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Br J Educ Psychol. 2000 Mar;70 ( Pt 1):65-84.

The role of repetition in the processes of memorising and understanding: a comparison of the views of German and Chinese secondary school students in Hong Kong.

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Department of Education, Karlstad University, Sweden.



Previous research has found that students and teachers in countries of the Far East often see memorization and understanding as working together to produce higher quality outcomes. In contrast, in the West it is more common to associate memorizing with 'surface' and understanding with 'deep' approaches to learning.


The main purpose of this study was to explore and describe the experiences of the role of repetition in the processes of memorizing and understanding among students with Western (German) and Asian (Chinese) backgrounds. In particular, we were interested in finding indications of possible cultural differences in the experiences of the two ethnic groups.


The participants were 48 Chinese (HKC) and 18 German senior secondary school students in Hong Kong.


The study used a qualitative research approach. Data were gathered by semi-structured in-depth interviews. Interview transcripts were analysed in order to uncover, categorize and describe the variation of experiences and conceptions of the role of repetition. The two ethnic groups were then compared as to how many interviews were found in each category.


A similar proportion of both groups remembered being encouraged to recite by their parents, but the HKC students more often said they were made to recite by their primary teachers. While the HKC students focused on the value of the content of these early memories, the German students focused on the value of the activity itself. Moreover, while the German students tended to downplay the role of repetition in the process of understanding, the HKC students sometimes emphasized repetition combined with 'attentive effort'. By such effort they tried to discover new meanings in the materials studied, in order to deepen their understanding.


While the findings of this study cannot be considered definitive, it is suggested that the emphasis on attentive effort among HKC students is consistent with a traditional, Confucian perspective on learning. The results also indicate that 'the intention to both memorize and understand', found in previous investigations of the study approaches of HKC students, may arise out of being simultaneously aware of two possibilities inherent in repetition: creating a deep impression on the mind and discovering new meaning. Finally, it is argued that the differences between the two ethnic groups are consistent with earlier research findings that Chinese, unlike Western, students tend to consider effort attributions more salient than ability attributions.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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