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How to Stop Students Memorizing and Start Them Learning


A challenge many teachers face is how to take the focus off memorization for state and federal testing requirements and instead help students with life-long learning. From as early as you can start taking tests, you’re taught the power of rote learning. By simply repeating something and hammering it into your short-term memory, you can get full marks.

One may argue that this is a crucial step in learning; how else are you going to learn to spell “onomatopoeia” without rote learning? This is true. This is not what’s getting educating advocates all riled up. It’s the fact that the system persists with this methodology all the way up until the college level that’s the real problem. What this results in is a generation of “professional memorizers” that can digest large amounts of information and regurgitate it back at you. However, throw them a curve ball where they’re forced to think and they go into system melt down.

To stop students memorizing and set them on the path to start learning, the change has to begin with the attitude towards teaching. Here are three contrarian strategies to bring this about.

Make It Relevant to Them

The great thing about children is they are primed to learn. They learn to walk by watching us walk and from there they’ll keep absorbing information from their surroundings, adding to their understanding of the world around them.

One of the key reasons that they learn so well early on is because everything they want to learn is relevant to them. Wanting a better way to communicate with us, they’ll start babbling. Eventually, they’ll start talking. As they get older, they’ll start developing their own interests. If relevance is the key, why not use it to unlock their passion to learn?

For example, it’s never too early to start the career talk. Say the little tacker is only interested in baseball. They want to be a major league baseball player. You show them the scorecard. You explain to them why stats like batting averages, plate appearances per strikeout and on-base percentage are important to become a better baseball player. You build that vision that the major leagues won’t take them on if they don’t have a strong grasp on maths. You won’t be able to stop them from learning their fractions.

If They Think, They Learn

Do you want a society of drones? Teach them to memorize and that’s what you’ve got. Without thought and contemplation, you don’t have an appreciation for learning. This is the next key paradigm shift to make. It’s too easy to stand in front of 25, uninspired children and blab on until the bell rings. It’s harder to get them thinking. The best teachers will do the latter.

Instead of trying to boost average grade results by force-feeding students the information,give them the question and make them give you the answer. Also, there’s nothing to say that you can’t combine the first tip with this one. Does your student struggle with their essays? Don’t talk about the World War I, talk about bullies in the playground. You’ll almost be able to see the light bulb switch on above their head.

Turn the Tables

This strategy is the most fun because it gives the power back to the students. It might make you sweat as the educator, but it’s a small cost to bear to ensure that your students come into your classroom switched on and stay that way.

Designate a day that the students become the teachers and throw questions at you. As the teacher, you should theoretically know the answers to all their questions, no matter how left-of-center they are. The only catch is that any question they ask will be examinable, so they have to pay attention to each other as well.

The add-on effect is that students will respect you, the teacher, because you bring down that “authority wall” between you. Ironically, they’ll look up to you more and take what you say to heart, instead of begrudgingly obeying.

To stop students memorizing and to start them learning takes a big attitudinal change from the educator’s point of view. By making it relevant to them, giving them situations to think about and turning the tables on yourself, your students will be hard-pressed to find a better teacher who makes learning so fun.

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