School is ending for the year, and students surely welcome the break. But they will do well to think on how they learn to learn so that next Fall they can be more successful with less effort. Interesting how that reminds me of my e-book for students, Better Grades, Less Effort.
In my experience with students, both the college students I teach and the secondary students that teachers tell me about, the biggest weakness students have is that they either try to remember school material by rote memorization or have no strategy at all, relying on some kind of magical mental osmosis.
Even among students who rely on rote memory, they generally lack much of a strategy for memorizing, relying on varying degrees of casual “looking over” the instructional material until they think they can remember it. Experiments show that students routinely over-estimate how much they remember and under-estimate the value of further study. Moreover, many educators at all levels have disdain for memorization, stating that we should focus education on teaching students to think and solve problems, as if you can think and solve problems without knowing anything. Too many teachers regard memorizing as old-fashioned and even destructive of enlightenment.
Disdain for memorization is a relatively new phenomenon in education. In ancient times, people took great pains and pride in memorizing huge quantities of information. The advent of printing greatly reduced the need to memorize history and cultural mores. In modern times, we have the Internet, where you can just Google what you need to know. So who needs to get brain-strain trying to remember things?
Now we have a book by Samuel Arbesman, The Half-Life of Facts: Why Everything We Know Has an Expiration Date, where he argues that there are no lasting facts. They all have a half life, that is, the number of years it takes to falsify half of what you think are facts. He argues that new “facts” are made all the time, often replacing what we had previously thought were facts. He argues we should just stop memorizing and look up whatever current facts we need on the Internet. But if there are no lasting facts, how are those you find on Google any more valid than those you memorize and can deploy in real time.
There are some serious errors in Arbesman’s position.
I can easily make a strong case for memorization, especially for schools. Here is a list supporting the importance of memorizing:
We think by shuttling small batches of information as we experience it or from memory onto a virtual scratchpad called working memory. These batches are shuttled sequentially into our processing networks ("thought engine"). How well we think depends on what is on the scratch pad.From Klemm, 2011. Atoms of Mind, Springer.
Bottom line: the more you know, the more you can know!
Regardless of where you stand on the importance of memory, most people believe that learning is a good thing. But what good is learning if you don’t remember it?
If you are convinced that you or your loved ones could benefit from better memory, many ways to do it are explained in my books, Better Grades, Less Effort (e-book for students) and Memory Power 101 (paperback from SkyhorsePublishing.com).