YMB #2 Furnishing the Mind: A Conversation on Recitation with Andrew PudewaPin
Pinterest Hidden Image

We’re excited to be back with another episode of Your Morning Basket. In case you missed it, episode 1  featured a great introduction to the concept of Morning Time with Cindy Rollins. Now it’s time to get into the nuts and bolts of actually doing Morning Time.

On this episode of the podcast, Pam talks with Andrew Pudewa, director of the Institute for Excellence in Writing, about a key component of a rich Morning Time: recitation.

Andrew shares about the practice of committing beautiful language to memory, language such as what we find in poetry, Scripture, and famous speeches. He discusses how memorization and recitation affect the brain, and, most importantly, he gives plenty of good advice on how to get started. I hope you enjoy!

Pam: This is Your Morning Basket where we help you bring Truth, Goodness, and Beauty to your homeschool day. Hi everyone, and welcome to episode 2 of the Your Morning Basket podcast. I am Pam Barnhill, your host, and I am so happy that you’re joining me today. We have had some great feedback on the first episode of Your Morning Basket and I just want to thank you guys so much for all of that. It’s very heartening to hear that you guys enjoyed it, so I really appreciate it. And today, I am getting to speak with one of my very favorite homeschool speakers, and I’m so excited about this today. It is Andrew Pudewa and we are going to be talking today about recitation and memory work. When I sat down and started trying to think about all of the different components of a Morning Time there were basically four R’s that made themselves evident to me. They are Ritual, Reading Aloud, Recitation, and Relationship. So what we’re going to do over the first few weeks of the podcast is break apart some of those R’s with our guests, and talk a little bit more about them.

And so, for the next few episodes we’re going to be talking about recitation which is today, we’re also going to be talking about ritual with Dr. Christopher Perrin coming up, and then we’re going to be talking about Reading Aloud with Brandy Vencel from Afterthoughts. So this is where we’re going to break down what I think are the essential pieces of a Morning Time. And I’m really excited because recitation is one of my very favorite things to do with my children and it’s something we enjoy as a family. Andrew and I really talk about some of the different ways that recitation affects your brain, how it can help you, and also some very practical ways to do it. I think you’re really going to enjoy this podcast. OK, one last thing before we get started, promise it won’t take long, I just wanted to thank you guys who have gone out to iTunes and left a rating or review for the show. This is pretty important for podcasts when they’re first getting started because the more positive ratings and reviews you have for your podcast the more people that iTunes tends to share it with, so the more people who get to see it. And so I wanted to give a shout out to RSMomma who left a very nice review out there, she said that the podcast was full of useful information which really makes my day because more than anything else I like to help people out with useful information, so thank you so much RSMomma for going out there and taking the time to leave that review for us. If you would like to leave a review for Your Morning Basket all you have to do is go to the Show Notes for this particular episode. It would be EDSnapshots.com/YMB2 and there at the bottom of the page we show you exactly all of the steps that you need to go to, to get hooked up with iTunes and leave a review for the podcast and we certainly appreciate you taking the time to do that. Thank you so very much. And now, on with the show.
Andrew Pudewa is the director of the Institute for Excellence in Writing, a popular speaker on the homeschooling circuit, he and his wife homeschooled their seven children. Andrew and his family live in Oklahoma where he spends his time running his business and playing with his grandchildren. Welcome to the show, Andrew.
Andrew: Thank you Pam, it’s great to be with you.
Pam: I’m so happy you’re here today. We’re going to talk a little bit about memorization and I know this is one of the few truths that you talk about in nurturing competent communicators, that along with spending a lot of time reading aloud to your children, that memorization is one of the ways that we make better writers of our children. Are there other reasons why memorization might be important?
Andrew: Well, it’s such an exciting topic for me to talk about. My background, as you know, is as a Suzuki violin teacher, and one of the distinctives of Suzuki method music instruction is that the students not only memorize their pieces, they maintain a memorized repertoire, and this builds into their musical mind this large collection of musical patterns and ideas and what we find in teaching music is that children who have a large repertoire of memorized pieces are much more able to improvise and compose and be creative in that more challenging way. So the same holds true with language. When we memorize language we’re building the repertoire of vocabulary, of syntax, of patterns, and of ideas that then allow us to express ideas more fully, more eloquently, more creatively. I think you’re probably familiar with the term “the five canons of rhetoric” from the ancient school, we talk about in the classical mode; they are invention: what to say, arrangement: in what order to say it, locution: how to say what you say, delivery: which is the verbal and physical element of delivery, but the fifth canon I think is the neglected one today and that is memory: the ancient’s would talk about furnishing the mind with memory. Isn’t that a lovely expression “furnishing the mind”?
