Memorization is Not Understanding

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Lumiere invites Belle to enjoy her dinner and sings, "Tie your napkin 'round your necksery and..."

Wait.

I'm standing in my kitchen and I realize there's a comma between "neck" and the next word. Suddenly the line makes way more sense. Excited, I share my discovery with Brittany, "He says, '...neck, chérie!'"

My wife stares at me, like I've just announced that "teh" isn't the correct spelling. Looks like I've got to explain myself. "I always thought it was a made-up word to make the line flow better."

My wife isn't impressed by my creativity in the face of ignorance.

I knew the song. I knew the movie. I knew the cultural context of the characters' names. But I didn't know there was a comma. All my memorization and knowledge had failed me. Until last night, I didn't understand what the candlestick was really saying.

This demonstrates the different strata of learning. Some of these layers are:

  • Comprehend
  • Recall
  • and Apply

I had the gist of the song, I knew it's meaning, and I could sing it to you if you were inclined to listen. But even though neither you nor I would realize I was singing it wrong, I wouldn't have been singing it correctly.

We need to be able to recall information we understand if we're going to apply it. Too often, however, we can get lazy and believe memorization is enough. This is the fundamental flaw of "teaching to the test": We never build on the foundation.

Homeschooling allows us to focus on the application of our knowledge. And if we can apply what we have learned, we know we also comprehend and recall the information as well. If you'd like some ideas on how to do this with your homeschool curriculum, Sonlight's Instructor's Guides offer notes and comprehension questions to help get you started.

Have you ever had a moment where you suddenly understood something you've "known" forever?

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Empty Nester

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About Luke

Filmmaker, Writer, Pseudo-Dad
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4 Responses to Memorization is Not Understanding

  1. Niki says:

    Yes, I have those moments all the time while teaching my kids!

  2. Jeff Hoots says:

    Reminds me of one of the Ramona Quimby books by Beverly Cleary: Ramona's first day of public school. They sing the National Anthem and come to the line "...the dawnzer lee light..." Ramona concludes that a dawnzer must be a lamp, and later, at home, suggests that someone turn on the dawnzer, and the awkward moment when nobody knows what she's talking about...

  3. Luke says:

    That is a great example, Jeff <smile>.

    Thanks, Niki and Erika!

    ~Luke

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