Friday, December 2, 2016

Memorization Doesn't Have to be Frustrating

I know this from experience. Although I come from a family of good memorizers, I was terrible at it and I hated it. I’m not sure how old I was when I learned the “sevens” on the multiplication table - but I do remember poking my head up over the wooden rail of my bed in my room that day because I refused to memorize them. I felt that if I didn’t remember a fact the first time, then I had failed.

Memorizing is frustrating for parents because they can’t just do it for their kids. But kids feel like they just can’t do it, period. There’s nothing more frustrating than that.

I speak from experience: for me, memorization requires effort, but I didn’t know that because it seemed so effortless for my family members.

But it does not have to be frustrating.

It requires the good kind of effort. The kind that is rewarded as soon as the child can say “Hey, I memorized 7x1! I will get extra dessert for the day!” In other words, if you want your kids to “practice, practice, practice”, my advice is to “encourage, encourage, encourage”. We tend to underestimate the amount of time we need to commit facts to memory a lot. If you want your kids, who might not be good at memorizing multiplication facts or words in a foreign language, to spend the correct amount of time practicing memorization, then spend more time than feels necessary to practice. Don’t expect them to get it all at once and tell them that you don’t expect that. Some kids will remember their words the first time (lucky), some kids will remember the third time (lucky), some will remember the 20th time. Students will feel success as soon as they accomplish small tasks. Let them experience that success.

I read what I think is a good strategy for practicing memorization: a mother, who gave her kids the multiplication chart to look at, would quiz them repetitively, and eventually they would stop looking at the chart. I think this strategy makes a lot of sense - don’t remove the children’s study aid too soon; and, let them be in charge of it. It gives them a feeling of “I’m still succeeding”, and checking the study aid is a visual form of repetition.

My last suggestion is to match memorization with some sort of physical activity. As I got older, I began to pace as I held onto my cheat sheet and practiced my words.

I imagine that any repetitive physical activity which they could do while holding a normal conversation could serve as a “physical focuser”, a physical activity which “distracts” the kids from not liking the mental activity. I imagine basketball, jenga, drawing, stacking or organizing objects could serve as physical focusers. If you are going to spend time helping them memorize, pairing the memorization activity with a physical activity might be helpful for a perfectionist or an easily-frustrated child. This would be for a student who is capable of keeping his mind on the facts which are being practiced while his body is busy shooting hoops. As a side note, keep in mind your children’s saturation point and encourage your kids to think about how they learn. How many words can they learn before they need a break? How much time do they need as a break? How does the intensity of their practice affect their duration?

Remember, a good strategy for practicing memorization can make learning new information easier.

Middle School Teacher

Saint Francis Xavier School

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