your children learn much faster and enjoy the process much more.

Most kids – most people for that matter – like looking at pictures, animations and videos and reading funny stories. So those are what we use to create the mental images needed to learn facts. We also do a whole load of clever science (modeling the strength of each individual memory, scheduling repetition and testing etc) but we don’t burden the students with that. They just potter along, doing what comes naturally, and letting us take care of the hard stuff.

So far people have been learning facts at an astonishing rate on Memrise – and we haven’t had a single blazing row with any of our students, unlike the poor embattled Tiger Mother.

Discussion

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