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Why Johnny Can't Memorize

Aug 17, 2007
As a teacher, I stopped saying, "Come on, try harder" to students a while back. Not because I thought they
were actually trying their hardest at the time (many don't to this day), but because I learned that it isn't always possible to know who is trying and failing and who isn't trying at all.

Kids are great at hiding behind facades and it's always cooler to come off as someone who just doesn't care rather than someone who tries and fails.

Which leads me to the subject of memorizing.

There are many kids at the high school level who can't stand the thought of committing things to memory. They would rather load their ipods with classical music (Ok, maybe not that extreme but you get the point!).

Since teachers spend time doing cafeteria duty, I've had many chances to ask my students why they hate
memorizing so much. They were very honest in their responses, "Because I can't memorize!"

Many are convinced they have a bad memory and will even bring up stories from 5th and 6th grades in which they tried and tried but, "It just doesn't happen."

Being their teacher, I needed to know more so I would ask, "How would you memorize if you absolutely had to?"

And their answers, over a period of time, slowly lead to the same conclusion, "These kids have no idea how to memorize."

They would tell me about repeating things again and again, making flash cards and reviewing the flash cards again and again. The looks on their faces said it all. This was not a pleasant experience.

Very few described any strategies for memorizing: making associations to other material covered, connecting similar events, finding a way to tie what they need to know with something they already know. Using rhymes, drawings, phrases, anything
to make the information stand out.

You know, typical strategies that help kids lock up information in long term memory.

It was pretty obvious that Johnny couldn't memorize because no one ever showed him how.

It's not surprising. No one showed me how. And, I'm sure, no one showed you, either.

That's why the adult "Improve your memory" market is a multi-million dollar operation. Every one trying to learn what they should have learned when they were in school. Only now, it costs money.

Schools, unfortunately, don't spend a lot of time teaching kids how to commit things to memory. An individual teacher may give a tip for an assignment every now and then, but in general, kids are expected to come back the next day with the information safely stored in long term memory.

If they find a way to do it, then they get good grades and everyone is happy. If they don't, and they struggle, and that struggle lasts a few years, then you get what I see in high school.

Kids want no part of the "memorizing thing" because they've had enough of the frustration. It's a sad tale because it's a fixable problem. However, for the time being, it's a problem many parents have to fix on their own.

So when you get a moment, ask your child if they find memorizing easy or difficult. Manageable or unbearable. And then, check their grades to see if their memorizing skills are paying off in the classroom.

As I said earlier, kids are great at hiding behind facades.
About the Author
Jim Sarris is a veteran teacher and author of two books on memorizing: Comic Mnemonics for Spanish Verbs and Memorizing Made Easy, a book/DVD that helps kids remember more of what they study. No struggles, no hassles, no headaches. For a free report and more information, visit Improve your child's memory.
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