We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.
Robert Longley writes that, “The Preamble to the U.S. Constitution summarizes the Founding Fathers’ intention to create a federal government dedicated to ensuring that 'We the People' always live in a safe, peaceful, healthy, well-defended–and most of all–free nation.” It is important for us to know that the Preamble does not hold, grant, or limit any legal power. That being said, it serves a very significant and powerful purpose: to explain why we have and need the Constitution.
It is this understanding that I wish for my son, a seventh-grade student, as he embarks on his first U.S. History learning-journey this year. I envision for him, a twelve-year-old who loves social studies, a deeper and more meaningful understanding of our country and how and why it was formed. I never dreamed, however, that I would spend two nights and two mornings using note cards to help my son memorize the Preamble. Furthermore, I’ve been struggling to understand the purpose of this requirement.
Douglas Fisher and Nancy Frey, in their book The Purposeful Classroom: How to Structure Lessons with Learning Goals in Mind talk at length about the importance of establishing a purpose for yourself as the teacher and for your students, and that instruction and learning should be focused on learning targets rather than tasks. Memorizing the Preamble, to me, seems like a task; whereas, understanding what the Preamble represents and means to us as Americans seems more like a learning target.
My fear, for my son, is that the task of memorizing the Preamble will lead only to a surface-level understanding and it runs the risk of disengaging kids like my son who thrives on learning through understanding. Yana Weinstein, in her blog entry “Memorizing versus Understanding” points out, “using a deep [learning] approach, a student has the intention to understand. Information may be remembered, but this is viewed as an almost unintentional by-product.” This is the type of learning I wish for both of my children: learning through understanding, rather than by memory.
In just under two years my son will have the opportunity to visit Washington D.C. and I hope that when he does he is able to take the values and ideas presented in the Preamble (and the entire Constitution for that matter) and make them come to life as he experiences our nation’s capital. And, when that time comes and he’s touring a national monument or walking down the national mall, should there be a sudden need for the exact wording of the Preamble, I hope he is able to successfully search the internet for this:
Please, know I do not intend to minimize the importance of memory in the learning process, but we must recognize there is a fundamental difference between memorizing something and learning it. Where memorization limits student learning to word-for-word recall and limits the ability to generate insight or see the relevance, targeting understanding in our teaching and learning leads to unique and individual insights, deduction and induction, application, comparison, and connections (all things we can find embedded into the RPS Graduate Profile!).
If you would like specific ideas for how to increase student understanding, replacing memorization-focused activities with those that increase students' learning-by-understanding, please reach out to your instructional coach or one of us here at Secondary C&I.
This post brought to you by Brandon Macrafic, POSA focusing on Career & College Readiness and administrator at CTECH
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