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Is Memorization Important For Student Learning?

by Pat Hensley

So much focus nowadays is on memorizing what’s necessary for standardized tests, that kids actually don’t learn any real skills, such as problem solving or critical thinking. High-stakes testing focus has put so much focus on what the right answer is that examining the question or appreciating the process by which you find the answer isn’t as important.


However, to go completely in the other direction and say that memorizing anything isn’t true either. Because I don’t know about you, but I find that the memorization and retention of particular facts, processes, procedures, functions, etc. are vital in the real world and not just in trivia. When you learn anything, you very often commit the most basic parts of it to memory mainly because what comes next uses those basic parts or assumes you know them.


I think that schools have put way too much emphasis on memorizing certain facts and information and not enough about others. I feel that memorizing things are as important for exercising the brain as much as physical activity is important for exercising the body. Yet for both exercises, we want to do it in the most efficient and effective way so that we can reap benefits from this. Also, some exercises may be so boring and useless that I will give up before I ever see any benefits.


I think students do need to memorize certain things in order to function successfully on a daily basis. Personal information (name, address, date of birth, phone number) should be memorized at an early age.  I think basic math facts of addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division should be memorized. Sure, you can use a calculator but memorizing these facts is more efficient than the time it takes to take out a calculator and input the numbers to find your answer. I know I memorized a lot of vocabulary words when I was learning a new language but unfortunately when I didn’t get to practice them or use them, I quickly forgot about them.


There are some facts that I found useless knowing and when I hadn’t needed this information, I have forgotten them. That makes me feel that it was a waste of time even learning the information. For instance, I had a teacher who made us memorize the Presidents in order. Now I can honestly tell you that I have never needed to come up with that information in order to function in daily life. It seems like we spent forever learning this information and it makes me wonder how much time was lost when I could have been learning something valuable.


I believe that when I have students memorize things, I need to think about the purpose for doing this. I need to be able to explain to them the rationale for memorization and have them understand that it will help them be more successful in life. If I can’t do this or even convince myself of this, I need to stop and rethink about having them memorize this information.



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