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Gerardo Castillo Ceballos, Professor of the School of Education and Psychology of the University of Navarra

The price of continuing to separate learning and report

Fri, 01 Jun 2018 09:27:00 +0000 Published in The Confidential

The report has historically been judged according to the law of the pendulum. For a long time it was underestimated as a learning factor; only at specific moments was it valued. It still remains the Cinderella of the story due to some proverbial prejudices; the main one is to equate report and memorism.

To discover the importance of report it would suffice to mention how dysfunctional forgetfulness tends to be at any age. A humorous vignette sample shows the surprise of a man when he sees a friend with his face covered with bandages. The following dialogue takes place between the two:


-No, I forget an anniversary.

In contrast to those who artificially separate learning and report , it should be emphasized that there is a close relationship between these two factors; they are like two sides of the same coin. Learning is a process through which we obtain information that is processed and stored by the report so that it can later be evoked and used.

Aristotle linked experience to the ability to remember: "Thanks to the report is given in men what is called experience."

Since my distant childhood I have seen that quite a few teachers are in favor of having students memorize by repetition all the lessons. In favor of this method it must be said that we can still recite by rote everything we have learned; also, that it deserved to be immortalized in a poem by Antonio Machado: "Recuerdo infantil", from which I copy some verses:

"A brown and cold/ winter afternoon. The schoolchildren/study. Monotony/ of rain behind the windows/ (...) And a whole children's choir/ is singing the lesson:/a thousand times a hundred, a hundred thousand; a thousand times a thousand, a million".

Is memorization absolutely necessary for learning? It is, because experience says that "we know as much as we remember". But memorization that is conceived as an end in itself is not authentic; neither is that which aspires to learn everything, or that which resorts to incessant repetition in which understanding is neither present nor expected. These forms of memorization are simply memorization pure and simple.

The misuse and abuse of report acquired special prominence in the sixteenth century within the so-called Traditional School: learning was only memorizing to the letter the written texts and/or the words of the teacher. It is clear that those who inspired it had not read Seneca: "we learn not for school, but for life".

Memorism would end up provoking a hostile and unfair reaction against the School of the report (because of the confusion between both concepts). The report was condemned to social ostracism for many years, for its supposed degradation of learning (learning without understanding, in a non-reflective way).

A research by David Bennett, a professor at the University of Chicago, found the "cognitivereservation " that is stored by exercising report between the ages of 6 and 18, which can serve as prevention, years later, against degeneration of the mind.

A thing is learned not simply when it is known. After the receptive phase of learning (observing, reading, listening...) comes the reflective phase (analyzing, judging, relating...) and then the acquisitive phase (memorizing).

 Learning is behavior modification through experience. The small child who, driven by curiosity, sticks his finger in the socket, will stop doing so after receiving a cramp. From the experience of the cramp, a new behavior has emerged, mediated by the report: looking without touching.

David Ausubel's theory of meaningful learning, at framework of constructivism, was decisive in proving that report and learning are two interdependent processes. We memorize by learning and we learn by memorizing. The pretended dissociation of these two processes always leads to deficient learning without sense or meaning.

Meaningful learning is not produced by the addition or accumulation of new knowledge to that already possessed by the learner, but by the establishment of connections and meanings between what is new and what is already known or has been experienced or lived. True learning occurs when the new information is connected with a relevant concept already existing in the cognitive structure. This would be impossible without the help of report.

Meaningful learning has been invoked in the theory of the latest educational reforms in Spain, but it has hardly reached the schools, due to some short circuit that will have to be discovered. I suggest one: teachers are not usually given specific theoretical training and internship to apply the new model.

Both those who identified report with memorization and those who banished report as "obsolete" have a serious responsibility: that of the thousands of students who, despite their efforts, did not learn in a comprehensive manner and increased the school failure rate. Who dares to take the blame?