Learning about memory

Very often when you ask students how they memorize anything that they have learnt, they will tell you that they do so by reading over and over again. This has perhaps been the time-honored way of memorizing done by students faced with the huge chunks of information that they get at trivial pursuit academies called schools.


Recently, I also wrote about the need to teach the accelerated learning techniques, like mind mapping and the different memory systems in schools as part of the need to prepare ALL students to learn. This morning I came across a post by Daniel Willingham (see here)where he mentioned that his university students in general do not know about memory and how it works. He said, “It turns out that they don’t know much about committing things to memory.”

He doesn’t blame teachers because he says “teachers are not taught much about about the practical workings of memory.” Here, perhaps I don’t quite share his views. While I will agree that this is usually not part of a teacher training course, teachers who are serious about helping students to remember would have made the effort to learn about memory systems and would have taught their students. Furthermore, from my experience with schools in Singapore (admittedly just anecdotal observations) teachers refused to teach students to remember using memory systems. Only on the rare occasion you will hear a teacher perhaps mentioning “mnemonics”.

I suspect this is due to two reasons. Schools still expect teachers to give traditional notes to students, usually called “concise notes” but in reality is usually anything but concise. Secondly, these teachers are probably the ones who have got away with the “reading-over-and-over” method of memorizing and therefore never saw the need for other more efficient methods. The thinking is probably if these teachers can do it while they were students, they don’t see why their current students can’t.

I think at the end of the day, a lot of the “teaching” that is done in Singapore schools is assumed to be transfered into the minds of students by some invisible hand or invisible osmotic process. Students somehow are assumed to have figured out how to do it.

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