Monday, October 27, 2008

Memoria Opus (Memory Work)

Several years ago I got to a place where I was really dissatisfied with how we homeschooled. We did what seemed like a lot of work, but at the end of the year I just wasn't sure what the kids knew. Yearly testing gave us some sense of what was going on but I wanted to know that we weren't just "putting in time." That the effort and money that we were pouring into educating our kids was acutally going to yield academic fruit in the form of our kids owning a body of knowledge.
I learned an important distinction a few years back and that is the difference between overview and memorization. Overview is generally the big picture. Memorization is the detail, the particulars. Both are important. As we read accounts of how school used to be (i.e. Laura Ingalls Wilder) I am amazed at the amount of memory work required, most likely due to a lack of resources like paper and printer cartridges! A lot of curriculum these days is good for overview but doesn't demand that the student memorize particulars. Memory work is important because it cements the details in the student's brain- giving them the power to recall. At the end of the day, or year, they know that they know. In addition, the students brain is being "trained to retain." I've noticed how much easier it is to memorize things this year than last- my kids have been working the mental muscles of their minds and they are able to tackle more difficult memory work as a result. IEW's Poetry Memorization program goes through 4 sets of increasingly difficult poems as the students acclimate to the rigors and joy of memorizing poetry (it's based on the Suzuki Violin method, which Andrew Pudewa was a teacher of for several years- the intro to the program makes for some interesting reading regarding learning methods and memory work).

The key to memory work is to involve as many senses as possible; sight, hearing, touch, speech.

1. Read or overview the new work out loud
2. Have the student read the selection (or memory cards) outloud.
3. Write the selection on a white board (we have several smaller ones cut from a large shower tile and bordered by duct tape). Read the selection out loud together. Erase a small portion of the selection, recite from memory the erased section, read the rest. Erase another small portion, recite from memory and read the rest. Rinse. Repeat.
4. Flash cards. We use this time honored method for vocabulary, VP history cards, science, grammar, etc. Break the work down into manageable sections. People memorize most easily by having sets of 7 presented to them.
5. Audio CD's. This is a great way to introduce memory work and reinforce it. IEW's Language Aquisition Through Poetry Memorization has 80 poems on CD and is a great way to spend quiet or travel time ,reinforces the poems memorized and gently introduces new ones.
6. Post memory work throughout the house: on the fridge, bathroom, schoolroom walls. We have a large hanging white board in our dining (school) room. On it we list all of the weeks memory work. I have one of the kids re-write the weeks memory work at the beginning of the week reinforcing their learning.
7. Use games to re-inforce learning. "Jeopardy" is the classic memory skills game but there are certainly others. Teacher Created Resources has some fun and inexpensive game books. Right Start Math has an entire book on math games, Quarter Mile Math is a blast - a computer game dedicated to math facts, etc.
8. Contextualize the learning. We memorize history sentences as well as do related history read-alouds in addition to listening to SOTW audio CD's and making history time-line notebooks. Contextualizing learning creates more mental "hooks" in the kids brains so that they have a place to hang and organize the information (see Karen Andreola's writing on Charlotte Mason for more info on "mental hooks"). We are memorizing english grammar, making english grammar lapbooks and are learning sentence diagramming, in addition to learning latin grammar. We are memorizing a poem a week through the IEW program at the same time that we are working through Logos Academy's "Grammar of Poetry" book. The kids are learning how to write poems as they are memorizing them and gaining a richer understanding of trope, rhyme and meter as they go. All of the pieces start falling into place when the kids start making connections.
Memory work decontextualized is more difficult to learn and usually doesn't serve a good enough purpose imho to warrant the time and work involved. If you are having a Kindergartener memorize Latin declensions without a Latin program you are making both of your lives more difficult. Either give the kid a context or spend your time more age-appropriately learning fairy tales, songs and poems. One thing that really struck me during our day at the One Room Schoolhouse was the time the Rural Teachers spent on Fairy Tales, nursery rhymes, songs and poems. We used Calvert Curriculum for a couple of years and it was very similar to their approach. Not only did the kids come home singing the songs and narrating the stories (though no one had told them to) but they also had a marvelous time.

Many people wonder how an kinesthetic learner can sit still long enough to memorize long passages of poetry. Don't have them sit. Have them stand, hop, skip as they recite. We had a mini-tramp in our small student housing cottage and my oldest dd learned the times tables while bouncing. Swing your kids as you review the week's poetry. In other words, don't let your child's learning style dictate the lessons. Incorporate them in, strengthening those areas that are weak and utilizing strengths.

Use curriculum that incorporates memory work. Many classical curriculum suppliers have built in memory-work as part of the lessons, teaching us (the homeschool parent) what we didn't learn during our own formal schooling. Memoria Press and IEW are both blue ribbon winners. The Classical Conversations Foundations program is a great way to learn about memorization and how to actually do it with success in your own homeschool. They have 3 cycles, complete with audio CD's and powerpoint, which you can purchase without joining a CC community. Veritas Press and Logos Academy also have some great resources for memory work that are inexpensive and excellent, and there are many others.

Memorization is a rewarding skill that gets easier with practice. So... prodeo quod monumentum!

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