ESL Teaching and Learning Tips
Although I'm not so good at taking notes anymore, I think I've read a lot from UM, probably that Folse article at some point in time.
You're right about crash memorization. Very low level of recall. Like that ABC song given to kids to sing. It's a ton of fun for the kids but meaningless until they start to use it. But at least they have it in their brains and can draw on it when the time comes. (Just quickly I'll use my own experience of learning hiregana and katakana characters in Japanese. I basically blew off kata because I had just memorized hire and was faced with kanji. What's the point? They're for foreign words, right? I don't need that. But eventually I caved because I didn't like staring at signs trying to figure them out.) But if crash memorization can be followed up with practical use by the learner, I don't see the problem.
And that is the very basic reason why there are so many foreign teachers in China today. Students in China can memorize much of English with the help of their local teachers, and even be able to use it effectively. But foreign teachers offer the chance at backing up what they have memorized with "natural" conversation and use. They get practice at hearing how tenses are used, and using them in speech, order of adjectives, that sort of thing. Not much different than math. Kids are tortured with algebra and trying to understand trig functions in middle school and high school. What's the point? If they go into engineering or hard sciences in univ, they will need all that math they got through memorization and seemingly endless homework assignments earlier. But they finally see the point of it. What we do in our classes as foreign teachers is about the same; we show them the point of all that memorization and homework their local teachers made them do. We've talked about this before in this board about how we enjoy the look on the face of somebody that just had their first real conversation in English. But they needed memory of it to make it happen.
I wish there was a better way of getting the basics of learning into our skulls, but it sure seems to me that we need to rely on a certain amount of rote to get the basics. And considering that there are so many teachers in China now, and China still relies on rote for so much of its education, why fight it? Your other cite in the middle of your post is probably the best advice.
Pre-teach upcoming vocab.
Use reading assignments that reinforce the use of those words.
Follow up initial teachings of vocab (and structures) with regular use in at least three more sessions afterwards.
Give writing assignments that will require the use of new vocab (and structures.)
Unfortunately you haven't had the pleasure of seeing your students progress over a long period of time. (About a month ago I got an email from a past primary school student that recently got married.) It's pretty remarkable to see how much--and how little--progress can be made. (I always encourage students, even kids, to go out and buy little notebooks that can fit in their pockets or purses so they can jot down new little things they've learned in conversation or at English Corner. They get a little dogeared after a while, but shouldn't they? The books I mean, not the students.) Maybe one of the measurable differences is when we hear about all the new univ grads in China, all lining up to apply for jobs with North American or European companies. But most often the aplicants that get the jobs are your students or mine or KJ's or Yingwen Laoshi's (and so many others here) that were able to stumble through an intelligent conversation with the foreign GM. Priceless.
Well, I'm way off the point now. But I've found that a certain amount of memorization is important with the basics, and for those that are willing to put in the effort it just seems to streamline the process to higher levels.
(I think your final paragraph is best. Try to turn it into an article for publication: retention of previous learning, practical methods for re-engagement of that information, teaching materials, that sort of thing.)