I kept getting hits from this discussion, and the link to my website embedded a few notes ago, so I figured I’d come back and let you know how my system works with my students.
And the answer is, better than expected, but not as well as I’d like.
When I was a kid, I had an English teacher one year who made his classes memorize poetry. So I have lots of fragments of stuff — some John Keats poems, some Chaucer, some Beowulf, some Shakespeare, and so on. I also memorized some of my own things, much later.
Then I encountered the Palace of Memory technique about three years ago, and I started ‘organizing’ what I already knew. That made it easier FOR ME to call it to mind, and find my place in it, and recite it. It’s a great trick to use in front of students and audiences, actually… and I can find my place in time and space by means of a “hallway” with maps on one side, and timelines on another. So, I began trying to teach these methods to my students, with great excitement.
But I, unlike my students, have been looking at maps and images of art and architecture for years with an eye toward memorizing information about them and recognizing them… and I teach this material DAILY, as I have for fifteen years. I’m expected to know it; it’s part of my daily labor, all the year round. And this is where it breaks down. I was already training my memory… they haven’t started on that, and they don’t believe in spending six to eight weeks developing a regimen of memorization, because they’re 12 or 13, and the Internet is right over there, on that computer.
So, in truth, I’ve had to rely much more on traditional rote methods. It seems to take imagination, will, and desire to build a palace of memory, and frequent encounters with the mind-space of it, before it takes form and becomes memorable to the students. For example, this year, instead of working with my imaginary palace, I tried having kids work with their memorization of Latin vocabulary using their own houses rather than my imaginary library. And that worked MUCH better than the imaginary space.
But, for the kids who deliberately look at images with me in class, and then consciously store them away with relevant facts and figures… especially the kids who DRAW the relevant memory images … they perform much better on memory-based assessments.
So the short and the long of it is, the use of small loci on a bookshelf seems to work better for things you’ve already memorized. If you can imagine a shelf with a book of shakespeare’s poems next to a book of Beowulf, next to a Bible, next to a Great English Poetry, you can index things you’ve already memorized by rote from those sources. But it’s harder to recall information from a book on a shelf than from an archway or a door in an imaginary house. I think it’s Cicero (or rather pseudo-Cicero in Ad Herennium) who recommends that Loci be placed 10-20 paces apart… and judging by the hippocampus research, there’s some benefits to long-term and short-term memory along those lines. Cramming everything into a book is more information stored in too coarse a grain. Spreading stuff out is better.
That said, my students in sixth and seventh grade tend to do much, much better at memory tasks after a few weeks of at least pretending to play with memory skills; than doing nothing at all to cultivate memory skills.
THanks for reading occasionally.