Saturday, May 30, 2009
Memorization vs Thinking
I know I am not the sharpest knife in the draw but I am not the dullest either, yet when it comes to memorization of facts, I am at a loss. Vocabulary words do not stick in my mind, no matter how much I study them. I remember studying Spanish with my son and even after 30 minutes of going over the same words, I still needed to refer to the list in my hand.
Over lunch, an English teacher was complaining that her students could not memorize a simple list of words, no matter what she did. I tried to explain my deficits to her, but she wanted no part of it. She kept talking about her "fun" activities and her constant repetition. I kept telling her that while I am sure she was fun and did lots of activities, I would be having the same difficulties. She kept saying how memorization was easy, much easier than doing a math problem or writing an essay and kept stressing how this simple process should enable all her students to pass. I couldn't convince her that everyone learns differently and what was easy for her might be difficult for someone else.
I hate memorization, probably because I am no good at it. I like understanding. I like knowing how and why things work and being able to apply that knowledge to any activity I have to undertake. When I first tried to use a graphing calculator, I tried to memorize the steps. Once I gave up on that and concentrated on the why and how it worked, I was able to do it all.
I hate it when my students demand formulas for concepts they can easily figure out, or at least figure out (if not easily) with a little bit of effort. I would rather see them rotate their page 90 degrees to do a transformation then regurgitate a formula that has no meaning to them. I am having a hard time convincing them that memorization only works sometimes, it work in exact patterns and it only works when you remember every step.
Many years ago, my husband saw a recipe for a pie on the food channel that looked interesting and he decided to try it. The problem was, he only saw half the recipe and because necessary ingredients were missing, his dish was inedible. Incomplete memorization causes the same problems.
Thinking is as vital to life as oxygen and water. Only when we get back to teaching and encouraging this will we be able to help create the leaders of tomorrow.