December 15, 2010

Don't Just Memorize, Try to Understand

Even with a study guide and extra support from her study skills class, my student somehow managed to fail it. Of course my student was devastated too. She said that she studied real hard for the test. I had to figure out what she meant by this. How exactly did she study for this test using the study guide?

When we went over the test, I learned that she correctly answered the questions that were short, easy to read, and had some sort of graph or picture. But, on some of the ones she answered correctly, she was unable to tell me in her own words how she got it correctly or what it means to her.

It was obvious that she studied the test by trying to memorize the study guide.

The questions with words and phrases that she did not understand and that required her to use her inference skills were the ones she had the most trouble with. There were a lot of terms and phrases in the test that she did not understand. For example, she did not understand what "potential safety hazard" could mean. She knew what 'potential' meant (a term she had to know for her science vocabulary test), but did not understand what 'hazard' meant. How was she supposed to answer the question if she did not know what they were asking or what it meant?

So, I took a peek at her study guide and compared it to her actual test. The questions on the study guide somewhat matched the questions asked on the test. While some questions were completely identical, some were worded differently on the study guide. For example, the question that had the phrase 'potential safety hazard' was worded differently on the study guide. It was shorter and did not include the phrase 'potential safety hazard' instead it said 'dangerous'. 


So, my student was merely memorizing the study guide and not taking the time to fully understand what she is expected to know.

Usually, if I ask her to read something, I always have to ask her if she understood what she just read. A lot of times she speeds through and does not take the time to think and ask questions. She does not have strong vocabulary and comprehension skills, which makes it tough for her to answer reading comprehension questions and word problems.

Usually, once I explain it to her in a way that she can understand it, she gets it and does not forget.

I always encourage her to try to really understand what is being taught to her and what she is reading. I told her that only memorizing everything is not studying. She has to understand it too, so that when she is asked in another way than what she is used to, she should have a better time answering it correctly. I have talked with the teachers about this and told them how important it is that they double check with her to see if she really understands a certain concept or word. I tell them to never ask her a "yes" or "no" question, because she will always nod her head and smile. She does the same thing when she pretends that she heard what was said to her.

From now on, I am going to look at these study guides with her more often and make sure she really understands what she is expected to know. I hope the teachers will understand what to look for now when seeing if whether or not she truly understands what is being taught to her.



  1. I've noticed this, too, in Deaf students. Communication is key--not only with you, the teacher, but also from discussion and environmental learning, reinforcing the material. Mainstreamed and oral deaf students miss out on the totality of accessible environmental learning.

    Facts by themselves mean little. Seeing facts in applications or in various forms makes it understandable.

    Another problem is earlier education that demands memorization and rewards parroting of answers. This gives the student the idea that this is the way of education.

    Unfortunately, teachers of students with communication problems are constrained by the circumstances and by their own lack of insight...if they can just get the student to swallow a fact and spit it back, they are satisfied that their job is done.

  2. If she keep it up, it sounds like she may need special education. I did the same thing and I was failing. They pulled me out of the failing class and put me in special education class. Its part of hearing loss because we are still learning to listen or read instead of listening and reading to learn. Hope it goes well for her. I don't think it has to do with her guides but has to do with her struggling to read. She is exhausting herself trying to cram up informations in her head that she doesn't understand.

  3. Wow, I'd have been ecstatic if I was handed a study guide with questions and answers!

    Yeah, I think you're right, memorizing isn't enough.

    Rule of the thumb for kids should be to look up on everything they don't understand. With the internet it's awesome. I wish I had these resources back in high school.


  4. I, too, teach deaf and hard of hearing students. I am a first year high school math teacher at a residential school for the deaf. I have similar problems with my students regarding study skills and the lack of them. We just our second nine weeks exams this week and again, many of my students performed poorly. Even some of my brightest students did worse than what I know they are capable of, and those who typically make B's and C's made D's and F's. It's very frustrating when, as a teacher, you know that a child has certain capabilites and have seen a child apply their knowledge on other assignments, and then they bomb a test.

    I sometimes wonder if part of the problem with my students is that many of them live in the dorm and do not have mom and/or dad there every night to make them study or to help them. However, many of them do go to study hall and I believe the dorm staff do try their best to help out as well.

    My Christmas break starts after tomorrow, and I'm going to spend at least part of it attempting to figure out how to help them learn how to study, because it seems that many of them do not know how.

  5. Kimberly,

    I hear your frustrations. Please let me know when you discover a way to help them learn to study. But do me a favor and spend most of your break relaxing and doing nice things for yourself!

    Good luck,


  6. Thank you for making this comment. I see this also in my work. I have blogged a little bit about this topic, actually, about critical thinking skills.

    Just click on my name and you'll be redirected to my site targeting Bloom's Taxonomy. Would love to know what you think.

  7. Todd,

    Thank you. I have bookmarked your site. I look forward to reading about your experiences and thoughts!


  8. Tod,

    I like your post about how to quickly check the d/hh student's comprehension skills during read a louds. I think it is so important to have the student paraphrase or say in their own words what they just read is about. I will have to suggest this strategy to their teachers. I will print out the post and show it to them.

    Quick Comprehension Check:



  9. Glad you liked my site and found it useful. I enjoy your website as well.


Keep it civil.