So I’m digging into this week’s Carnival of Education and first I read this (I love the quote by Sinclair!):
Pop over to your neighborhood school and visit some classrooms. Is what’s happening cognitively nutritive? That is, does it satisfy present needs and provide nourishment for the future health and development of children’s thinking?
Or is it punitive, with little concern for present nourishment and future health and development?
The Genevan psychologist and researcher Hermina Sinclair said,
All of us concerned with education should view children as wearing signboards saying ‘Under Construction’. No, wait a moment. I didn’t say that strongly enough. All of us should look at people as wearing signboards saying, ‘Under Construction—Self Employed’. (See Reference 1.)
We are in the fifth year of research, work which sheds light on Sinclair’s claim, shows that present educational goals for children are often trivial, and which suggests that current methods of causing learning to take place should be re-thought.
The work shows that children at grades 1-5 are capable of stunningly complex thinking and that this goal can be achieved with no direct teaching, but rather by posing problems for the children to solve.
Then, in an abrupt about-face, I read this:
Elementary and middle school should be about memorization. Many of my 8th graders aren’t really capable of abstract thought at this point.
As an example, I teach my 7th graders about the reconquista and about the exploration of the Americas. Yet despite repeated prompts, none of my students in 7 years have been able to connect the two things, despite my prompts about both occuring in 1492.
Let high school and college develop meaning and interconnection.
The second excerpt is from a teacher. I feel really, really sorry for his students…
Memorization. I don’t get it. Why would anyone stress memorization when the internet almost leaves the whole concept of memorizing facts as irrelevant. Granted there is a basic set of knowledge we all should have. I’ve had a teacher in high school require students to memorize the names of all the individual territories and states in Mexico. Why? Any clown with google could look it up and tell you in a second.
Isn’t is more likely that that the prior mindset:
“elementary and middle school should be about memorization”
is the very cause of the latter:
“aren’t really capable of abstract thought”
Presumably that teacher is “Under Construction” too…
We are in the “beta” version of a move completely away from memorization. We talk about being familiar with and using information not memorizing. Okay, so you know where I stand but here is what has happened in Grades 6- 8.
Tests most often now are short answer or essays. ( or often they are projects and presentations) They require students to make connections and to explain. In the beginning they were mostly unsuccessful but at the end of the second quarter most of the class had earned 95 or higher on the tests. So our new happy problem was to begin testing not just grade level mastery but adding some questions to stretch the students and let the more advanced students show their stuff.
The stumbling block when you start is the frustration that comes from breaking the thinking process down into very small steps because the students are not used to it…BUT they can do it!
For the most part, I agree that memorization is outdated as an end unto itself, but it seems to me that it can still be an effective means to better teach the more important skills of information synthesis and analysis. If nothing else, memorizing certain facts can help kids take the step from “Here are the facts, what do you think?” to “Here are some more (potentially conflicting) facts, what do you think now?” or “Your assumptions are faulty. Prove me wrong.”
In order for a student to answer a question on “Newton’s Third Law of Motion” it would probably be helpful for the student to know the law. A base of knowledge is important for solving more complex problems. The big question is whether or not higher order thinking skills can be taught. Certainly we can develop patterns of thinking (orders of operation) but are we really teaching the student to think at a higher level. I can be taught how to paint but I will never be an artist. The trouble with education today is we think everyone needs to be an artist. Instead of preparing all students for college maybe we need to be busy preparing all students for life. If a student doesn’t show the aptitude or desire to go to college let them flow to something they can have success with and feel good about. Right now there are too many frustrated kids that quit school because we load them up with so many credits trying to prepare them for college. Instead of forcing square pegs we might want to find areas these students have the ability and desire to go into. This would be a lot better than creating more drop outs. Schools are busy taking away electives and adding more required courses but perhaps to develop all students we need to do just the opposite.
Darn I hate it when commenters don’t leave a link to their own outboard brains (h/t to Darren Kuropatwa). I really like what “Williams” says in the comment above.
Curriculum is so broad, it’s no wonder so many of our students are shallow. Is anybody with any power advocating the chucking of the broad graduation requirements of the 20th c. in favor of allowing elective depth?
As a former elementary and middle school teacher who is about to finish her PhD in Education, with a concentration on Literacy, I want to thank you Scott for making these things public. The notion expressed by the teacher in your example is rampant in schools today. My belief is that teachers fear for their jobs in this era of narrowly-defined assessments and high-stakes accountability measures, particularly new teachers who enter schools deeply entrenched in “old fashioned” notions of teaching and learning (remember our colleague who values straight memorization?). This forum makes me hopeful for change – since principals, superintendents, and others are expressing views of change!!
I think it’s about time for some teachers to teach in the current century rather than existing in the last one. New day new way!!
This is really sad, but it’s not just happening in middle schools. It’s rampant even in universities. Nobody ever really gets challenged by classes and nobody ever really has to problem-solve to graduate. I have seen so many ridiculously dumb people who obviously have no grasp of basic concepts in my classes memorize enough material to get an A and move on. It is completely possible to get through college with almost any degree just by memorizing. It is just so frustrating for people who are intelligent and want to be challenged with problem-solving, and even moreso for those people who are not great memorizers.
Memorizing is really completely obsolete. Of course you need to be familiar enough with something to know it exists, remember its name perhaps, remember a vague idea about what it is and why it might be useful… but tests, grades, and degrees should not be based solely upon memorization.
I just strongly believe that people should not be doing things computers can do. There is this one class of real thinking which computers cannot yet do, and that is what should make people be called “smart”, not memorizing. Compared to computers, even the best Jeopardy contestants and other memorizing idiots are faulty, unreliable, and slow. Leave memorization to computers (or hell, even books if you want to be old fashioned) and reward people who are truly intelligent for true intelligence.