Saturday, November 10, 2012

To Memorize or Not to Memorize

First I have to say Thank You to all of those who left me birthday wishes and signed up for your birthday present.  If you haven’t received your present yet, please leave me a comment here.


Another blogger, who I love – Angela Watson, from The Cornerstone, recently shared a great article with me from Time Ideas called Why Kids Should Learn Cursive (and Math Facts and Root Words).  The article timearticleargues that students need to spend some time on “skill and drill” memorization and then take those facts they have memorized and apply them using all of the higher level thinking and collaborative learning that we now focus on.  I was pleased to read someone calling for a balance, and this article really got me thinking about the difference in education systems I am experiencing right now.

As many of you know, I am currently living in Morocco with my husband and three young sons.  My two older sons (grades K and 3) go to a Moroccan school in French and Arabic.  Their school requires a lot of memorization and handwriting, and very little higher level thinking and creative writing.  I teach an the International School of Morocco in English.  My school spends a lot of time on creative writing, exploring and building critical thinking skills.  As a mother and a teacher, I often feel caught in the middle.  My sons go to the school they do because I want them to learn the language, but I do wish they spent more time learning the way that I teach.

This article got me to thinking though that some of how they are learning is making them stronger learners in some ways.  My older son spends a lot of time memorizing – Memorization has helped my sons become stronger students.poems, verb conjugations, Koran verses, paragraphs about science, and the younger one is starting to come home with these same types of activities.  While this sometimes seems to be a waste of time, he is practicing the skills of memorizations and visualization.  When it comes time to memorize things that I think are important (like math facts), it comes a lot easier to him because he has spent time practicing this skill.  In addition, he has a ton of information stuck in his memory that he can connect his new information with.  Granted, his school does not seem to spend time teaching him how to make those connections, but he makes many connections on his own and my husband and I are helping him to make more connections.

Back in my own classroom, I am trying to use some of this to help my students.  I am finding that my students who have a background in schools that focus on memorization can learn and memorize things faster.  In order to build their memorizing ability, we are working on memorizing in class, using math facts, nursery rhymes, songs etc.  However, in my classroom, I take the time to show students 1.) why it’s important to memorize the things we need to memorize and 2.) how to connect this memorization to other things that don’t need to be memorized.  Here are some specific places I have found to use memorization in my classroom:

1.)  We practice math facts every day.  While we have learned why 3 x 4 = 12, we have also talked about theMemorizing Facts is vital to making progress in math. fact that in order to know 342 x 12, we need to know all these basic facts, and know them quickly.  So, every day we take our fast fact quizzes and we spend a lot of time using those basic facts, and making the connections between easier problems and harder problems ( 8 x 4 = 32 so 80 x 4 = 320).

2.)  We memorize a nursery rhyme each week.  We use the rhymes to talk about vocabulary and fluency, but we also use them to practice our reading strategies and make geographical and historical connections. 

3.)  We memorize verb conjugations.  Luckily for us, our verbs are much easier than, say the French verbs, however, the only way my English Language Learners are going to remember that it is I have, you have, she/he/it has is by repeating it and memorizing it.

4.)  We memorize songs.  We’ve used songs for basic vocabulary and introductions, for heritage week, for shows and productions, but our most important songs are our Grammar songs.  I use the Shurley English songs, and we sing them over and over and over.  Then, as we diagram our sentences, we sing the songs again and again to help remind us what those parts of speech are and why.

5.) We memorize root words, prefixes and suffixes.  Each week, we work on one “word part”, which helps my students to find cognates with their home language, but it also helps them to understand the meaning of so many of their words.

Do you use memorization in your classroom – is it helpful?  Do you totally disagree with me and think memorization is moot?  I’d love to hear your thoughts on the subject.

Heidi Raki of Raki's Rad Resources