Okay, let’s face it: Learning is a human function. Kids learn naturally and effortlessly well before they become students. Students learn complexly in their non-school endeavors. Yet when it comes to education, students — young through old — use an unnatural approach to learning, a method that leaves students perplexed and educators frustrated. Below are three research-based facts students must understand about memorization so they can advance toward deeper learning and higher performance.
Whether working with college or high school students, kids or adults, I’ve realized that students attribute their academic success to great memorization skills. The percentage of study and reading time students spend simply on memorizing is not only astonishing, but it is unnatural. The human brain innately uses a range of thinking skills when interacting with the world.
Beginning at around two years old, toddlers incessantly ask, What is this, Mommy? What is that, Daddy? I call this the “what stage.” This is a basic stage of learning in which kids are acquiring and storing information in their little minds. Soon afterwards, at around three years of age, children advance beyond asking what questions to asking why questions. It’s as if their minds have accumulated enough basic information and now want to make sense of what it has stored.
Children effortlessly progress from wanting only to identify objects to needing understanding of why the objects exist. Students must allow this natural mode of inquiry to unfold throughout their academic lives.
Students habitually make improper judgments about their knowledge. They often report recognizing the content on tests, but they are not prepared to interact with the content in the ways that exam questions demand. Students need to know that memory-based knowledge is both fragile and fleeting. Information processed only at the memorization level is delicate. Students must use other thinking skills, along with memorization skills, to fortify their knowledge.
Students need to realize that memorized information will vanish! It’s not a question of “if” but “when” their knowledge will be inaccessible. How many times have students become excited as they recognized that the wording of a test question matched material they’d studied, only to find that the knowledge they had accumulated was missing in action? This is a chief cause of the widespread sentiment among students that teachers are trying to trick them on tests. The students didn’t do anything necessarily wrong when studying. It’s just that memorized knowledge requires an adequate cue to activate it, and rigorous exams are cue-less.
Memorization is a wonderful counterfeit for learning. As students memorize, they accumulate learning outcomes. They are able to recall and retrieve terms and ideas from memory that they were completely or largely unaware of before studying. This process of accumulation creates feelings of mobility in learning, internal affirmations that students are moving along and progressing in their knowledge. However, they never move beyond the shallowest type of interaction. In essence, they never stop asking what questions. They actually short-circuit their mind’s instinctive desire to follow up those what questions with a deeper string of questions.
You can read more about the direction of learning in the article Why Good Students Do Bad’ in College at: http://bit.ly/1bERkXs.
The ThinkWell-LearnWell™ Diagram and Learning Sufficiency Diagram have been used by thousands of students and educators to help students independently navigate toward deeper thinking and more meaningful learning. They can be freely downloaded at: https://thelearnwellprojects.com/resources-2/.