The Anti-memorization Trend in Education
Have you heard this argument? It sounds something like this:
Kids will have the Internet in their pocket at all times the rest of their lives. If your student can Google the answer to a question, then you’re a bad teacher when you ask your kids to memorize this “Google-able” information or test them on it. Only test questions that CAN’T be Googled are worthwhile.
Mark Dawe, the OCR exam board chief executive, supported the idea of students using Google on their exams. He said this:
“Surely when they [students taking the exam] learn in the classroom, everyone uses Google if there is a question. It is more about understanding what results you’re seeing rather than keeping all of that knowledge in your head because that’s not how the modern world works.”
I fully understand the concern. When I went through school (in the 70’s and 80’s), teachers would throw a bunch of information at us, ask us to read some material in the textbook, and then test us on seemingly meaningless facts…and normally using a multiple guess style exam.
I also am a big fan of using technology with kids. I want my students to be skilled at research. I want them to be able to sift through searches on the Internet and choose reliable sources. I want my students to be computer literate. These are absolutely essential in the 21st century classroom.
BUT, I totally disagree with the “If you can Google it…” trend in education. I want my students to memorize things. I want them to know a ton of facts! I test my students on “Google-able” information all the time, and no, they aren’t allowed to use technology to find the answers.
My friend John Eick and I agreed to independently record our thoughts on this topic. Please take a few minutes to listen to John’s Podcast (player below), “Learning with John Eick,” where he discusses his views on the anti-memorization trend in education. Leave comments for each of us, won’t you?
Fluid Work Flow If we humans have to Google everything, we can’t fluidly move through complex problems because we’re too busy searching for basic answers. Let’s say I have an issue getting my video editing software to work. I pull up a help website for FinalCut. I begin reading and realize that I don’t understand several terms on the website. What is a “transition?” I Google the word “transition.” A few minutes later, I think I’ve got it. Oh great, what does “jump cut” mean? I Google it. You get the picture. It would take me forever to get through complex problems if I had to Google all the prerequisite knowledge.
Sounding Uneducated Have you ever met someone who doesn’t have basic knowledge on historical facts, names of states or countries, scientific facts, etc. Not very impressive. An American adult who doesn’t know that George Washington was the first president of the United States? Where is New York? Wait, let me Google it. Why doesn’t this lamp work? Hang on while I Google it. OH! I need to plug it into this wall hole thing. It’s not a wall hole thing; it’s called an electrical socket. Google it. Hey, anyone want to go dinosaur hunting after work? Again, you get the idea.
Mind Development I’m no brain research expert, but from what I know, memorization is good for the brain. When we exercise our brains, they develop and become more powerful. Sometimes, just the process, the act of memorizing is plain old good for us.
So the question to me is not, “Do we expect students to memorize things they can Google?” The real discussion should focus on, “What Google-able facts should we ask our students to memorize?”
Should our schools revert to the methods of 30 years ago, before the age of the Internet? Of course not. Should school be a place where kids solely memorize a bunch of random facts and then regurgitate them on tests? No way!
What types of things do I want my 5th graders to memorize?
- Morphemes The more letter group meanings my students memorize, the easier they will be able to solve unknown words.
- Math Facts and Formulas I want my students to commit 8 x 7 to memory. I don’t time my students on math facts, but I do want them to have the ability to answer math facts without having to Google them or spend 30 seconds figuring them out. How do we find the area of a rectangle? Hopefully my students have worked with the concept enough to truly understand the concept, but in the end, they need to know its length times width.
- Important Historical Facts When was World War II? Who was the evil leader responsible for killing millions of innocent people during this period of history? Why is the date July 4, 1776 significant? Who did America defeat in the American Revolution?
- Spelling I want my students to know how to spell most words that they use frequently. It’s perfectly normal to not know the spelling for a handful of words that we commonly use. But if someone has to Google the spelling of every-other word they write? Awful! Laborious. Uneducated.
