When I first started teaching, my students regularly stressed about the tests, and they freaked out about the comprehensive final exams. They couldn’t remember everything from the start unit, let alone the start of the year.
I heard many suggestions:
- “Provide a study guide with all of the test questions/vocab. “
- “Play Jeopardy review the day before the test.”
- “Let the kids prepare a ‘cheat sheet’ notecard to use on test day.”
To be honest, all of these options make me feel icky inside.
These “supports” feed the cramming vice. They ask students to hold on to the information just until the test date. Learners don’t have to store the content in their long-term memories.
This is where that icky feeling become a sharp pain.
I don’t teach my students just for their understanding today but so they can confidently use the information twenty years from now. They won’t become informed global citizens if the content spills out of them and onto a Scantron bubble sheet. I want my students to be fluent in the language of history, the way bilingual speakers can switch languages with each breath.
To build fluency, I knew I’d have to build in some rote memorization. <cue the dark, scary music>
Unfortunately, teachers can face some serious negativity when they employ rote memorization in their lessons. History teachers, in particular, get a bad rap asking students to memorize dates and names. I don’t know who it is exactly that’s doing all this guilting, but I’ve felt it. I’ve swam in the memorization shame pool: “No more drill and kill teaching!”
But let’s think about Bloom’s Taxonomy: We’ve got to get kids to recall the facts before they’re able to synthesize.
In many APWorld or APEuro classes, students are expected to lock down 100 dates over the summer. That way when the class begins in the fall, they can hit the ground running and start to use the facts to do more complex historical thinking skills.
When I see rockstar classes like this, I have to shake off the shame. These aren’t isolated skills I’m helping my students memorize; they’re cornerstones of our content.
Ultimitately, my goal is for students to become so fluent in their content knowledge that they can 1) use it to do deep thinking in the present and 2) hold on to it to use in the future.
I tend to my students’ content retention in US History through my use of anchor charts, vocabulary word walls, a permanently posted timeline, and frequent quizzing of the US Presidents paired with major events.
In English, I also use anchor charts, word walls, and frequent quizzing; instead, I ask them to recall Kelly Gallagher‘s 55 most common Latin Word Chunks and the Poetic + Literary + Rhetorical Devices.
I have a couple posts lined up to share in more detail how I use these tools, so be sure to subscribe if you haven’t yet.
Enter the Conversation
In the meantime, I’m curious: What do you ask your students to memorize? Why is this information so important to your content? And because I know you don’t just send them on their way solo, how do you support your students recall practice?
But wait–there’s more!
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