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Memorization: The Neglected Key to Learning?

Admin   10/18/2017   0 Comments

Memorization, recently fallen out of favor in educational practices, is like a wallflower at the prom: Laced with hidden potential, no one is asking it to dance. Although Texas A&M professor of neuroscience, Dr. William R. Klemm agrees that the ultimate goal of education should be to "teach people how to think [and] solve problems," he worries that in getting there many educators "discount the importance of memory."

In his article, "What Good is Learning if You Don't Remember It?" Dr. Klemm makes the case that the ability to remember things is central to developing knowledge and skills. Students, as he says, "cannot apply what they understand if they don't remember it." He also provides evidence of a correlation between working memory and problem-solving ability.

Dr. Klemm writes that most students rely on rote memorization, a process of remembering that is not only inefficient but also discourages learners from actively thinking. What he proposes in his paper is a more effective process of memorization, one that calls for less effort and more fun. Key elements to effective memorization include recall (here Dr. Klemm speaks to test anxiety, and offers strategies to combat it), emotions, attention, organization, association, chunking, and rehearsal. He also provides his "Teaching Game Plan" that follows a 10-minute teach/learn format.

David Glenn's article, "You Will be Tested on This" adds to the discussion on memory by "dusting off an old insight: To maximize classroom learning, quiz early and often." Mr. Glenn reintroduces the work of 1930's graduate student, Howard F. Spitzer, whose studies found that students who were quizzed shortly after a lesson were more likely to remember the material later on. This follows Dr. Klemm's logic that students who actively work with the material being taught are more able to retrieve the information when necessary.

Mr. Glenn goes on to describe a recent study performed on psychology students at Washington University which shows student performance improves with the regular administration of short quizzes at the close of every class. Henry L. (Roddy) Roediger, one of the authors of the Washington study observes that, "In education today, people tend to think of tests as dipstick devices. You stick it in to measure what people know. But every time you test someone, you change what they know."

If frequent quizzing improves memory (and discourages students' from last-minute rote-memorization practices) then it is a sound technique to improve classroom learning. To those who say that quizzes eat up valuable learning time, Mr. Roediger responds: Frequent quizzing "is the best thing you could be doing if you want them to learn. Give them a quiz, and give them feedback on that quiz."

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