Beyond Memorization

Teaching history is one thing…teaching students how to think is a whole other beast. Gone are the days of having students memorize names/dates and color in maps. Technology has opened the doors for teachers to change the way students learn. It starts with a mindset shift. Teachers need to understand why we need to change the way we teach but also how to best integrate technology create an authentic learning environment that is engaging and meaningful for our students.
I am lucky to have a group of teachers with whom to share my thoughts about how best to create an active learning environment for my students. Most students enter my classroom (I teach 7th grade) with the idea that they hate history. H.A.T.E. I’m not sure why or how this happened…but I have an inkling that it probably had something to do with them being forced to memorize useless information that could easily be Googled today. 
In my class do students have to remember things? Absolutely. I’m of the mindset that students cannot write or articulate their thoughts without remembering certain things. But I think that if you create a learning environment that is engaging, students will remember things. They’ll do it because it’s part of the active learning process.
Creating a classroom culture and learning environment to allow for this is not impossible. I cringe when I hear my own students talking about having to memorize passages from Shakespeare’s plays. I mean, unless they are going to become a thespian focusing on Shakespearian plays…how is that in any way adding value to their learning? 
In fact, just the other day, a colleague of mine (from a different school) told me that he heard AP US history students at his school were having to memorize the order of our presidents. Seriously? In an APUSH class? 
Why not utilize technology to make learning relevant? Why not ask students to create something that demonstrates their learning? Put the onus of learning on the student. Give them a choice in demonstrating what they have learned. But don’t make them memorize things. We’re in the 21st century and our students deserve better than that.

2 thoughts on “Beyond Memorization

  1. I agree with you for the most part, with one notable exception. There's a substantive difference between memorizing the order of presidents and memorizing passages from Shakespeare's plays. The former matters only for the test and will likely be forgotten afterwards. The latter, however, can change or even save one's life, one's soul. As Brad Leithauser writes in his New Yorker article, \”Why We Should Memorize,\”I've memorized several Shakespeare passages and poems by heart. There have been times when one or more of them has become a much-needed companion during a challenging time. At NCSS Boston, Ken Burns made the argument that it's not that we shouldn't memorize things but that we should memorize things that are meaty, things like the Gettysburg Address (which I would like to be able to recite by memory some day; I recommend watching Burns's documentary The Address). You memorize that, you memorize a poem, it becomes a part of you.

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  2. Sorry, here's the missing quote from Leithauser:The best argument for verse memorization may be that it provides us with knowledge of a qualitatively and physiologically different variety: you take the poem inside you, into your brain chemistry if not your blood, and you know it at a deeper, bodily level than if you simply read it off a screen. Robson puts the point succinctly: “If we do not learn by heart, the heart does not feel the rhythms of poetry as echoes or variations of its own insistent beat.”

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