Pam: Very much so.
Andrew: And we think about, you could buy a lovely house, but if it’s empty what use really is it? Sleep on the floor. But once you’ve furnished the home with beautiful and useful things, then it really becomes of great value. So, I wish we could have many people understanding that memorization is furnishing the mind and when we do it with language then we are equipping our students and ourselves to some degree to be able to speak eloquently, fluently, masterfully later on. And sadly, and you know, I’m sure, as I have become acutely aware, that modern progressive education has essentially dismissed memorization as being useless at best and harmful at worst, and it’s such a tragedy.
Pam: I was actually going to ask you to speak to that because I do have some experience as a school teacher, and there is a large argument out there made by progressive education that memorization is boring for children and it’s out of fashion. And you would disagree with that statement strongly, I’m sure.
Andrew: Yes, I would disagree with it strongly. I think the argument can be traced all the way back to John Dewey who was the first of these modern progressivists that said you don’t really need to memorize information if you can go look it up, you need to be creative, it’s experiential. And of course, yes, nobody’s going to discredit the value of experience and creativity but when you deprive children of the opportunity to memorize quality material then you, in a way, are starving their mind, and I think that’s what’s happened. And what’s funny, is that young children, in particular, well, all children but young children in particular are wired to memorize, it’s their natural inclination, and if you don’t give them good quality language to memorize they’ll memorize garbage.
Pam: I’ve noticed that with my own children as well.
Andrew: So why not give them beautiful poetry, perhaps Scripture if you’re so inclined, excerpts from famous speeches that are more eloquent than we could come up with on our own, and then that will build that repertoire, if you will. You know, Pamela, I found out a very interesting thing not long ago about Frederick Douglass, does that name strike a bell with you, Frederick Douglass?
Pam: Yes, yes it does. And actually, I was going to ask you about this, it was about his speeches, wasn’t it?
Andrew: Yes. Yes, he wrote of course, his book, Autobiography of a Slave, and you then can read speeches that he gave publicly once he was a free man and an orator speaking against the cause of slavery and discrimination, but what’s remarkable is that if you think about his childhood, he must have grown up in one of the worst possible linguistic environments you could imagine. Right? A slave, worked hard on a plantation, abusive situation, completely illiterate until 10 or 11 years old at what time some of the kids he knew were trying to teach him to read by drawing letters in the dirt on the ground, and so complete loss there of that formative period and yet, he became possibly the most eloquent orator that America has ever produced since his time. I don’t know of any speeches that are more beautiful, more moving, given by an American since his. And so it begs the question how did he acquire that ability? Well, it turns out that he said as a free man one of the first books I owned was a book of famous speeches, and we’re talking all the way back from Cicero to Shakespeare to Patrick Henry, everything in Western civilization of great note, a book of famous speeches. He said, “I memorized them.” He memorized the famous speeches of the past, and then that furnished his mind with the tools of vocabulary, the grammatical mastery, and the richness of ideas, that he was able to then bring to his mission in his time and accomplish the great work he did. Isn’t that awesome?
Pam: That’s really fascinating. And when you were speaking earlier about memorization allows us to be creative, that was what I was actually thinking about, was Frederick Douglass memorizing the forms of those speeches, he wasn’t giving the same speech that Cicero gave, but very much like Benjamin Franklin did when he was rewriting the works of great authors from earlier, is Frederick Douglass was using those forms of the speeches that he had memorized to then put his own words and ideas on to be able to give great speeches himself.
Andrew: Yes, and when we think about the acquisition of a skill, anything from swimming or playing a sport to playing a musical instrument or drawing or writing or even speaking well, we’re talking about a skill and all skills must be learned through imitation. We can’t acquire a skill without having something to imitate in the first place, and the better the quality of what we’re trying to imitate the higher our own skill can go. It’s kind of commonsense, if you just do what you can do, you will continue to be able to do what you can do but you will only be able to do what you can do because you’re not trying to do anything other than what you can only do. Did you follow that?
Pam: I think so.
Andrew: But if we have a higher model, a coach and something to imitate, a master works, so to speak, then we can try to do something we couldn’t do on our own. And this is why the great musicians have had teachers that have said play this exactly like me and acquire this technical skill. This is why students of da Vinci copied the Mono Lisa, and this is the power of memorization when it comes to language and of course our speaking skill is going to carry directly into our writing skills as well. People who disparage memorization actually would think about this idea, they would realize how ridiculous their idea to disparage memorization is. If you hadn’t memorized anything you wouldn’t know anything, right?
Pam: Right.
