Tag Archives: student centered

Is Memorizing Bad ?

 I wanted to do this blog as my students often tell me that there is no need to memorize. I felt that I needed to put down my thoughts on this.  The trend in teaching and learning these days seems to advocate no memorization. However, I think we need to reconsider this.

I think that memorization is needed for a start — because it enables and aids the thinking the process. The basic units of learning such as facts relating to concepts need to be remembered. However, there needs to be understanding too. For instance we need to remember that chloroplast is needed to photosynthesize and that it is green in colour. This will lead to questions such as why is it green, which in turn will lead to more facts/information that may need to be remembered to understand how plants produce food from sunlight using chloroplast.

While memorization of facts with understanding will be helpful, memorization of texts will not be helpful. Once the words have vaporized from memory, so will the knowledge –this is superficial memorization. The test of memorization would be to see if we can explain the same fact in our own words. However, we need to ask ourselves several questions regarding the fact  and answer them to ensure understanding. In a way, memorization with understanding is like knowing many facts and knowing the interconnectedness between the facts.

I think the trouble is when we have arguments that what is needed is understanding, there is so much facts available on the internet and in the books that we do not remember– all we need to do is just know how to access.

While this perspective seems logical, here is what we are missing.

Yes, facts and information are available everywhere- we have an overload of information. However accessibility of information does not mean automatic knowledge of the information. There is a need to search for the information, identify the information, verify if the information is true etc.

However, if these steps had been done earlier and the information has been stored in our CPU (our brain) instead of the computer’s CPU, the accessibility is likely to be faster. If we need to search for the information each time, we are not using our system efficiently.

I think it is not just about the speed- but that the network for accessing information is also strengthened when we use our memory-patterns become ingrained into our system this is likely to help us in putting together the relevant information/ideas/concepts together. If the patterns are sound and generally applicable, it will help us become efficient at making sound judgments. However, we must remember that we cannot have 100% generaizability and errors in making judgments should not be blamed on memory alone.

Overall, I think we still need to encourage learners to know the basic facts and information.But we need them to know the interconnectedness between the facts too. I think this is where mindmapping helps.

Another point is interest/liking.  If we like a certain subject, knowing the facts becomes automatic. Say that we like a certain piece of music, there is no problem remembering the music piece. Next we may even find out all about the musician and remember facts about them. And then we may explore why the musician makes a certain type of music- the layer and layer of information gives a certain understanding.

Here is the final thoughts on this

If memorization is considered to be not needed,

If memorization is not bad or detrimental,

If memorization could be good

If memorization with understanding would be even better,

Why not try to find out more on how to do this?

Here is another article on a related theme.


Posted by on June 2, 2011 in Just about anything else


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Questioning Skills to Engage Students

Here is something on Questioning Skills.

It was published in Faulty Focus

Questioning skills are essential to good teaching. Teachers often use questions to ensure that students are attentive and engaged, and to assess students’ understanding. What is important to note is that in addition to the intent of the question, the question itself matters. For instance, to ensure that students are attentive, a teacher could ask the students “Are you listening?” To assess if the students have understood, the teacher could ask “Do you follow me?”

However, students may say “Yes, I am listening” or “Yes, I have understood” simply to avoid embarrassment. Compare these simple questions with those that ask students to summarize what was discussed or ask the students for their opinions on what was said. The difference is that although the intent of the questions remains the same as before, the indirect, open-ended questions allow for divergent thinking. Such questions enable the teacher to more accurately evaluate if the students truly were attentive and if they have understood the material. In addition, open-ended questions motivate students to share their ideas, thereby allowing active, collaborative learning to take place. This illustrates the need to be able to ask the right sort of questions to engage students.

Questions that tap higher level thinking
One of the commonly used questioning techniques is to employ the 5W and 1H questions: Who, What, Where, When, Why and How. While this questioning technique is useful to some extent, most of the 5W questions tend to be close ended and elicit factual responses. Although factual responses are necessary, as good teachers we need to promote higher level thinking skills as well. One way to address this would be to use Bloom’s taxonomy of thinking skills as a guideline to ask questions. The following table gives some examples. For instance, to test if a student is able to evaluate what has been learned, the teacher could ask the student to critique a hypothetical problematic situation.

Skill Sample Prompts Purpose Level
Creating design, construct, plan, produce combine elements into a new pattern or product Higher
Evaluating check, critique, judge, hypothesize, conclude, explain judge or decide according to a set of criteria Higher
Analyzing compare, organize, cite differences, deconstruct break down or examine information Higher
Applying implement, carry out, use, apply, show, solve apply knowledge to new situations Lower
Understanding describe, explain, estimate, predict understand and interpret meaning Lower
Remembering recognize, list, describe, identify, retrieve, name memorize and recall facts Lower


One of the goals of teaching is not only to evaluate learning outcomes but also to guide students on their learning process. Hence it is important that as teachers we question students’ thinking and learning process. To this end, we could ask students to explain how they arrived at their conclusion answer and in doing so, what sort of resources they had used and whether the resources had provided sufficient evidence etc.

