What follows is an excessively long comment I had made in a discussion with Sarah Hanawald, now made into a proper post. Also what follows is my understanding of the much-lauded Bloom’s Taxonomy which hopes to answer the modern question for Bloom: Does the ready availability of knowledge in the digital age change the importance of Knowledge?

Is it possible to have higher-level thinking without having been immersed and having memorized Knowledge, or should lists — formerly memorized by rote — be provided on tests to help out students who aren’t good at memorization?

My understanding of Bloom is that higher-level thinking first requires quite a lot of Knowledge. It is in an integral part of the way the mind works — easier access to this knowledge overall can’t replace rote memorization of the basic details. To make real analysis, synthesis and evaluation, students must draw on their internal databanks. Please: Correct me if I’m wrong.

That’s not to say that there shouldn’t be preparation. I had a whole Bill of Rights quiz that I insisted my students take. This quiz asked for answers from my students’ rote memorization. They should have been well-prepared for my exam because of that quiz, though I threw in some matching questions later on in the Big Test.

I do know that there is quite a variation in memory capabilities among all students.

Students should be encouraged to work on this by themselves, or with the guidance of another adult. This is a skill that cannot be underestimated, and should not be discouraged by providing lists on the test.

I believe students and teachers benefit when we design assessments that allow students to show us what they can do as well as identify what they cannot yet do.

Yet that that’s the realm of formative assessment, as in a quiz. This should not be the focus of a summative assessment, as in this unit test.

In our digital age, when quick information is a Google search away, is there meaning in memorization? I think there is, and I plan to continue this topic again on another day.


  1. Is there meaning in memorization–certainly. Is it the “base” upon which other learning depends? I would say no. Memorizing involves the recall or recognition of information or facts. Knowledge or wisdom comes with a higher level of understanding. I assert vehemently that I do not have to memorize a fact to be able to synthesize or evaluate it. I do need to understand it. Bloom’s taxonomy has undergone some intense scrutiny over the years. The pyramid approach is appealing, particularly with the push to have students demonstrate specific skills. Educators love Bloom because the terms translate so nicely into desired outcomes for education learning. Check out the Partnership for 21st Century learning’s revisions of Bloom for this century.

    As a field though, cognitive psychology includes many other theories and thinkers with educational implications. Vygotsky developed the theory that each student has a zone of proximal development that must be identified and targeted by teachers. Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences has revolutionized progressive education. Levine’s All Kinds of Minds explores the relationship of research in brain physiology to learning. Even Piaget changed his mind later in life about the nature of development, recognizing that individuals exhibit a great deal of variation as they move through stages.

    I would disagree that summative assessment should operate at a lower level of understanding. At the summative level, I want to see a student’s best thinking demonstrated (which is why I’m not crazy about APs). Here’s a link to a site that shows a journalism teacher’s real world lesson on the first amendment that will stick with her students far longer than any quiz they’ll ever take: http://www.splc.org/newsflash.asp?id=1118

    I see this kind of higher level thinking all over your blog, which is why I’m pushing you on this one. Your Great War assessment alone was/is brilliant, and should get you hired wherever there is an opening. Don’t cave in to demands for bubble tests!

  2. I’m not quite sure what you mean by lists. Is this a help on a quiz or test, an example of multiple choice?

    I would say that learning takes place constantly; what is being learned? Memorization teaches (most often) how to memorize rather than the facts and figures it is intended to teach. Guides, cooperation, interest in a subject will not only allow for students to take advantage of resources (even Google?) that are available to them, but to personalize it and make it relevant to them. If it’s not relevant, it will not stick. I would say that showing relevance it partly your job as a teache,r but also partly your student’s job. How can they find that, make that?

  3. Ms. Hanawald: One of my favorite quotes reads:

    Education is what remains when what has been learned has been forgotten.

    My goal is for them to have learned the simple stuff, at some point. The simplest kind of information just needs to be memorized. Learning to calculate 3+5 works when you are first introduced to addition, but eventually you really should memorize it, instead.

    Moreover, in my experience — and maybe that’s I’m skewed at one end of the spectrum — I need to know the information before I begin to understand it. I need to be familiar with “Ballot or the Bullet” before I begin to hear the subtext of Malcolm X.

