I go back and forth. If the goal is simply to get them to pass an exam, then memorization, or "drill and kill" is without a doubt the most effective means of making that happen. I honestly don't even think there's an argument there. If you need to know that a triangle with two 45 degree angles has a 3rd angle of 90 degrees, that's a concept that our students just simply need to memorize. If we're talking proofs, theorems, scientific principles, those are things that can go into a flash card and become the valuable foundation for student success.
Now, if were talking about creating a life long interest and passion in a particular subject, then the answer becomes a little different. By simply drilling and practicing, students that are already disengaged have little incentive to jump in and pay attention. Students that struggle with reading, critical thinking, and processing will also struggle with the more theoretical portion of the subject. Teachers have to make a call in their classrooms if working through that process is beneficial to the students and to their own end of year evaluations, particularly if the scores are part of it.
Is it fair to the student to take them down this creative, interactive, thought based path that will allow them to stumble, make mistakes, and play with the material even if by test day they don't know enough to get a passing score? Is it right or just to triage the enjoyment part in order to make sure that students get the output on the exam that the teachers, parents, administrators, and the state are telling them they need? These are not necessarily mutually exclusive, but, again, it gets to the question of the purpose of education. What is success? How to we get our students there?
My conclusion is that you can and must do both, but teaching concepts creates enduring understanding and has a greater potential to spark interest from students. If multiple choice is the measure, then drill and kill will always be an option that teachers keep in their toolbox and rely on in times of crisis. If their livlihood is tied to it, then it's much more likely they will continue to make use of it. I don't think you can blame people for relying on something that works unless you show them a better way.
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