Cramming is indisputable proof of the superficiality of most classrooms in America

Cramming is indisputable proof of the superficiality of most classrooms in America


Marion Brady says:

The Procedure: 1. Take notes during lectures, and hi-lite key sentences in the textbook. 2. Before a big test, load the notes and hi-lited passages into short-term memory. 3. Take the test. 4. Flush short-term memory and prepare for its re-use.

The Procedure, of course, is called “cramming.” Do it well and it leads steadily up the academic ladder.

But here’s a question: Does The Procedure have anything do with educating?

Learning – real LEARNING – starts when, for whatever reason, the learner wants it to start. It proceeds if the aim is clear and what’s being learned connects logically and solidly to existing knowledge. It’s strengthened when mistakes are made, clarifying the potential and limitations of the new knowledge. It’s reinforced when it’s put to frequent, immediate, meaningful, real-world use. It becomes permanent when it’s made part of the learner’s organized, consciously known “master” structure of knowledge.

Slow down for a moment and think about it. Cramming is indisputable proof of the superficiality and inefficiency – even the failure – of what’s going on in most classrooms across America. What’s crammed wasn’t learned or there would be no need to cram; what’s crammed isn’t learned or it wouldn’t be forgotten.

In the real world, where it counts, the gap between crammers and learners is vast, and tends to widen over time. Unfortunately, the thus-far-successful “reform” effort to cover the standard material at a standard pace, and replace teacher judgment with machine-scored standardized tests has further institutionalized cramming and hidden the failure its use proves.


We’ve been doing a lot of this over the past week as my daughter prepares for her AP U.S. History semester exam (100 multiple choice questions in 90 minutes). I hate it…

Image credit: Cram time (winter+spring), Svein Halvor Halvorsen

[cross-posted at Dangerously Irrelevant]