Andrew: If you hadn’t memorized any speech patterns growing up you wouldn’t have any speech patterns to use. If you didn’t know the names of people and places by having memorized them you wouldn’t know anything, and the inverse, the corollary of this is obviously the more you have memorized the more you know. So you almost have to make an argument that it isn’t important to know stuff to validate it isn’t important to memorize. Now the other thing is, of course, the neurological effects of memorization. Can we talk about that a little bit?
Pam: Yes, tell me a little bit about some of the benefits to our brain for having memorized.
Andrew: Think about the way we learn anything. The brain has approximately 100 billion neurons, another trillion glial cells, we’re not sure quite what they do, but the neurons we can look at and what we see is that from sensory stimulus or motor activity the axons of one neuron will connect with the dendrites of other neurons and through repetition those connections, those electro chemical firings, so to speak, will become permanent or semi-permanent connections, so that anything we do, anything we say, anything we take in through our senses, from our mother’s face to how to play a minuet on the piano; anything we learn we learn and can do and can recognize and can experience because we have neurons connected to other neurons. So through repetition, through intensity of experience, and through persistence in reinforcement over time we are able to store information such as six times seven is 42, and that’s because we have a little group of neurons somewhere in our cortex holding the information called six times seven is 42 at our disposable and when we want to do a math problem we see a 6 and a 7, and we think 42, it’s so deeply ingrained through that permanent neuro connections (or at least until Alzheimer’s sets in on us) that we then can think mathematically. Now, here’s the bottom line on brain development: the more neurons you have connected to other neurons the more processing power you have, the more RAM in your CPU of your brain machine, the more thinking strength you have, and what’s really interesting too, is we can study the correlation between SAT and ACT scores and extra-curricular activities, and there’s two subgroups that score average higher on these standardized SAT / ACT types of test than other groups of extra-curricular activities. Do you know what they are?
Pam: Yes, but only because you’ve told me before.
Andrew: Music and drama. And when you think about it you could make an argument and say, “Well, that’s because smart people would be naturally attracted to music and drama,” but it is a chicken or the egg? Think about the fact that music and drama are the two remaining disciplines that we require huge amounts of memorized and mastered repertoire, and I bet you could throw choreographed dance in to boot, but that’s probably a small group of people who do that. So, we even have the empirical support that the idea that memorization, whatever it is, music, dance, Swahili, memorization of any sort grows your brain. And then, of course, what you memorize furnishes the mind. So this is like two sides of a golden coin here. You can grow the brain and you can acquire more useful linguistic information when you memorize beautiful language. I just get so excited about it.
Pam: Well, let me ask you this, do you buy into the argument that some people are just not wired with good memories and they’re not as easily able to memorize as others?
Andrew: What we’re talking about, of course, is the age old argument of nature vs. nurture, of talent inborn vs. acquired ability, and this is where my teacher, Dr. Shinichi Suzuki of Suzuki Method made the huge breakthrough in music, because in his day the idea was ‘well, wait and see if your child has musical talent and then, and only then, if you see musical talent spend your time and money on music lessons for that child,’ whereas Dr. Suzuki came along and said, “Hey, every child in Japan learns to speak Japanese,” which is about the hardest thing you’d ever have to do. If every child can learn to speak Japanese, why could not every child learn to play a musical instrument if we were to replicate the environment, the methodology, the teaching, and starting at the younger age? So, yes, are there some children who are born with ‘better neurology’ than others, absolutely. We can’t dispute the fact that there are individual differences in the way our brains function. But we also can’t dispute the fact that everyone can improve their aptitude by doing it, that’s why Suzuki took the word talent that was supposedly inborn and affixed it with the word ‘education’ meaning that talent can be educated, aptitude can be created. So, it’s never nature vs. nurture, it’s always those things together. So yeah, some children will pick things up faster than others but that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t give a chance for children for whom it’s a little more difficult, they just may need more repetitions. But in a way, it’s possible that the children for whom it is a little more difficult actually gained more benefit from the doing of it.
Pam: Right, and that makes perfect sense. Well, you’ve talked about, in relation to writing specifically, that we can’t get something out of a brain that wasn’t in there to begin with, so what kinds of things should we be putting in to these brains? What kinds of things do you suggest that we memorize?
Andrew: Christians, and people of a religious bent, see the value of memorizing Scripture. In fact, a very interesting book, I don’t know if you’ve read it, Pam, is Chaim Potok’s book, The Chosen. Are you familiar with that?
Pam: No, I’m not.
