Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Memorizing Poetry


"What poem did you have to memorize in school? Do you still remember it? Is memorizing an effective educational strategy?"


These are questions that Deborah White asks in this week's article titled "Thursday's the Day to Pack a Poem" from her weekly column in the Bangor Daily News.

You can contact Deborah at
conversationswithateacher@gmail.com

Memory and Memorization Resources at LIM Resources Wiki.

Extension: In this day of information at our fingertips, what is worth memorizing?

How long will it be before our computers will be embedded in our bodies? Will this be a good thing or a bad thing?
See artificial intelligence at LIM Resouces.


7 comments:

Ed Latham said...

I memorized Robert Frost's "The Road Less Traveled" in 8th grade. Even back then, I was a bit of a divergent soul. Those that know me now can attest that divergent thinking has been with me my whole life. I am sure the love of poetry and reading that my 8th grade teacher shared with me had much to do with who I am, what I do and how I still think today.

I have had the pleasure of being in many acting companies and productions and love theater. Memorization is vital there and I think for many of the same reasons memorization of worthwhile works can be important in school. In both cases the individual is not simply remembering the words of the piece. Initially, that may be the focus, but when the passion, the feeling and vitality behind the words are felt, the memorized work takes on a whole new meaning. There is a reason many writers are famous. They did not just say things other's did not. Often they said similar things. It is the way the words are written or said that change the meaning entirely. Having students memorize great works helps them get the mood, the energy and the real meaning behind the piece of work.

On another note, our society has evolved into an instant gratification, give me now so I may discard it, society. Our kids memorize simply for the test. The act of memorizing poetry at least has the chance of actually teaching our students a feeling, an emotion, or maybe just the perseverance that is so hard to instill today. Struggling to memorize something helps student learn adapting skills and offers a feeling of satisfaction so much more fulfilling than a simple "A" on the sheet.

Our words reflect our thoughts and thinking. In poetry, society gets to hear the heart and soul of our thinking. Having students memorize some of these works actually strengthens our culture and perceptions. We need look no farther than the success the music industry has had once poetry was added to great music. We have entire generations defined by the lyrics that everyone seems to know. Maybe it is the emotions we all share, maybe it is the experiences we can all relate to, but for whatever reason people have memorized poetry through music for generations.

I see no reason why we should stop now.

Without Robert Frost reminding us that we have choices in life and that the difficult choices can make all the difference, we are doomed to follow with whatever exists never to expand or grow.

Ed Latham said...

Correction: The poem was titled "The Road Not Taken" See, the actual words were not memorized but the meaning was completely.

Nicole said...

I memorized the first stanza of Evangeline in 7th grade, the preamble to the constitution and "Jimmy Jet And The TV Set" in 8th grade (Shel Silverstein), and a soliliquy from Taming of the Shrew and "The Lovesong of J Alfred Prufrock" in tenth grade. I think memorization is a lost art that should be done more often!

Barbara Greenstone said...

I love April because it's National Poetry Month. When my son was in first grade I was working in the library at the Longfellow School in Brunswick. My son's teacher was a wonderful woman who was celebrating poetry week long before it became a national "month." During poetry week all the kids in her class carried a poem in their pocket. (My son was very proud of his because it was one he wrote himself.) When a first grader came to the library to return or check out a book, I made a point of asking the student if he or she had a poem in his/her pocket.

One day a very shy little girl who never looked at me, let alone spoke, came in to check out a book. I could never get any response from her but this day I took a chance and said, "Do you have a poem in your pocket?" She looked at me and broke into a big grin and pulled a Shel Silverstein poem from her pocket which she recited perfectly. I thanked her and that broke the ice. After that she always had a smile for me and said hello.

By the way, Ed, I too memorized Frost's The Road Not Taken and I can still recite it (ask me sometime). I think there is value in having kids memorize poetry. When they've memorized it they own it - probably forever. Of course, Shel Silverstein warned us about becoming Memorizin' Mo.

Carl Anderson said...

I also had to memorize the same Robert Frost poem in school. I also really don't remember if I ever had to memorize any other piece of literature. I do remember having to memorize spelling lists and multiplication tables in elementary school. I still candt spel and when I do math (even simple math) I use a method I developed for myself that is based in an understanding of how multiplication works, not the chart we obsessively had to fill out in 3rd grade. In college I had to memorize hundreds of paintings, their titles, artists, and dates but I can't say that the act of memorizing these facts ever helped me understand art history, it took a trip around the world to do that.

Reflecting on this, and Ed Latham's comments I find it interesting that while I struggled so hard to memorize things for school I had no trouble memorizing perhaps hundreds of song lyrics. Why did I memorize those songs? Many of the songs I know the lyrics to I don't even like. I still don't know if there is a correlation between memorizing the lyrics to these songs and any meaning I derive from them. Often I will hear a song again that I know the lyrics to and realize that I never even consciously comprehended the most basic meaning behind the lyrics or even consciously was aware what the song was about, even when the meaning was transparent.

Could this mean that there is no real correlation between memorization and understanding? Is memorization a mental exercise that serves a purpose that we have been misappropriating for learning tasks that require understanding instead?

I suppose memorization is necessary for some things. I am glad I have my own phone number and address memorized. It comes in handy. However, I don't need to understand my phone number nor do I need to understand my address. I do need to understand multiplication, I do need to understand how to look for meaning in the printed word, and I do need to understand how to interpret meaning from visual stimulus.

It seems to me that memorization is a mental function that needs to be evoked for things that we need to recall immediately and for things that we find personal enjoyment in. This is most likely why I memorized my phone number and address as well as why it was so easy for me to memorize so many songs.

Ernie Easter said...

This is a timely discussion. For me it was "Oh Captain, My Captain" by Walt Whitman.

Up here in New Sweden we expect every student to memorize a poem or essay in grades 5 to 8 and recite it before the school body. 7th & 8th grade must be a minimum of 3 minutes. All public speaking pieces are scored and the best three from each grade go to an evening competition with trophies and ribbons. It is traditon if you will and often one of those things kids love to hate, yet say, "I learned how to get up in front of a group and speak." I feel memorizing poems or speeches is something that is valuable and should continue...but wait, it's not on the MEAs.

Ernie Easter said...

This is a timely discussion. For me it was "Oh Captain, My Captain" by Walt Whitman.

Up here in New Sweden we expect every student to memorize a poem or essay in grades 5 to 8 and recite it before the school body. 7th & 8th grade must be a minimum of 3 minutes. All public speaking pieces are scored and the best three from each grade go to an evening competition with trophies and ribbons. It is traditon if you will and often one of those things kids love to hate, yet say, "I learned how to get up in front of a group and speak." I feel memorizing poems or speeches is something that is valuable and should continue...but wait, it's not on the MEAs.