Memorization in Moderation

In grad school, we focused a lot of attention on what Paulo Friere – one of the all-stars of educational philosophy – calls the “banking model” of education and, specifically, how to avoid treating students like “empty vessels” within which we as teachers simply disperse knowledge.  With this mindset, I entered my first year of teaching, opposed to memorization, believing it would dehumanize my students and turn them into robots, albeit, robots with extensive vocabularies.

I still feel this way to a large extent, but, recently, I started incorporating more formal note-taking sessions in class, and I was surprised by the results.  After avoiding memorization for so long, I realized that by incorporating bits of it into my curriculum, it actually boosted student morale.  In English, especially, there is an emphasis on the skills students learn.  I think, however, that sometimes this focus on skills can feel a bit nebulous to students; maybe this is why “science/math people” prefer those subjects, where learning outcomes are more easily measurable.

Using memorization in moderation is a good way of providing students some kind of indicator that they have made progress in class.  They went from “not knowing” to “knowing.” The progress of skills is a bit harder to quantify, as student progress is rarely linear and it’s much harder to accurately and precisely measure a higher order thinking skill (which is why we differentiate assessment).  With the complexity of these skills and the difficulty we have in accurately quantifying student progress with these skills, it makes sense students would want something easy to for them to measure and be able to say, I have learned.  Even if it’s not the kind of “deep thinking” we are looking for as teachers, it might give us the buy-in we need as we have students, for example, revise papers as we give them our sincerest promises that they are becoming better writers.

Once I started utilizing memorization (as the exception, not the norm) I noticed that many students were excited to share what they remembered from previous classes, with the assurance that on this rare occasion, there was a single correct answer.  I am not a “banker,” and I still believe a heavy focus on memorization (the banking model) is detrimental, but…maybe memorization in moderation is actually a good thing.

Do I sound crazy?  Has anyone else felt this way?  Am I totally missing the boat on my reading of Friere?  Please let me know what you think and share your own ideas and stories in the comments!

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