Andrew: It’s a wonderful classic book, and it’s about two Jewish boys, one an orthodox conservative whose father is a Rabbi, and another Jewish boy whose father is a progressive liberal, and their friendship (the conflict between their families and their friendship in New York in the early 1900’s) it’s a great story of friendship but what’s interesting as a side point, is that it’s a window into that Hebrew traditional Jewish culture of memorizing huge chunks of Scripture, huge chunks of the Torah (the books of the law), and huge chunks of the Talmud (the commentary on the Torah), and that the whole culture of the Rabbinic cultures as these Jewish men would get together and argue and have these heated elements of discussion and they could quote huge chunks of both the law and the commentary on the law, and that this tradition of memorization of their faith of the elements of their faith was carried from ancient times all the way up in to the modern age because of that. So I think that you see that in the traditional face, the orthodox Jews, some of the liturgical Christian traditions, the Catholics have lots of memorized prayers that they commit to heart from a young age and retain through their life, and then a lot of evangelical Christians can emphasize Scripture because, of course, these are the words of their faith, the words of Truth, the words that will sustain them through difficult times, and I don’t think I know a single person who’s memorized big chunks of Scripture or even little verses that isn’t happy about that, able to recite a Psalm or two or three or four, or the Lord is my Shepherd I shall not want. Some things we’ve memorized in childhood, they’re a comfort to us in all our life and, of course, the capacity for memorizing Scripture is really limitless, it’s just how much time you want to spend. I met a girl, personally, at 12 years old had memorized the entire New Testament.
Pam: Oh wow.
Andrew: She had spent several hours every day of her life from five or six years memorizing Scripture, and that was just an important thing for her and her family. That’s a little extreme for most of us, I think, but the fact is the more you have memorized the easier it is to memorize new things. That’s true in music too. If you’ve memorized 10 pieces of music and you retain those then memorizing your 11th piece is much easier than, say, memorizing your 2nd or 3rd because new pieces, new Scriptures, new ideas are really the combination and permutation of previously existing musical patterns or linguistic patterns or ideas, so the more you memorize the easier it becomes. But I like to suggest that people also memorize poetry because poets have to stretch the vocabulary and stretch the syntax, they have to use words that are maybe a little less common and use patterns that are maybe a little less colloquial to fit the meter and the rhyme scheme of the poem, and so you get an even broader, more exciting result from the memorizing of poetry, while it may not be as spiritually beneficial, it’s often a little easier because of the rhyme schemes and a little more fun if the poems are humorous then you get this rich vocabulary. I remember when I was probably 12 years old I memorized this short little poem, see if you can recognize where it comes from: scintillate scintillate globule vivific, fain would I ponder thy nature’s specific, loftily poised in ether capacious, strongly resembling a gem carbonaceous. It’s a translation from the simple twinkle, twinkle, little star into synonyms. Scintillate scintillate globule vivific, fain would I ponder thy nature’s specific. So I’m at 12 years old, I’ve learned words like fain and capacious, and what happens is when you memorize it, it moves these words from your passive (i.e. I could recognize them) into your active vocabulary. Ah ha, now I can use them. And of course having a larger vocabulary, active vocabulary allows you to think bigger thoughts, to think ideas. It’s so funny when we consider concrete thinking, you’re almost limited in the things you can think to the words you have to think them in, at least to communicate that. So the larger the vocabulary the greater the capacity for thought.
Pam: Oh, that’s very interesting. My kids and I were listening to a podcast about dogs and their ability to smell. Humans have 5,000 or it might be 5,000,000 scent neurons in their nose whereas the dog has 200,000,000 and one of the things that researchers struggle with in trying to figure out all of the different ways you might could use this capacity, a dog’s ability to smell for things such as working with people with diabetes or being drug sniffers or things like that, the lady said they simply don’t have the words to describe smells. A dog, they’re smelling at such a high level that we don’t have the words to describe these things, and so often, we never even think of what they might be capable of doing, because we don’t have the vocabulary to describe it. Does that make sense?
Andrew: It makes perfect sense.
Pam: So that’s what this made me think of.
Andrew: This relationship between vocabulary and thought as a teacher of writing I always come up against the problem of kids who are stuck. They have that blank page, and they’ll say things like, “I can’t think of anything, I don’t know what to say,” those are synonymous statements for a child, and of course, our writing system is designed to help solve that problem very quickly. But I always found it very interesting, “I can’t think of anything, I don’t know what to say.” You’ve probably read the book 1984 by George Orwell?
Pam: It’s been a few years, but yes.
Andrew: It’s been a few years for a lot of people, and I’m recommending that people re-read it now, because you start to see how Orwell was very prescient in many ways but one of the things that struck me when I read it again about two years was how he goes into great detail about how the state that controlled everything, totalitarian state would issue each year the newspeak dictionary and how each successive edition of the Newspeak Dictionary needed to have fewer words that the previous one because their intent was to shrink the language and if you could have plus good you wouldn’t need excellent, and if you had double-plus ungood you could eliminate the idea of evil and therefore, if you could shrink the language sufficiently you could ultimately make a thought crime impossible. He goes on to quite length and even in the appendix of the book about this relationship between vocabulary and thinking, and of course, it’s a very sad thing. The average active vocabulary of an average American today is about half of what it was a mere 50 years ago, and that was probably less than what it was 50 years before that. So, we’re definitely seeing a decline of vocabulary. In some places you might think you’re seeing a decline in thinking abilities as well.
