“Educating the mind without educating the heart is no education at all.”
Children often complain that they are unable to recall what they need to, especially during exams. The major reasons that are quite apparent are mindless cramming and mounting information which is difficult for them to channelize. In this article, I would focus on the importance of understanding and practice for enhancing the capacity of memorization.
Learning is an ongoing process. Every day, a child spends around 6 hours in the school, seeking knowledge, understanding, applying the concepts learnt and showcasing acquired skills. Memory plays a very important part in this process. It plays the key role in the recalling the knowledge acquired; the very first step in the ladder of Bloom’s Taxonomy. “Short-term memory acts as a kind of “scratch-pad” for temporary recall of the information which is being processed at any point in time whereas working memory refers more to the whole theoretical framework of structures and processes used for the temporary storage and manipulation of information, of which short-term memory is just one component. Long-term memory is, obviously enough, intended for storage of information over a long period of time. Despite our everyday impressions of forgetting, it seems likely that long-term memory actually decays very little over time, and can store a seemingly unlimited amount of information almost indefinitely. Indeed, there is some debate as to whether we actually ever “forget” anything at all, or whether it just becomes increasingly difficult to access or retrieve certain items from memory.” (http://www.human-memory.net/types_long.html)
So why does it become so difficult to retrieve certain information? It happens when learning is done without understanding. “Understanding helps remembering in knowledge/concept.” If our brain is impressed by a concept, takes interest in it and tries to connect it to already learnt and understood ideas, the information remains with us forever as we have understood it. Understanding helps us record the information in the long term memory and it can be used as and when required. Now, here I would like to mention the criticism of rote learning. Rote learning is a memorization technique based on repetition. The idea is that one will be able to quickly recall the meaning of the material the more one repeats it. Some of the alternatives to rote learning include meaningful learning, associative learning, and active learning. It is generally believed that rote learning should be discouraged but I feel that rote learning ensures that at least some data has been stored in the brain which can now be understood, analysed and applied. I agree that “a little knowledge is a dangerous thing and knowledge without understanding is useless” but knowledge is the priority. Even if knowledge or information is initially acquired through rote learning, it will only help the child further the concept of learning. In a classroom situation if a child has learnt just a little part of a concept just by repeating it, he/she will be able to recall it when it is continued in the next period and then he might as well move further to understand it. If someone has not even acquired that much information they will have nothing to start with, “knowing something is better than knowing nothing” in this case. The first step towards understanding is learning. For e.g. a student was not able to understand a difficult topic entirely during a classroom discussion. But he was able to memorize a few basic theorems or principles. Now, when the teacher brushes upon the previous knowledge and does a quick revision of the topic in the next class, it would be easy for the student to come back on track compared to the one who understood nothing during the class.
What can be done for a better retaining power?
Ø The first step is to pay attention. Children must realize that focus and concentration cannot be replaced. It you want to recall something and keep it in your memory for a significant period of time, you need to ensure that you are paying attention when the topic is discussed. Attention span is very significant when it comes to learning and understanding.
Ø You can actually fail to use the information even after you have learnt it though understanding if you fail to Practice. Yes, as we all know, Practice is the Key. To make an information or knowledge acquired permanent in our memory, practice is of utmost importance. Though players like Sachin Temdulakar, Nadal, Lara, Kumble, and many more had acquired the best of the knowledge and technique of their respective sports but still would practice for hours every day. All good teachers would revise and prepare the lesson before going to the class though they would have been teaching the same thing for years.
Ø I would emphasize here that often adults too procrastinate when a complicated and humongous task is at hand. Students also tend to keep the complex and lengthy problems for later. My advice to students in this case is that we should Divide and Rule the complex problems or topics. Take up a little part at a time and then move to another part of the problem later. This help in better understanding by reducing the burden.
Ø Chunking is the organization of material into shorter meaningful groups to make them more manageable. Chunking of information can lead to an increase in the short-term memory capacity. For example, a hyphenated phone number, split into groups of 3 or 4 digits, tends to be easier to remember than a single long number. Experiments by Herbert Simon have shown that the ideal size for chunking of letters and numbers, whether meaningful or not, is three. However, meaningful groups may be longer (such as four numbers that make up a date within a longer list of numbers, for example). With chunking, each chunk represents just one of the 5 - 9 items that can be stored in short-term memory, thus extending the total number of items that can be held.
Ø Mnemonics make use of elaborative encoding, retrieval cues, and imagery as specific tools to encode any given information in a way that allows for efficient storage and retrieval. Mnemonics aid original information in becoming associated with something more accessible or meaningful—which, in turn, provides better retention of the information. Commonly encountered mnemonics are often used for lists and in auditory form, such as short poems, acronyms, or memorable phrases, but mnemonics can also be used for other types of information and in visual or kinesthetic forms. Their use is based on the observation that the human mind more easily remembers spatial, personal, surprising, physical, humorous, or otherwise "relatable" information, rather than more abstract or impersonal forms of information. (Wikipedia)
Ø Whenever I read a new book, I make sure that I share the ideas acquired with teachers and students as much as possible. This helps me store the ideas in my long term memory and they become a part of my understanding making them really difficult to forget.
So, when you pay attention, you understand, when you understand you recall better and for a longer span and finally practice and sharing makes learning more concrete. These simple steps should be made a part of student’s daily classroom activity and easy and concrete learning can thus become everyone’s cup of tea.
I would like to caution all that only remembering and understanding is of no use if you do not have skill to apply the same. So understand the concept and develop skill to use that concept.