The following was written in the spring of 2016 by Mrs. Susan Hofer, our Director of Curriculum and Instruction. The piece was influenced by her time in the classroom as a Lower School teacher at Trinity Academy.
She entered my classroom a shy, quiet transfer student in sixth grade. Her sweet smile and friendly demeanor helped her build friendships quickly, and in very little time, “Dana” settled into the social life of our classroom. The academic transition was not quite as smooth, but with a little extra time and effort here and there, “Dana” also settled into the educational life of our classroom, with the exception of one thing: the dreaded Friday morning memory presentations.
Memory learning has certainly fallen out of favor in the past several decades. Many in academia are quick to discard rote memorization as a valid learning tool, perhaps because all too often it conjures up bleak images of boring recitation exercises from our own lackluster school days. But before we dismiss rote memorization as an antiquated, ineffective educational endeavor, consider the following.
Studies continue to prove that memory task exercises strengthen the brain’s ability to retain information. Students who have committed equations and functions to memory can move on to more and more complex problem solving, because they already know the elemental information. Understanding the basics literally frees up more space in the brain for other things. Moreover, neurologists believe that “mental gymnastics,” like sports’ statistics memorization, for example, help to create a quick and agile brain. And perhaps the most compelling argument for the use of memorization in a young student’s learning is that it appears to correlate with their ability to focus and succeed at increasingly difficult tasks in high school and college.
What about the boredom often equated with strict memorization? Classrooms that understand a child’s developmental stages will teach memory in any number of engaging ways: students singing their way through a decimal rules math song, rummaging through a drama clothing bin to present a Shakespearean sonnet in costume, or playing a history version of “Around the World” testing their knowledge of a timeline of world events. Boring? No way! Fun? Just maybe. Effective? YES.
Combine memorization with the basic skills of oration, and you may find yourself mesmerized by an entire group of ten-year-olds boldly reciting Martin Luther’s “Address to the Diet of Worms” or Abraham Lincoln’s poignant “Gettysburg Address.” The confidence gained by committing something to memory, and then standing up in front of a crowd with poise and eloquence, is priceless.
This is, in fact, what happened with “Dana”. “Dana” is now a senior at Trinity Academy, and in just a few short months, “Dana” will stand in front of her entire high school, its faculty, and its headmaster, and she will present her research on a year-long senior project. These speeches average at least 20 minutes, and “Dana”’s will be no exception. Following her presentation, “Dana” will defend her research thesis and answer unrehearsed questions from her teachers and peers. “Dana”’s speech will be a smashing success. How do I know? Because I was privileged to be the first of many teachers who intentionally helped “Dana” mark out a path toward confidence and eloquence under pressure. Make no mistake – “Dana” did the work. But Trinity did its part, too, by crafting a curriculum that guides students toward a future armed with the tools they need to face any number of challenges.
A timid girl who struggled to recite her memory work at her teacher’s desk, has transformed into a young woman able to defend her ideas in the public arena. I can think of few things more gratifying as a teacher than the joy of knowing that you helped equip a student in such a way.
This spring, when “Dana” steps onto the stage, takes a deep breath and begins to speak, one former teacher will make sure she’s in the crowd, a smile beaming broadly on her face, and a lump planted firmly in her throat. I wouldn’t miss it for the world.
Let Trinity have a part in helping your child develop into a confident, poised young adult. Call our Admissions Department at 919.786.0114 and join a Group Tour or schedule a personal visit.
Director of Curriculum and Instruction