Pam: Yes, I can definitely see that relationship there. Scripture, most definitely, poetry is another good place to start, and like you, my experience has been that the cadence in rhythm of poetry really do make it enjoyable and easier for my children when it comes to memorizing. So, if you have a family that has little or no experience with memory work at all and they want to start incorporating some memorization into their school day, what is the best way to get started, do you think?
Andrew: I would suggest find some poems that are going to be, especially if you’re have boys in this group, in this family, start with some poems that are maybe a little bit funny, perhaps a little bit dramatic or violent and short, because if you start with a short poem and you can memorize four lines very quickly and easily, then you suddenly realize that wasn’t so hard, I can memorize a short poem. Limericks have a certain pattern. A lot of people, my generation and certainly our parent’s generation, everybody grew up with Mother Goose poems: Jack and Jill went up the hill to fetch a pail of water, Jack fell down and broke his crown and Jill came tumbling after. That seems so simple and yet it’s rich in that it has rhythmic pattern, “he fell down and broke his crown” well there’s an unusual use of words, what’s that mean? So it has a vocabulary element, and it’s actually case where if you grow up with Mother Goose you learn in your heart and in your ear to appreciate the sound that you will later here in Shakespeare sonnets “I am the petaminer” and those rhythmic patterns. One of my favorite books is The Restoration of Christian Culture by John Senior in which he says “you must learn Mother Goose as a child to love Shakespeare as an adult.” So, I think we can start with simple things, in fact, you’re probably aware that we have a poetry program called Linguistic Development Through Poetry Memorization and our first poem is Ooey gooey was a worm, a mighty worm was he, he stepped upon the railroad track, the train he did not see, ooey, gooey.
Pam: Yes! That’s a particular favorite in my house.
Andrew: A five year old can memorize that poem in no time flat. It has an artistic linguistic quality to it even while it conjures up the sad and humorous image of a anthropomorphized worm that didn’t see the railroad and now he’s squashed and lives up to his name. We go from there to something like ‘celery raw develops the jaw, but celery stewed is more quietly chewed.’ What easy little two-four line poems. So you start with that and then the trick, of course, is to recite the poems often enough so that you don’t forget them once you’ve learned them. That’s the real trick. Even some families that do poetry memorization, the kids will learn a poem and then go recite it for the family or recite it at a public speaking class or something, but then they’ll learn another poem but they won’t recite the poem they learned often enough to retain that. So the trick of building the repertoire is essentially to say every poem you’ve learned every day until you don’t have time and then go to every other poem every other day until you don’t have time and then every third poem every third day. Or what you could do is get a bowl or a hat put the poems that you’ve learned on a little card, put it in the bowl and pick out a few each day, as much as you have time for. Recite the poems you’ve memorized and then once you’ve said them all put all the cards back in and start over again. So through spaced repetition you create the potential for lifetime retention.
Pam: It’s actually grown pretty elaborate because we quickly ran out of time for the every poem, every day, and so I have a system (this was inspired by my friend, Mystie Winckler) where I group a bunch of poems together and we review all of those for one term and then we replace them with another set for review, and then we repeat those different sets throughout the year for reviewing. And so we’re able to still learn new ones and have time to review the old ones in the process – definitely some kind of set pattern or even your random pulling them from the bowl until you’ve done them all, but keeping them in the rotation on occasion.
Andrew: Yes, that’s the trick. And when you get a really long poem, then you can just break it into stanzas and treat each stanza as a separate poem that you say again and again until you can say that stanza, then you add the next stanza, and you say that again and again, then you say both of them together until it’s easy and then you add a little bit more and you add a little bit more. So the idea is don’t try to memorize a five stanza poem by saying the whole thing again and again and again, just take the first four lines or so. Say that again and again until that’s easy then add the next part and then add the next part, and then it becomes much less stressful and you’re less likely to forget the order of things. And most of the good poems kind of tell a story or have a logical sequence to them. I’ve got to tell you this, Pam, I almost cried when this happened, the woman drove five hours to come to a seminar that I was teaching. I said, “Oh, you didn’t have to drive so far, I could have come to where you are eventually.” And she said, “I came because I wanted to tell you my son has been doing poetry memorization and he’s halfway through level three.” So that means, according to our system that he’s memorized about 50 poems, I can’t remember but he’s eight or nine years old, it was in that range. And she said, “I wanted to tell you that his favorite privilege is to go to retirement homes and recite poetry for the residents in the retirement homes.” And I almost cried when she said that because, of course, think about it, most of the poems are old, they’re probably the ones these folks grew up with in school, and here’s a little nine year old boy happily coming in, having a reason to share his poetry with other people who’d have a delight in it. Isn’t that just a beautiful idea?