- Vocabulary Do we really want our students reading a book and Googling every tenth word? Is it ok if my kids don’t know the meaning of a quadrilateral by heart? Nope. How ridiculous would it be to have to pause a conversation or TV show every 30 seconds to Google the meaning of a word?
- Scientific Facts What’s the difference between a hurricane and a tornado? What is sodium chloride? Why do you look like your parents?
So if all the above facts are easily Googled, what is the point of school? Shouldn’t we just let kids sit at home and teach themselves? If kids know that they have any sort of lesson readily available on YouTube and other Internet sources, is there a point in sending kids to school for 5 hours a day?
The answer to this thick question is an aside to the focus of this post, but in short, school must be more than a place to learn facts. A good teacher acts as a mentor, a guide, and designs learning experiences that are far more powerful than watching a video on YouTube. The best learning environments are those where rich two-way communication is common, both teacher-student and student-student. This is possible, but not common, in Internet educational situations.
Here’s another blog post arguing a similar stance.
Most of my 5th graders have a hard time focusing on any sort of lecture for longer than about two minutes. With this in mind, I use microlectures to share important information with my class. Listen to episode 12 of The 5-Minute MishMash to learn more. Also in this episode: “Fact and Opinion” song, the real definition of rectangles, tour the states and world, and the power of pair share series part 6.
The 5-Minute MishMash is offering free Rockin’ the Standards songs for anyone who writes a review on iTunes. This is a limited time offer. After your review posts, send a tweet @5MinMishMash and let me know.
Caine Monroy inspired a movement that has kids dreaming big and developing wonderful creativity skills. Now 14, the creator of Caine’s Arcade doesn’t look like a little kid any more. Wondering what he’s up to now? Check out this news story that recently aired on NBC.
Maximizing instructional minutes has been one of my passions over the course of my teaching career. After years trying to find ways to cut corners and give my kids the most out of every school day, I’ve arrived at a place of moderation.
Redeem the Time
On the one hand, I still don’t want to waste time during the school day. I have five hours of contact time with my students, 25 hours each week. If I waste that time, my students will not get a good education and will be unprepared for school the following year. Most of my class performs below grade level, particularly in language arts. How can I get them up to grade level? This takes time.
So in my efforts to use our five hours efficiently, I do things like a two-minute start and “Stand When You’re Ready.” These types of techniques speed up the pacing of the class without having negative impacts on student achievement.
Taking our Time
On the other hand, I don’t want my students to feel like everything we do is rushed. I don’t want to stress my kids out because stressed out students don’t learn as well…and an overload of stress is harmful to one’s well-being.
In my efforts to take our time, I do things like brain breaks, think time, opportunities for students to just talk about their thinking (I talk about using pair share for ‘release’ in The 5-Minute MishMash, episode 11), and occasional jokes to lessen the stress.
Here’s my suggestion: Have a sit-down with a colleague. Talk about how you use your instructional minutes. Analyze yourself and figure out where you land on the “instructional minutes” continuum. Are you using up a lot of time on things that just don’t matter? Are there ways you could cut some corners without raising your students’ stress levels? Or perhaps you’re too much of a time-on-task Nazi. Maybe you need to chill out a bit and let your kids (and yourself) be human on occasion. Be honest, and then be patient with yourself. Change takes time. You’re not going to bring things into a perfect balance overnight…and frankly, that perfect balance doesn’t really exist.
I value your comments.
So your teaching partner isn’t feeling well and there’s no sub. Disaster, right? Nope! A great opportunity to give your students an authentic audience.
Last week, that’s what happened on my campus. I must admit, my first reaction wasn’t supportive and positive. I didn’t have any hard feelings at all toward the sick teacher…just thinking NO! what a hassle to have a bunch of kids in my room who I don’t know and who don’t know me.
But then I was inspired for some crazy reason. Instead of splitting the class up between three other teachers (10 kids each), I volunteered to take all 30. What? Crazy? Yeah…crazy awesome! 60 kids to keep on task.