Going one step further it would be really engaging and motivating for the students (as well as the teacher) to have the whole class participate in a discussion, which would allow cross fertilization of ideas. This is in contrast to having a one-to-one, teacher to student question-answer session in the class. To initiate a class discussion, a good starting point would be to pose a question or make a statement that would elicit divergent responses, which could then be used to build further lines of discussions. In this case, planning the type of questions ahead of class would help to ensure that discussion is managed well within the allotted time.

To plan the questions, it is not just the type of questions that is important, but also the timing, sequence and clarity of questions. Answering takes time to think and it is therefore necessary to give students sufficient waiting time before going on to modify the question or asking other students to respond. If a student is not able to answer, then it is necessary to understand if the issue is with the clarity of the question. In that case, one could rephrase the question or try to understand which aspect of the question is difficult for the student and why. If the question is too difficult for the student due to lack of prior knowledge, it may be useful to ask a more factual question to bridge the gap and help lead the student toward the solution.

Overall, as teachers, we  need to not only have a clear intent for questioning, but we need to also learn to ask the right questions. To guide students on the learning process, it is essential to question on learning outcome (content) as well as students’ thinking and learning processes.

Table adapted from the Ohio Department of Education, Instructional Management System.

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Posted by on May 5, 2011 in Effective teaching


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Teacher-centered teaching versus Student-centered teaching

What is the difference between teacher-centered teaching and student-centered teaching?

To some, they are the same. One argument goes like this. Whether it is teacher-centered teaching or student-centered teaching, the focus is about students’ learning. So therefore the teaching is student-centered regardless of whether it is teacher-centered teaching or student-centered teaching. Sounds right! right?

Well, here is the flaw in the argument. Here we are assuming that the outcome is the only thing that matters – that is, the students’ learning. The main difference between teacher-centered teaching and the student centered teaching is in the process of teaching – how we go about teaching. Student-centered teaching engages students  in the learning process whilst teacher-centered teaching is intended for mostly information transmission. So teacher-centered teaching may not engage the students that much during the learning process; students often passively listen and take notes in teacher-centered teaching.

The tables in the following hyperlink  summarizes the differences clearly.


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How can we engage passive students?

Here is a quick summary  of an article titled “From Passive to Active Learning: Helping Students Make the Shift.” by Marilla Svinicki, University of Texas at Austin. 

In this article, Marilla speculates why students may be resistant to active learning and suggests what we can do to help them get engaged in active learning. 

Here are the essentials from the article. 

1.     Why students may be resistant to active learning?

  • Students continue to use learning strategies that they had used  in high school or college such as listening to the instructor and taking notes.
  • This ‘out-dated ‘ learning strategies may not work for active learning- students may be taking note of everything that is being said instead of knowing what to focus on.
  • Students’ conception of learning is that learning is receiving information; they have not accepted the idea that knowledge is to be constructed
  • Students associate learning with memorizing and knowing facts.
  • Students have difficulty in handling situations with no right or wrong answer. Hence you often have requests for model answers.
  • Some students may be pressed for time and may be strategically minimizing effort on  their course work to cope with other pressing matters. 

2.    What can we do?

  • It is worth taking time to explain to students why it is important for them to participate actively (not just for the grades).
  • We should ensure that the activities are relevant to the course objectives and not just something to do.
  • We need to make the learning objectives clear to the students.
  • To overcome students’ belief that there is only one right answer, we could expose students gradually to complex situations.
  • When using more complex problems, we could provide sufficient modeling of the process ( Note: modeling process is different from giving the model answer).
  • We should encourage students to participate in discussions and share their view points.
  • We should try and create an open learning environment where students feel safe to make mistakes and learn

 Here are couple of things that Marilla had not mentioned but maybe worth considering.

  • In wanting our students to engage in active learning, we are assuming that all our students actually know what is active learning.  This assumption needs to be tested in the classroom and if necessary,  we may need to help students understand what is active learning to begin with. 
  • We could engage students in discussions on their conceptions of learning and help them see the importance of constructivist learning (and hence the need to participate).
  • We should encourage students to reflect on their learning strategies.
  • We need to provide a conclusion/summary of learning so the students know if they have understood what needs to be.
  • We need to provide prompt and appropriate feedback, not just on the content but also on students’ learning strategies.

I had first published  this article as an e-Post at SIM univeristy.


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