Memorization


I think that the thing many people focused on when the Ministry of Education announced the back to basics approach to a new Mathematics Curriculum was the concept of memorization of multiplication tables. Personally, I don’t have a real issue about that; it’s a little drop in the big bucket. I learned that way and I’ll bet that you did too. Remember the big grid written on a sheet of Bristol board and hung on the wall? During tests or quizzes, it was either covered or taken down to force us to learn it.

Our table went up to 12 x 12. 13 x 13 and above was out of bounds!

I remember at the time being in the group that asked “When will we ever need to know this?” As it turns out, all the time especially since I went on to get a degree in Mathematics. Little did I realize at the time that the table was actually an abstract concept of a two-dimensional indexed array. You would get your answer by using the techniques of row / column lookup.

When I think back, memorization was a part of everything. True, it was a different type of teaching that was happening but you actually had to memorize words to a song or the syntax to a programming statement or how many inches were in a foot (yeah, I go way back) …

But, there was one thing about memorization that I never understood. Most of the memorization that we did eventually did make sense. The one I never really got was an activity in English class.

Every Friday morning, we had a memorization activity. There were two lengthy poems and we had to choose one. I can’t remember the other one but I chose “The Lady of Shalott” by Alfred, Lord Tennyson. I’d actually forgotten about this activity except it came up in a discussion recently with Stephen Hurley.

The poem seemed to go on forever. There were four parts to it. So, it was a month of Fridays activity for us. We had to memorize one part of the poem and then come to class to write it down on a sheet of paper. It was important to memorize the words but it was also important to memorize the punctuation. Marks were deducted from a possible 10 marks for each mistake.

As I started to think about this, I tried to remember the poem.

On either side the river lie
Long fields of barley and of rye,

and that’s all I’ve got!

The first verse is actually

On either side the river lie
Long fields of barley and of rye,
That clothe the wold and meet the sky;
And thro’ the field the road runs by
       To many-tower’d Camelot;
The yellow-leaved waterlily
The green-sheathed daffodilly
Tremble in the water chilly
       Round about Shalott.

and it goes on from there. The complete poem is accessible here.

So, we did what any normal Grade 7 or 8 student would do and ask “Why do we have to do this?” The answer? “For marks”.

I suppose it should help us with writing but I’ve honestly never used “wold”, “thro'”, or “daffodilly” in a sentence ever. It was something that we did back then for marks and quickly forgot. It wasn’t the long-lasting or enduring wisdom that we talk about today as being so important.

Like many, I’ll be watching to see what the new curriculum brings to the classroom. Hopefully, it will be done wisely. It may well be that we encourage the study of “The Lady of Shalott” but hopefully for the joy and beauty of poetry and not a memorization activity without legs.

OTR Links 07/18/2020


Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.