Pam: That is a great story. And you know that everybody is getting enjoyment from that situation, too.
Andrew: Another quick one: there was a women who said, “Oh my son, he balked, he did not want to learn poems and he was complaining and I made him do it anyway and we learned these poems and he didn’t see any point to it, and then he went to a Boy’s Scout camp over the summer and he came home and he was talking about how everyone loved to hear his poems.” He was the most popular kid at campfire because he could recite dozens of poems for the other kids and they thought that was so fun and so now his attitude was completely transformed. He said that he had to learn a bunch of new poems before next year’s camp.
Pam: That’s awesome. That is really awesome. Well, I like to stress that memorizing poems with your kids is not rocket science, so could you walk through the procedure for memorizing something totally new. And you’ve touched on this because you’ve already talked about taking one stanza at a time, but break it down even further than that. I’m staring at Ooey Gooey or four or five lines in a stanza and how do I teach my kids to learn this? What do we need to do?
Andrew: Well, it might vary according to the age of the child, also according to their reading ability. So, let’s talk first about a child who is either too young to read that on their own, competently or confidently, or a child who really has a dyslexic issue or something and reading is just not the primary input method. Here you would have to use, of course, an auditory input method or modeling. So, when I was teaching a preschool I would basically say the line and then have them attempt to repeat it:
Celery raw develops the jaw. Everybody say that. Right, let’s try it again- Celery raw develops the jaw.
I’m going to say the first part (celery raw), you say the second part (develops the jaw). So, you’ve got that one line. So now, people can basically say that and then you add the next line, But celery stewed (but celery stewed) is more quietly chewed (is more quietly chewed) and you just chorus it back and forth and do that for a while and then move on. And then the next day ask, “Does anyone remember ‘celery raw’? “Oh yeah, yeah!” “What does it do?” “Ah, I forgot.” “Develops?” “Oh yeah, develops the jaw!” So, you prompt them, and the idea is like the disappearing word trick. If you’re teaching something (I teach Latin and so I’ll often do this and put up a conjugation or declension on the board and then the kids will recite looking at it, and then we’ll erase one and they’ll recite it, and we’ll erase another one, and erase another one, and pretty soon there’s one word left on the board and they’ll say the whole list of them, erase it and they could recite them all. So, kind of like that only if you’re doing it verbally you can do it with, “Let’s say the whole thing together. Now, I’ll say the first part you say the second part. OK, now I’ll give you the first word, OK, now you do it all.” So you kind of gradually wean them like that. And you can reinforce this by having recordings of the poems that can be played on an iPod if the student has one or likes one, or in the car, when you’re driving, that’s a great place to have poetry recordings going. Very much the same way that Suzuki students would memorize a piece of music. They would have the recordings of that piece, or the whole book, and they would listen to that every day, one time through or a couple of times through, and then they would go to the next piece and take maybe the first line or two and have the objective of learning that, playing it, memorizing that, then adding the next couple of lines and adding the next couple of lines. So, you’re working at it from both sides; you’re working at it from exposure to the whole thing regularly with repetition and then the focused attempting to imitate and recite, and imitate and recite, imitate, recite, with the goal of learning that smaller piece. Does that make sense?
Pam: It makes perfect sense, yes. And I’ve even gone so far, we have your linguistic development through Poetry Memorization Program and the CDs that go with it, but if we ever attempt to memorize a poem outside of that program I’ve used the voice memo app on my phone to be able to create a mp3 that we can then play back where I’m reciting the poem as well.
Andrew: And we all have technology that’s so easy to use now if we just take a little bit of time and figure out how to do that then we can do that. You can do that with Scripture as well, you can create your own recordings of what you want to memorize. And if you advance into excerpts of famous speeches then you can do that as well, you can record those excerpts and listen to them again and again. Meanwhile you’re knocking it off solidly, one line at a time. Now for students who can read pretty well, they can actually look at the poems and memorize them by reading to themselves, kind of like giving themselves the repetition, and then covering up one line, covering up the next line, covering up more than one line, and seeing if they can add the visual input to the auditory input that they are getting externally, or they provide for themselves by saying it again and again. And another thing that can help is writing out the poem. My great mentor, Mrs. Anna Ingham, who founded the Blended Sound Site of Learning upon which much of what we do at IEW here is based, she would have the children copy the poem that they were trying to learn. Sometimes several times they would copy the poem and once they had memorized it she would have them write the poem out from memory. And so then you’re getting a third pathway involved that tactile kinesthetic activity of putting letters on paper. So you’ve got auditory input, visual input, and then the copy work gives even manual or tactile input. So we’re always looking at the multi sensory approach here.
