Wednesday, November 30, 2005

The Benefits of Talking to One's Self and the Wonderful Worlds of Recitation

We happened to come across the In Defense of Memorization post below, and it brought up number of issues of self-talk and memorization that we thought was worth a post.

Many strong opinions can come under the topic of rote memorization, but our way of thinking is that some repetition and recitation are clearly good things, but how it's done makes all the difference.

First, self-talk. When we talk to ourselves, it helps us keep information in mind. Sometimes it helps by keeping information in mind so that we can use it to do something else, while other times it's necessary to help us remember and have time to think on it more fully. Some young children with weak auditory word memories may have to repeat often in order to boost their memory for what they've heard, but this is not the same as the immediate and involuntary echoing (echolalia) seen in autism spectrum or some psychiatric disorders.

The figure below shows how much harder it is to keep information in mind in an ordered list when subjects were prevented from saying the list to themselves (articulatory supression).

That's not just what people mean when they decry "drill and kill," of course.

And we would agree that numbing repetition when the information is useless, pointless, and unimportant to both teacher and student, is a waste of time. Recitation of great sayings or works, on the other hand, we see as a completely different matter.

Recitation is 'old school' in some educational circles, but when the language, the music, and the content of what's being recited is really remarkable, historic, or immortal, we think it's a lofty goal. Great recitation is often accompanied by wonderful sound and gestural imagery. When we recite great words, we feel with the speaker, we feel heroic, and we feel like we're there. When children are young, they may not grasp all the meaning and connotations, but usually get much more than they can express, and when they encounter the words again, they will be familiar.

Great words from the past are also an amazingly rich source of vocabulary, word history, allusions, and metaphorical thinking. Well chosen recitation is never mindless parroting, but rather a means for helping students to look beyond their own language, time, and circumstances, for recurring themes and essential truths.

Even William James, who cared very much about passion and interest in education, cautions us that "...learning things by heart is now probably somewhat too much despised."

Verbal rehearsal and Remembering
Poems to Memorize, Recite
Phonological Rehearsal Predict Subsequent Remembering
In Defense of Memorization
American Rhetoric: The Power of Oratory in the United States
William James - Talks to Teachers

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