“Memorizing” in a World With Google… Does it Matter?

Came across this article from another blog in response to Willingham’s Why Don’t Students Like School?  

Cannot wait to read the full text but below is my initial reaction from the summation provided by TheFrailestThing.com  (THANK YOU!)

His article is here :  http://thefrailestthing.com/2011/09/15/dont-offload-your-memory-quite-yet-cognitive-science-memory-and-education/#comment-2374

When I saw the title of the book I immediately thought, I am often pondering the same question during my own practice but this text approaches the question from a cognitive perspective rather than the social and emotional one– which I often find myself dependent upon (it’s easier to judge from experience, unfortunately it is not always reliable). The particular subset of students with whom I work have become dependent on media and technology to teach them all things and are driven not by depth of the intellect but availability of the information. A blessing and a curse in my opinion and a reflection of the generation I am sure. I myself often say things like… I don’t know, Google it… as access to information has gone from the days of dusting off the encyclopedia and reading library reference cards to pulling out cell phones and receiving the information instantly.

The question though is whether or not the benefits of access to information outweighs the drawbacks to our need to cement this information into our memories.  The attached review seems to indicate that Willingham does not refute the idea that in actuality we don’t need to rely on our memories for all things but he does point out that it is memory that builds knowledge and knowledge that leads to critical thinking. We cannot pull one from the mix or it all will tumble-down.

A line that resonates this idea from the attached blog is the observation that ‘contrary to this fashionable assumption, Willingham argues that the “very processes that teachers care about most — critical thinking processes such as reasoning and problem solving — are intimately intertwined with factual knowledge that is stored in long-term memory (not just found in the environment).” ‘

He proceeds to point out that memory provides vocabulary and ‘bridges logical gaps that writers leave’ and unfortunately without such knowledge teachers such as myself cannot find a way to engage our students in the deeper levels of analysis and critical thinking when there is no springboard for these conversations. We can try “spiraling” and “no opt out” and various teaching strategies that are hot at the moment but the fact that students don’t know the facts means that not only are we to teach them the content of our curriculum but the provide to them the prerequisite knowledge that they will leave to the wayside because no one has ever forced them to memorize it. And good, resonating strategies such as accessing background knowledge becomes obsolete when such knowledge does not exist.  It is mentioned in the article and teachers already know that “when you have background knowledge your minds connects the material you’re reading with what you already know about the topic, even if you’re not aware that ‘.” This, in teaching, learning and especially while working with literature, is a necessary cognitive process that must take place in order for students to find success. If they see all information presented in a classroom as fragmented or disconnected from the last because they have not committed this knowledge into their long-term memory they are in effect becoming their own worst enemy. As the book also points out, “Knowledge must be meaningful” or else it is harder to remember and less helpful.

The depths of these frustrations as an educator do not end here, as I am sure most are aware, but the answer to these issues is not clear either. Where does this type of learning begin? Where is the groundwork laid to ensure that students see and value information as knowledge and an opportunity to cultivate more? Students from my school often go to college and come back to tell stories of their struggles and strife, being faced for the first time with the expectation that they come to the class with certain knowledge already in place to be successful. But this is too late. How do we mold our education system to embrace memory and value knowledge in a way that is transparent to students and a necessary element and contribution to a well-rounded student?  


Filed under Education Reform

3 responses to ““Memorizing” in a World With Google… Does it Matter?

  1. With high stakes testing causing a “narrowing” of our curriculumn, skills such as reasoning, critical thinking, and aesthetic value, are already under assault. Let’s take away their ability to research and critically judge a source document too, that way we can further debilitate their minds so they are easily swayed and influenced, and making them into perfect little worker bees. It is a dumbing down of our society

    • Well said, I assume you struggle with similar frustrations. I agree that general knowledge frames your ability to critique and check for credibility. If we accept all that we are told because we know no better… there are serious risks.

      • Paul Montana

        Although I do not condone memorizing as a learning tool, there are some things on the lower rungs of Bloom’s that need to be committed to memory. That being said, those small little facts and figures, etc dont need to be emphasized because they are now so easily looked up on search engines like google. The key is to build curriculum that can build on that “memorization” and turn into critical thinking- for example committing to memory the structure of how a bill becomes a law, but then using that to ask more complex and problem solving based questions that require application and analysis of that information acquired via the internet.

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