Pam: For those students, we have not done this, we have only done purely the auditory (I’ve had late readers in my house) for those students who are reading the poem for themselves or they’re listening to the poem via recording and they’re reading it for themselves is there a need for them to actually speak the words out loud or can they simply read it in their mind and be able to memorize, do you think?
Andrew: I think that might actually vary person to person. I know that when I’m memorizing a poem I really like to say it out loud to myself and hear myself say it. That just seems to help a lot. But I am, by nature, a very auditory person, I am an auditory learner. I will remember something better hearing it than I will seeing it, so I actually, kind of, have the habit of reading things out loud to myself anyway, though I try not to do it in public where it might disturb people, but I just enjoy the sound of the language auditorily. Not everybody is like that, I know of some people who don’t like to hear themselves reading out loud and would rather just look at it. Then there’s a few people who I have to say have profoundly good visual memory, they can read something a few times and then close their eyes or see it in their brain which is completely not an aptitude I have very much of. I don’t really ever see words in my brain, I hear them in my brain. So that may be different learning style but the great thing about multi sensory approach is that you can help everybody whatever their strength or whatever their weakness. You can capitalize on their strength and you can sure up the weakness as well. I would think that one approach in a family, especially if you’ve got a decent size family with 3 or 4 kids, then you could put one of the older ones in charge of teaching poems to the younger ones, and so then they would have to read it to the younger one and them repeat back, and of course, all of us know that the best way to learn something is to teach it to someone else, so you’d end up, probably, getting everyone memorizing it. Although young ones they need often times much less repetition. I’ve had families say, “Oh my six year old memorizes the poems faster than my twelve year old.”
Pam: Yes, my children always memorize them faster than I do. A lot faster, it’s kind of shameful.
Andrew: Well, we have the excuse of being on the other side of the neurological growth spectrum.
Pam: There you go. Well, what do you think of the trend in classical education these days of memorizing not just Scripture and poetry but spending time memorizing skip counting tables, facts, Latin chart, noun declensions, verb conjugations? We do some of that in our family.
Andrew: Remember what I said in terms of neurological growth, memorization is defacto good because it grows the brain. It doesn’t even matter what you memorize, memorizing anything actually makes neuro connections that make you smarter. Then if you’ve memorized useful things and you can access that and apply it then the activity of memorizing becomes more relevant to you, personally you’re more likely to retain those things and more enjoyable. So, sometimes you’ve got kids who will memorize all the capitals of the states. Are you going to be doomed for life if you don’t know that? Probably not, but it’s kind of awesome to know the capitals of all the states, it can’t hurt you, that’s for sure, and it’s a lot better than asking your phone, “what’s the capital of Louisiana?” It’d be more fun to just know it’s Baton Rouge. Now, Latin, you’re getting into an area I could go on. We might have to have another conversation down the line about the value of Latin because this is just huge, but memorization is essentially the only way to learn a foreign language, you have to memorize the vocabulary and then, of course, Latin being an inflected language, you’ve got to memorize your verb endings that correspond with your conjugations and your noun endings that correspond with your declensions, and it’s cumulative. You not only have to memorize it, you have to maintain that because if you forget it then later on down the line when you’re trying to read or translate something you won’t know it and that’ll be frustrating. So the trick to enjoyment of Latin is to be super solid on your paradigms and you can start with very young children: amo, amas, amat, amamus, amatis, amant. amabam, amabas, amabat, amabamus, amabatis, amabant, they can memorize that without even knowing what they’re doing but as you learn the grammar and you learn the first person singular, second person singular, third person, and you start to learn the grammar behind it, then those paradigms become even more rich and useful and meaningful. Certainly math facts is what allows you to do any kind of mental math and it’s just a travesty that schools today, there are literally people out there saying, “Is it really necessary for children to memorize the multiplication tables because everybody can have a calculator anytime they want to? It’s more important for children to understand why six times seven is 42 than to memorize that.” They are so wrong, I could just go on a long diatribe here, but actually when you’re eight years old it’s more important to just know six times seven is 42 than to know why six times seven is 42, but I don’t want to get too far off on that tangent.
Pam: But you don’t see any kind of tension between spending time memorizing facts and spending time memorizing poetry or Scripture, there’s enough room for both?
