Drill and Kill

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    Jill Sweeney

    To me, I do see both sides of the drill and kill theory. In my grade school experiences, we took many timed math test, memorization of words and other drill and kill ideas. Although many of these seemed horrible at the time, I do think that memorizing these small facts which have been built upon in later schooling has made it easier for me to get to answers. On the flip side of this idea, drilling becomes tedious and frustrating for many. Because of this, I think it is so important to keep switching things up in school and giving more ways to understand the information rather than the drilling method.


    Sarah Reich

    As an athlete, I really enjoyed the sports examples given in this section. It made understanding the idea or drill and kill better. Just like in sports, I thin that drilling is a necessary evil to have within learning. It usually sucks while your doing it, but it really does help build knowledge to further expand on. Just as Jill already stated, an instance in school I thing of is math problems. I always hated those time sheets with simple math problems in elementary school. I was always one of the last kids to finish, but eventually I started picking up on the shortcuts that helped others get to the solutions faster. In that same line of thinking, I have also seen this to be counterproductive for some students. Sometimes kids just memorize the pattern of problems or how to spell certain words, but they don’t actually understand them. This is why drilling can not be the only way to teach students, but it is an important tool.



    I think that in many ways, drilling is an unavoidable aspect of the education system. There really is not a better way for students to begin learning the countless math facts they must be able to understand and apply to more complex problems later on, or to know the history of the United States. This recall- based information requires some level of drilling to reach mastery. A teacher must strive to avoid the “killing” that comes along with drilling, and look for ways to make drilling fun in some way or another. I do think there is a limit to drilling though— it must be supplemented with more enriching and engaging activities. Simply asking a child over and over again how many syllables are in a word without pausing to explain or make it easier to relate is not an efficient teaching method. I think automaticity is essential for some further skills. Willingham states that the things that should be automatic are the things that he considers to be the building blocks. These things lend themselves more to drilling than more application or practice based skills.



    I think Willingham makes a convincing argument for drilling and the importance of automaticity. Wellingham lists so many benefits of drilling/practice like reinforcing basic skills that are required for learning more advanced skills, improving transfer and protecting against forgetting. Like Courtney said, I think drilling is unavoidable. Personally, I know I wouldn’t have grasped math concepts like addition and multiplication without doing drills. The same goes for handwriting…I needed consistent practice in order to learn how to write. If I hadn’t done handwriting drills, I would have struggled with writing ideas because my working memory would have been focused on the process of writing, instead of formulating ideas.

    My problem with Willingham’s argument arises from the “kill” portion. Yes, doing drills with students is important for skills to become automatic processes, but we shouldn’t give students drills to the point where they are frustrated and their motivation is killed. I am a firm believer that kids, like adults have creative and curious minds that need to be nurtured. There is a fine line between doing enough drills so they are beneficial for students and breaking them up with other activities to ensure that students have opportunities to engage in the classroom.


    Jared Tschohl

    At the bottom of page 112, Willingham states, “beginning readers slowly and painstakingly sound out each letter and then combine the sounds into words, so there is no room left in working memory to think about meaning.” That sums up perfectly that “drill & kill” is a necessary component of learning. His further example on the next page of trying to solve 97 + 89 using a less efficient strategy (counting on) proves we need some “drill & kill.” I personally have experienced this myself with evaluations. Sit with a third grade who solves 53 x 41 using repeated addition and tell me they don’t need some “drill & kill” because the paper ends up looking like a March Madness Bracket!!! And when this occurs during an evaluation I am NOT allowed to stop them and say do it this way or let’s go to the next one, because that is against standardized procedures.

    With that being said, I think “drill & kill” can turn into “drill & overkill” and that is where the motivation is lost. I used to work with a third grade teacher who “drill & killed” her students with everything in math; HOWEVER, she utilized everything in songs. It was more engaging, increased recall, and ultimately understanding. Sometimes the execution of “drill & kill” is where it falls short, not the actual practice itself.

    A great example (which I have probably mentioned before too) that I see a ton of times is that we do not “drill & kill” students on how to hand calculate multi-digit multiplication and long division problems. In VA, this is usually taught between 4th & 5th grade. However, once students hit middle/high school, they are usually given calculators. I RARELY ever meet a child in these upper grades that can remember how to do those types of problems anymore. “Use it or lose it” comes to mind. The children I meet who do remember, typically are those in private schools that required it most likely.



    In some cases, I believe the “drill and kill” method could work, but this does not mean it works for all students, in various subjects. For me personally, this method worked when learning math. I had teachers who would make us do the problem over and over until we got the concept of it. This helped me personally, but to some students it can be very frustrating. Like Jared mentioned, this method could turn into a “drill and overkill” for some students. As an educator, its important for you to know what type of learners you have in your classroom so you can avoid any lost of motivation.

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