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Is Memorization Important?

Is Memorization Important?

Pat Hensley

After reading The “old way”, the “new way” and the ethics of bar trivia from Stop Trying to Inspire Me by Tom, he had me thinking about how I felt toward memorization.

He states,

“Katie’s comment about moving on from stopping cheating to teaching kids how to access facts, etc. is one that I’ve heard quite often from people both in and out of education. So much focus nowadays is on memorizing what’s necessary for standardized tests that kids actually don’t learn any real skills, such as problem solving or critical thinking. And I agree for the most part: the high-stakes testing focus has put so much focus on what the right answer is that examining the question or appreciating the process by which you find the answer isn’t as important.

However, to go completely in the other direction and say that memorizing anything isn’t necessary is throwing out the baby with the bathwater. Because I don’t know about you, but I find that the memorization and retention of particular facts, processes, procedures, functions, etc. are vital in the real world and not just in bar trivia or at the DMV [to which I say, you’d better have that stuff memorized at the DMV. I don’t want you looking at your iPhone at a stop sign to figure out what that stop sign means]. When you learn anything, you very often commit the most basic parts of it to memory mainly because what comes next uses those basic parts or assumes you know them.”

I think that schools have put way too much emphasis on memorizing certain facts and information and not enough about others. I feel that memorizing things are as important for exercising the brain as much as physical activity is important for exercising the body. Yet for both exercises, we want to do it in the most efficient and effective way so that we can reap benefits from this. Also, some exercises may be so boring and useless that I will give up before I ever see any benefits.

I think students do need to memorize certain things in order to function successfully on a daily basis. Personal information (name, address, date of birth, phone number) should be memorized at an early age. There are many things that we do on a daily basis that we have memorized over time. I think basic math facts of addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division should be memorized. Sure, you can use a calculator but memorizing these facts is more efficient than the time it takes to take out a calculator and input the numbers to find your answer. I know I memorized a lot of vocabulary words when I was learning a new language but unfortunately when I didn’t get to practice them or use them, I quickly forgot about them.

There are some facts that I found useless knowing and when I hadn’t needed this information, I have forgotten them. That makes me feel that it was a waste of time even learning the information. For instance, I had a teacher who made us memorize the Presidents in order. Now I can honestly tell you that I have never needed to come up with that information in order to function in daily life (I’m not talking trivia contests). It seems like we spent forever learning this information and it makes me wonder how much time was lost when I could have been learning something valuable. I have never needed to know the geological timeline for everyday life but I remember spending a week learning about it and being tested on the order and dates. I’m not saying this information hasn’t come in handy when I’ve needed it but knowing how to find the information was more important than just memorizing the information.

On my own, I felt it benefited me to learn the dates of different events in American history because when I learn something new in history, I can relate it to the dates that I know to give it a place of reference in my mind. No one had me memorize these dates (or if they did, I don’t remember) but I found myself doing this a lot so eventually I remembered them. We travel to a lot of national parks and historic sites so when dates are given for events or when it was established, I can relate it to other events that were going on during the same time. Sharing this with students may help them take the same interest in learning information like this.

I believe that when I have students memorize things, I need to think about the purpose for doing this. I need to be able to explain to them the rationale for memorization and have them understand that it will help them be more successful in life. If I can’t do this or even convince myself of this, I need to stop and rethink about having them memorize this information.

How do you feel about memorization? What do you feel is important that our students memorize?

Posted on the Successful Teaching Blog by loonyhiker (successfulteaching at gmail dot com).


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