Andrew: Absolutely. The human mind has probably an infinite capacity for memorizing. The problem we have is that we’re just distracted by the modern life and its entertainments and amusements, and memorizing is an exercise for the brain, it’s not necessarily always going to be effortless. If you want to grow stronger you’ve got to do some sit-ups or push-ups. If you want to exercise your memory you have to do it and of course we’d all rather sit around and watch a video or scan Facebook or just play a video game that doesn’t require the brain activity. But you know, it’s interesting there’s an expression that was in use in the 1800’s and it’s completely died out. You would recognize this expression if you have read books like Anne of Green Gables or Little House on the Prairie or Laddie and the expression is this: I’ve got to go to school and say my lessons. Have you heard that? “Say my lessons?” Nobody today would ever say that because you don’t go to school to say your lessons, you go to school to take multiple guess tests on a tablet, but children 150 years ago were responsible for huge chunks of memorized stuff. That’s actually how you showed that you learned what you were supposed to learn, what you were responsible for, you would basically get an oral examination. Alah Oxford [**Spelling of name** 47:46] in the classical era…
Pam: Or Charlotte Mason.
Andrew: … Or Charlotte Mason, there you go.
Pam: Andrew, thank you so much for being with me today to talk to me about memorization and its benefits and some very practical tips on how we could get started doing it.
Andrew: Sure, it’s been a great pleasure and keep up the great work of helping all the families out there as you do. It’s wonderful.
Pam: I appreciate it.
And now for this episode’s Basket Bonus, we do have a special treat for you guys this week. What we have done is we have taken a few poems that were in the public domain that we thought might appeal to your children and we’ve made a printable for them that breaks down the stanzas and the lines for you to help you go through that recitation process that Andrew was talking about in the podcast, so we separated out the lines so you know to read ‘just this part of the line’ and let the kids repeat, and then read ‘just this part of the line’ and let the children repeat. So we break it down and make it a no-brainer for you, and we’ve also provided mp3 downloads of me reading these poems (sorry, don’t mean to infuse everyone’s children with a southern accent, but I was all I had handy) but we have some little mp3 downloads of me reading those poems. So if you’ve never tried recitation and you’d like to give it a try using some of the methods that Andrew talked about today head on over to EDSnapshots.com/YMB2 and there you can get a link to the mp3 downloads and the printables for the poems. Choose one that you think might appeal to your children and give it a go, and then let me know how you do with it. So, there’s your Basket Bonus for this week.
And there you go, thank you so much for joining me for episode 2 of Your Morning Basket. So I want to encourage you to head on over to the Show Notes at EDSnapshots.com/YMB2. There you can find links to everything that Andrew and I talked about today including the wonderful, wonderful program Linguistic Development through poetry memorization, that’s put out by Andrew’s company IEW. We love that resource, so be sure to check that out as well. And, you can also leave a comment there for either myself or Andrew if you have a comment or question, leave it right there and we’ll get back with you on that one. And I would love to have you join me again here in two weeks for the next Your Morning Basket where we talk about how to bring Truth, Goodness, and Beauty to your homeschool day.

Links and Resources from Today’s Show

Linguistic Development through Poetry Memorization by Andrew PudewaPinLinguistic Development through Poetry Memorization by Andrew PudewaThe Chosen: A NovelThe Chosen: A Novel1984 (Signet Classics)1984 (Signet Classics)The Death of Christian CultureThe Death of Christian Culture


Key Ideas about Memorization

  • A large repertoire of memorized language furnishes the mind with rich vocabulary, correct grammar, and worthy ideas.
  • We equip our children to express themselves well, both in speaking and in writing, by having them memorize and recite beautiful language.
  • Memorization allows us to be creative.
  • When we memorize and recite well-crafted language, we are imitating master writers, and through this imitation we are learning the skills of their craft

Find What you Want to Hear

  • 3:50 why memorization is important
  • 6:35 Andrew’s take on the modern trend of avoiding memorization
  • 8:20 the story of Frederick Douglass
  • 10:55 learning skills through imitation
  • 12:15 memorization as a prerequisite for knowing/learning
  • 13:04 neurological benefits of memorization
  • 16:40 Are some people just not able to memorize?
  • 18:57 memorizing Scripture
  • 21:40 The more you’ve already memorized, the easier it is to memorize new material.
  • 22:11 memorizing poetry
  • 23:33 how a larger vocabulary equips us to think bigger thoughts
  • 27:40 getting started with memorization and recitation
  • 28:12 the importance of Mother Goose rhymes
  • 30:17 reciting old material often enough to maintain mastery of it
  • 32:01 breaking down longer poems
  • 34:49 a step by step procedure for memory work
  • 40:30 using different modalities (i.e. saying, reading, writing)
  • 43:04 other memory work, such as math, Latin, geography, etc