Sunday, May 18, 2014

Don't Forget to Remember

Is there no longer a need to remember?

That seems to be the impression - or rather, misconception - based upon the educational research and literature that encourages and promotes teaching and learning that challenges and engages students to think analytically, creatively, critically, and strategically about what they are learning.  We educators are constantly being encouraged, prompted, and even pushed to have our students think about what they are learning.

However, remembering is thinking, too.

There's also a perception that students do not need to remember details, facts, and information.  They can just Google what they need to know or store all data and information on a computer from where they can access and retrieve the details and facts when needed instead of keeping it all in their head.

However, that's not remembering.  That's referencing or retrieving externally, which is correlated to remembering.  Remembering involves intrinsic referencing and retrieving data, facts, and information from the computer in our head -- our mind.  Search engines and computer hard drives allow us to store vast amounts of information and keep our mind open and free to think about the knowledge we have acquired.

Remembering is also not knowing.  When we remember, we are demonstrating and communicating our ability to recall, recognize, or retrieve from our memory data, facts, and information.  When we remember, we are also actively learning by defining, identifying, locating, naming, reproducing, and stating specific details, elements, procedures, terminology, and vocabulary.  Knowing addresses demonstrating factual, conceptual, procedural, or metacognitive knowledge of concepts or content.  In fact, in their revision of Bloom's Taxonomy, Anderson and Krathwohl (2001) separated knowing and knowledge into its own dimension within the Cognitive Process Domain.

The misconception about remembering is that we associate it with memorizing, which are two completely different concepts.   When we memorize, we are just committing  data, facts, and information to memory to use at a later time.   When we remember, we are drawing upon these bits of information from our memory to engage in deeper thinking that challenges and engages us to apply, analyze, evaluate, and create.

Memorizing is a process or way we remember, which is a very difficult yet simple process to commit facts and information to memory.  Interestingly, the way we remember things actually involve higher level thinking such as the following:

  • summarizing (understand)
  • making connections (apply)
  • associating (analyze)
  • correlating (evaluate)
  • designing or developing mental models (create)
  • drawing visual representations (create)
  • making acronyms, similes, and metaphors (create)
In fact, if you really think about it, when we're asked to remember something, are we not actually creating by picturing and visualizing models or coming up with original limericks, lines, saying or to make remembering easier?  How many of us know what the function of a conjunction is because of the song?  How many of us make acronyms to help us remember chronological order or processes?

Remembering also allows us to be self-reliant and responsible for what we know, understand, and can do without having to ask for help or seek out more information constantly.  There's nothing wrong about having a good memory or being able to remember things.

Remembering is the foundation as well as the launching pad of higher order thinking.  We can't demonstrate and communicate our ability to understand, apply, analyze, evaluate, or create without remembering the details, facts, and information that has been developed into background knowledge.  We can't think strategically about concepts, ideas, subjects, or topics without first demonstrating and communicating our ability to reproduce and apply learned facts and procedures.  We can't extend thinking across the curriculum and beyond the classroom without being able to draw from foundational knowledge.

So why is teaching and learning for remembering so controversial and contested?

Remembering is considered to be a lower-level thinking skill, and the term lower has a negative connotation.  Lower is not synonymous with easy.  In fact, remembering is much more difficult than the other categories within the cognitive domain of Bloom's Revised Taxonomy.  It takes a lot of effort to remember, which makes such thinking hard - or difficult.  However, the outcome or result of remembering is simple in that the response and result is very straightforward by being correct or incorrect.

When it comes to complexity, remembering is at the lowest level not because of the level of thinking but rather the depth expected to be demonstrated and communicated.  Remembering requires only recalling and recognizing facts and information.  Questions for remembering are closed-endedhaving one specific answer that is irrefutable and easy, quick, and simple to verify.  They are also convergent, requiring students to reproduce and apply facts and procedures to achieve or attain the one acceptable, correct response or result. 

However, when it comes to remembering, we must remember a few key facts.

Remembering is an essential skill.  There's no debate or doubt about it.  The ability to retain vast amounts of information is as impressive as being able to run a marathon or lift a heavy weight.  It's an admirable feat.  Remembering is also still highly respected and valued in society.  Being able to remember is a positive quality and trait.  People feel honored, respected, and cared for when a person can remember their name, stories they shared, or key events.

However, being able to use what you can remember is just as positive, respectful, and valued.

So what exactly all the fuss about teaching and learning for remembering?

It's not about remembering.  The fuss is actually about teaching and learning for memorizing.  We don't want our students to remember facts, information, and procedures in isolation.  We want them to remember these elements so they can develop background knowledge from which they can draw and establish connections within and beyond the classroom and curriculum.

Higher order thinking and depth of knowledge are the ideal.  It's what we want students to do with what they have learned and how deeply we want teaching and learning to go.  However, we still need to remember what is the information; remember who provided the information; remember where it is stored; remember why the information is needed; and remember how it relates to the question we are answering, the problem we are addressing, or task we are accomplishing.

When it comes to remembering, just think about this classic Eric Clapton song.

- E.M.F.

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