In an article in the education journal Middle Ground, The Magazine of Middle Level Education, author Rick Wormeli reminds his audience of teachers that “if we don’t teach students how to memorize, we make learning more challenging than it needs to be.” Most of the article is spent offering various techniques to help students to remember and advocating for pupils to combine several strategies for maximal benefit.
It was the idea of memorization that caught my attention. In one sense, asking students to memorize anything might seem archaic. Technology affords us access to information at our fingertips and with little or no waiting. A palpable shift seems to have occurred where we now are more often teaching our students about the use of tools rather than about content. This is the result of how quickly the world is changing and how the amount of information there is to know is multiplying exponentially. But if we stop and think about it, we can apply what we know about how the brain learns to teach our students how to use that great computer in their heads for retrieving information and also establishing a fund of knowledge that is “online” for a very long time.
During my years of schooling I was asked to memorize many pieces, some quite lengthy. From the shorter poems of Robert Frost, Walt Whitman, and Joyce Kilmer to longer ones such as Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Raven,” to Marc Antony’s famous funeral oration and the Preamble to the Constitution, to definitions and concepts in science and theorems in geometry and dialogues in Spanish, my peers and I were often asked to memorize and recite or perform. Years later I can still remember and recite. An added, and unforeseen bonus for middle level learners, is that at sometime in the future they will tap into what they have memorized and make important connections with people, culture, and events. This bank of knowledge and learning experiences help to create impressive individuals who can recall great literature, retrieve fundamental facts, apply influential quotes, and contribute important ideas.
Our students are asked to memorize from time to time. Among Rick Wormeli’s suggestions are those that include how families can help, such as inviting students to practice reciting lines in front of the family. Ask your child to teach you the concept he or she is working on. Help your child establish mnemonic devices. Don’t forget to use bright colors or large posters or props. For visual learners, the most vivid, colorful or absurd displays help us to remember best. For auditory learners hearing the words with different accents or in a song can reinforce learning. Technology can also motivate students to remember by performing in front of a digital video or recording device so that they can view or listen to themselves.
These are just a few of his suggestions and mine. Using our memory is important to learning and to help us be learned individuals. What a refreshing, and timely, reminder from a colleague who teaches middle school students and teachers, and one that can help teachers and parents support student learning.