This blog was originally published on March 28, 2024 on the Teaching Channel blog.  MindPrint Learning is a proud partner of Teaching Channel.

Students have grown up relying on their calculators and Googling everything. During the pandemic more than ever before, tests were open books and open notes. It’s easy to believe that spending time memorizing vocabulary, formulas, and key facts is wasted. Not true.

Learning is and always will be an incremental process. If the foundational information isn’t firmly in a student’s memory, it’s much harder to learn the next concept. For example, reading begins with sight words but quickly requires mastery of new vocabulary, decoding, and making meaningful connections. If students don’t know sight words, they are less likely to have the mental energy to sound out longer words and make sense of what they read. 

Similarly, all math relies heavily on math facts, and in higher grades, properties, and formulas. 4th graders might conceptually understand long division, but if they need to put in effort to subtract nine minus three, they might run out of mental energy on these longer multi-step problems. What started as a math fact automaticity problem can quickly spiral into a lack of math confidence that never goes away.

While tools and technology can be helpful for a student who has yet to memorize core information, they are not a substitution for knowing. Expertise and mastery in any skill requires automaticity with core information. Just as we don’t want our doctor to need to look up human anatomy during an office visit, our students should not be doing math facts on a calculator or using spell check and grammar check for every sentence. 

If your students have knowledge gaps, you can use these proven memory strategies to fill them. Keep in mind that students vary widely in their memory skills. Some have strong verbal memory and might only need strategies when memorizing pictures or formulas. Other very capable students might need a lot more memory support than you realize – understanding is a very different skill than memorizing! Be sure to prioritize your strategy choice based on your student’s strongest memory skill to make memorizing as efficient as possible.

Use Pictures if you have stronger visual skills.

Say It Aloud if you have stronger verbal skills.

Spaced Practice is good for everyone, but particularly if your memory is not as strong as other skills.

Math Facts are key for all students who haven’t yet developed automaticity.

About the Author

Nancy Weinstein is the Co-Founder and CEO of Mindprint Learning, an educational technology company that specializes in helping children develop a growth mindset through research-backed cognitive assessments.

Learn more about MindPrint and explore strategies that your students can use to achieve their highest potential.

This blog was originally published on March 28, 2024 on the Teaching Channel blog.  MindPrint Learning is a proud partner of Teaching Channel.

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