Over the previous two days, I had taught my students the characteristics of the three Common Core writing genres. My students paired up with our visitors and tutored them on what they’d been learning about writing. My students, even the strugglers, stepped up to the plate and really got into it. I could have walked out and none of my students would have noticed. That’s when you know things are spot on!
I stopped the kids every once in a while to build them up. “Wow scholars! You are really doing an amazing job teaching our guests about the three writing genres! I saw Maxx over here quizzing his tutee to check and make sure the learning was getting through. Keep it up!”
After about 15 minutes of cognitive engagement, I told the kids to find a new partner and check to see how well the previous tutor did. They were off! The buzz of excitement was renewed and the kids were learning.
We all know it’s true…we are more engaged and learn best when we authentically need to teach others.
Share a comment, won’t you?
Have you heard of Fraction Talks? It’s a very powerful teaching method. Also in this episode:
- Story Parts Song: Fun song that helps kids remember that stories have characters, setting, and a plot.
- Using Pair Share to reflect on behavior.
- Creative Teaching Podcast with John Spencer.
Have you thought about subscribing to the 5-Minute MishMash. When you subscribe to a podcast, it is automatically delivered to your podcast player.
Chris Biffle’s Whole Brain Teaching has a “writing” instruction technique that is simple and powerful. How can teachers give students more opportunities to practice writing skills? Watch this video and then use the website as a reference.
I taught this lesson with a group of struggling 5th grade math learners during an after-school tutoring class. Each student stood at a whiteboard on the wall of my classroom. My goal was to help students conceptually understand why we must find a common denominator when adding fractions. To do this, I asked the students to construct their own number lines. All steps beyond #1 are directions I spoke to students as they wrote on their boards. These were the steps in my lesson:
- I modeled how to make a fraction number line: arrows on both ends showing numbers go infinitely in both directions; small dashes pinpoint exact locations of numbers; begin with zero; space each mark evenly; starting at zero, build your number line and work across the number line rather than starting with a 0 and 1 and subdividing the line into equal size lengths. I wasn’t modeling fraction concepts per se; just creating the number line. (Previous number line work showed students struggling with this.)
- Create a number line that shows thirds from 0 to 1.
- Draw a parallel number line below the thirds number line. Put 0 and 1 directly under the 0 and 1 in the top number line. Now subdivide the new number line into sixths.
- Draw arrows down to the second number line where fractions line up.
- Solve 1/3 + 1/6 using one of the number lines.
- Repeat the above steps with a number line showing fourths and then eighths. (See top photo.)
- Add a third parallel number line showing sixths. (See bottom photo.)
- Use the proper number line to solve 1/4 + 3/8.
Each time I asked the students to create something, I redirected with small hints and asked students to peer tutor until all students had a perfect model. We constantly discussed the models to help students make sense of their work. In step 7, we discussed how very few fractions aligned with the number line above (sixths and eighths.)
Students made excellent progress as shown in their work on the boards.
Inspiration for this lesson came from my esteemed colleague, Kristian Quiocho. Kristian is one of the most knowledgeable and passionate teachers I know.
A big thank you goes out to Big Ron Crowley, the genius musician behind the new bumper music for my podcast, the 5-Minute MishMash. Besides the new opener, episode 7 has a book recommendation, a gamification idea you can use tomorrow, a tech tip for adding photos to presentations, and a new mini-series called “The Power of Pair Share.”
It’s been a while since Scott and I have had time to record a new show, but it’s finally here. In this episode we interview the very enthusiastic, contagious, and knowledgeable Alex Kajitani. If you teach math, and even if you don’t, you will want to listen to this discussion about bringing the right approach to learning math…students, teachers, AND parents! You can learn more about The Rappin’ Mathematician, Alex Kajitani, by visiting his website.
If you like the show, please subscribe on iTunes and leave us a review. The only way we can impact teachers and thereby impact students is if educators listen to the show. Ratings and reviews will help bring The Bedley Bros podcast to more Internet searches. Perhaps you would be willing to Tweet about our podcast, share it on Facebook or other social media, or send out an email to your staff. Share the love.