    If nothing else, my rule of thumb when deciding whether or not to require memorization is to consider how important it is outside the classroom. That said, the Bill of Rights certainly warrants memorization. They need to know their rights, and assigning each right a number is a way of breaking down such a huge block of information.

    On psychology: I had a respected professor — not one of the partisan coots around here — refer to multiple intelligences as a kind of “feel-good fad.” Given the weak justification for the “naturalist” thinking, for one, I’m inclined to agree.

    Perhaps I misspoke: My point about summative assessment is not that all summative assessment should be lower-level thinking, but that if there is going to be lower-level thinking at all, it should be in the quizzes, rather than the test.

    Quizzes in my classroom are worth so little — don’t tell my students — that I’d rather they demonstrate their higher-level thinking through their essay portion, which is worth twice as much as any given quiz.

  4. Ms. Jae: Ms. Hanawald’s initial comment had suggested providing a cheat sheet, or list, of the amendments in the Bill of Rights somewhere on the test. That’s where “list” comes from.

    In history, government and economics, relevance is the easy part. I read the newspaper.

    On memorization: I’d say that having the skill of memorization allows for greater concentration, less insurmountable learning curves, better focus and an all-around higher tolerance for “boring stuff.” These are all life skills.

    The skill of memorization, and I have only anecdotal information to support this conclusion, goes a long way to well-rounded learners.

    Now, I don’t advocate memorization willy-nilly, but I think it’s a far cry to say that memorization should always be avoided, and that memorization cannot contribute positively to a student’s skillsets, as so many fellow teacher bloggers seem to do.

  5. I don’t have my human development or learning theory textbooks with me, so I did a little googling. I think what you’re talking about is implicit memory: Students should JUST KNOW the Bill of Rights. They shouldn’t have to stop and recall what they have learned, they shouldn’t have to think about what right is associated with which number, because they JUST KNOW it. Is that what you’re getting at?

    Unforunately, implicit memory is developed through constant and repeated experiences. Which in the case of history, may be hard to foster as it has already happened! I suppose that reading the Bill of Rights over and over, day after day, would do this, and would be what you refer to as memorization. However, I think of something like this:

    I too am in a teacher ed program. And one thing that my professors are always telling us teachers-to-be’s is that before you ask your students to do something, make sure that you’re actively modeling it. Is there a “Right of the Day” on the board? Do you (perhaps in jest, perhaps for real) point out when your or their rights are violated? Show clippings of rights? Three minutes to pound into their heads that you think this is important.

    Maybe I missed the point, but I would opt for no out-right memorization.

  6. Don’t worry: We hit the Bill of Rights from a whole lot of different angles, and went in depth for every day for more than a week. We also had a list of mnemonics that helped them out.

    Not too many had trouble memorizing the Bill of Rights from there, though the Seventh Amendment still trips up some of them.

  7. CJ

    I think in some sense that it is more important in the Google Age to have some base facts memorized.

    There are some basic premises that critical evaluations in a subject are typically based on. To follow from your example, Supreme Court cases are often based on the Bill of Rights. You can always look up case law concerning the fourth amendment, but you shouldn’t have to look up the Bill of Rights every time. The things that should be memorized in any subject are actually few in number.

    One of my students likened it to basketball: when she started, her coach made the team take foul shots for an entire practice. The game is a lot more than that but many games come to pivot on a single straightforward shot. The coach has to know a player can execute the shot when called on because there are bigger things for her to worry about. These are the type of facts or skills that you cover daily in some way rather than in a specific number of classes.

    As for quizzes, you have to beware the “data dump” on the student’s part, where they learn only for the quiz. I know someone in a college biology class who noticed his students weren’t retaining some topics covered previously. So he gave the same quiz two weeks in a row. The scores went down, since the students had studied for the short term. He gave the same exact quiz again (after a warning), but almost nobody had decided to learn this material despite a class discussions regarding the quizzes. It became a semester-long discussion and really opened his eyes.

    In terms of assessment, I tend to use quizzes to assess basic understanding or partial process (formative) and exams and essays to assess integrating those skills and analyses (summative). The quizzes give me diagnostics to adjust my teaching before the exam.

  8. Ethan

    Well i beleive that i have a sexy body and people need to memorize that. Everytime i walk into public people stare in amazment. they remember me for my sexy body. i think you’re just jealous that my body is so much sexier and that you wish you had a body like mine. right?

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