Thursday, January 27, 2011

Understanding first, memorization second

NY times posted the following article.  The article claims that,
Taking a test is not just a passive mechanism for assessing how much people know, according to new research. It actually helps people learn, and it works better than a number of other studying techniques. “
After laughing I continued to read on.  The above statement is supported by
“students who read a passage, then took a test asking them to recall what they had read, retained about 50 percent more of the information a week later than students who used two other methods. “
Alas, the research opens the reality doors.  Of course, if you are asking students to only RECALL information, it makes sense that they more they see a certain topic the more they will understand.  I don’t want my students to recall information I want my students to understand concepts.
According to Jeffery Karpicke, “I think that learning is all about retrieving, all about reconstructing our knowledge”.  This is the idea that understanding is the outcome of memorization.
I disagree greatly!  Memorization should be the outcome of understanding. Recalling information will become easier as the students use the knowledge more and not because of force or requirement.  If I was to tell you a fact over and over again, would you understand why the fact is true?  Students should be told the why part, and after understanding it and applying the “why”, the memorization will occur.
Understanding will always last longer in a mind than memorization.


  1. Why is it memorizing and not retaining information. If tests are tools to help reinforce knowledge and retain it what is wrong with that? What is the point in giving it in the first place if it's not stored? Something as simple as a 5 minute quiz (that doesn't even have to be graded) to reinforce what was talked about (especially when it has been proven to work) seems like a good idea to me. Sometimes learning comes first and understanding comes later. The more you do something the better you understand it. Just like all muscles your brain needs exercise to become strong. I'm glad you enjoyed a good laugh because I laugh too, the education system is becoming joke. In fact, as a parent, i laugh so much I CRY!

  2. Kari, I think you misunderstood my blog.

    You ask "why is it memorizing and not retaining information?" My last sentence says Understanding a concept will RETAIN more than memorization.

    You say tests are tools to help reinforce knowledge; I say only if this knowledge is RECALL.

    5 min quiz at the beginning of the class; I agree, but why a quiz? Can’t it be structured review, and allow for collaboration to solve higher level problems. This will then allow for students to go beyond strictly recalling and more towards the understanding part.
    The notion of the more you do something the better you are at it, is true when you are comparing this to muscle memory. But, how do you practice understanding? I agree that if you want students to memorize multiplication facts, get them to recite them over and over again. We need to move beyond this and have students UNDERSTAND multiplication as grouping and an extension of addition.

    I am truly sympathetic that you cry when you look at our education system, and that is why we need to change it.

  3. you are on fire my friend

  4. lets play a game called "you are the king of the Catholics"

  5. Children's brains are like sponges so if it's memorized or retained does it even matter? It's there, it's in the vice. Our brains are able to absorb a lot of information, which in turn helps it grow. I wonder about people that say we don't need to know anything because we're in the computer age, all the information's is a click away. It's like saying that computers are more important than brains and that is what concerns me.

    I also think you misunderstood me, I meant a quiz at the end of the class to reinforce what was just talked about. I would think that would be much more effective than a review at the beginning of the next class as you move on to something else. It's hands on, they're taking part in their own learning. You don't even have to grade it but it would give them an idea of what they're strengths are and where they need work. I guess i just don't get the test phobia, Seriously it doesn't even have to count for marks. What if kids comptete against themselves to improve. What if they're inspired to succeed just by their own triumphs whatever they might be, forward is forward. When that happens nobody has to lose for someone to win. It's a beautiful thing.

  6. I'm still waiting for my rebuttal "king". It's safe now that it's old and nobody's paying attention.

  7. Kari, I ask that you please refrain from using sarcasm when posting on my blog. If you have concerns or comments I welcome them as long as they are respectful to all parties reading. If you disagree, it does not give you a right to be disrespectful.

    To address your previous points:

    You use memorize or retain, and I believe students should be memorizing facts out of necessity not out of requirement. You are not required to memorize your birthday, SIN, home phone, but due to the fact at how common these numbers are to you, you most likely have them memorized.

    You have addressed computers taking over brains. When I was a child I had all my friends’ phone numbers memorized, but now I could not tell you most of them. WHY? My phone takes care of that for me. Some people say that this is negative, but I believe this is just a demonstration of computers storing information for us.

    You mentioned a quiz at the end of class that is not worth marks. I would agree with this, but why call it a quiz? How about a task that students complete together to demonstrate their learning? I believe we might just be arguing about word choice.

    I use the beginning of the next class to review concepts that have been taught previously, and to truly illustrate to students the sequence of the course.

    Testphobia? I am not scared of tests, and there is a place for tests. Tests should be used when we want EVERYONE demonstrating the same action. Example is our driving test. All drivers need to obey the same laws in the same fashion. I DO NOT, however, agree that my students should be demonstrating math the same way. I would like to see a class that truly implements differentiated instruction AND assessment and allows for true autonomy to occur.

    You address competition but then say that we don’t need losers to have winners. The only way to truly have everyone feeling like a winner is to have no losers, I agree…..but then this is NOT competition. I hope you would agree that every child does learn differently and at different paces. I applaud you for understanding the idea that we should not have losers, and to truly not have loser, we must abolish competition in our schools. Competition does help some strive, of course, but competition is for the strong while public education is for everyone.

    Please feel free to comment back Kari….thank you for the amazing discussion, I do appreciate it!