“Learning vs. ‘Stuff’ “

Our executive director and founder, Carole Richards, is highly passionate about education — especially reading.  Carole taught in the Cleveland Metropolitan Schools for 10 years before starting North Coast Tutoring Services.

As a classroom teacher, Carole tailored her teaching to fit the individual goals of each of her students.  Today, nothing has changed.  We understand that no two students learn in the exact same manner; and so, we treat each student as an individual and adjust our approach to meet their needs.

In this article from February 2016, Carole shares her concerns about today’s children actually learning in the classroom, as opposed to just doing “stuff”.

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Learning vs. “Stuff”
by Carole Richards

published February 1, 2016

As I consult with parents about children’s learning needs, I am baffled by how often the focus is on the number of problems or the number of worksheets a child completes.  It concerns me because children should spend quality time on actual learning not on proving they can finish yet another worksheet.

For example, one parent wanted us to help their child complete homework.  The eight-year-old was spending two hours a night on homework.  This is after spending five and one-half hours in school.  Many children soon burn out from this schedule, and both parent and child fight to complete the burden on a daily basis.

For homework, this child was to write his spelling words five times each and also write a sentence using each word.  Do the spelling skills relate to actual understanding of the spelling process, or is the child merely memorizing a series of words that they study from Monday until their test on Friday and forget them by Monday?

Recently I visited a classroom.  Two first grade girls in the classroom were working hard on listing all the “A” words in a story they were to read.  Hopefully first graders know the letter “A” but I cannot imagine the purpose of copying words beginning with a letter.  These words had both short and long “A” sounds so they weren’t really decoding or learning to spell the words.

In another classroom, children were stamping words with letter stamps.  Finding the correct letters for the words they were creating was challenging for them.  Yet the real purpose of the activity is difficult to figure out.

It is my sincere wish that children could focus on learning concepts not doing “stuff”.  The word “learn” is defined as “acquire knowledge” or “absorb a skill”.  Acquiring and absorbing how to learn is far more important than how many addition problems, how many spelling words, how many worksheets a child must complete in a day.

Think about your child or grandchild.  What knowledge are they acquiring in school?  Is it vital to their future?  If it is not, be bold and question the purpose of an assignment.

What I am describing does not negate the importance of repeated practice.  For example, mastering multiplication facts are very important to many math skills.  You can’t do fractions or algebra efficiently without mastering this skill. Learning math facts makes learning math skills easier.

Often our schools find it important for a child with a reading disability to labor over reading a sixth grade text when they only read at a fourth grade level.  Would it not be better to read the information to the child and then ask him to answer questions?  Often children are required to complete assignments that require reading and they don’t comprehend the information at the level of the text.  Then the parent or teacher celebrate that the child completed the “stuff”.  Most children with reading difficulties are so frustrated that they begin to hate the idea of reading and writing.  Separating the skill of learning to read from the understanding what you read until the child is proficient can make a difference in the child’s school success and motivation.

The most important skills to learn for our children are fairly simple.  They include reading (the ability to actually read the printed word) and spelling (the ability to write the printed word).  Of course they must then comprehend what they read and organize what they write as well.  In math, understanding math concepts includes:  place value, fractions, and whole number computation skills, etc.  Children need to learn their facts and then their focus can be on solving the problems without the facts slowing them down.  With the three “R’s” mastered, children are able to explore science, social studies and many other interests with great enthusiasm.  Their ability to learn anything becomes exciting.

I watch my two and one-half year old granddaughter master concepts way beyond her age.  She is determined and excited about learning and mastering skills.  Yet, I worry that as she goes to school, despite her intelligence, she will be bogged down with completing endless “stuff” that won’t stimulate her fine brain.

Our schools keep raising the bar on standards.  Yet most of the fun has been taken out of the child’s day.  Children should be encouraged to love school, love learning and explore those interests with passion.  As they master the basics, they are ready to learn.

Let’s tell our schools to help our children learn, not just do “stuff” to keep them busy.  Then our children will be better prepared for college and the workforce.


Carole Richards is president of North Coast Tutoring Services, president/director of the Academic Fun & Fitness Camp at Lakeland Community College, author of Richards Learning Systems ®.  She is a frequent guest on radio and TV.  She can be reached at caroler@northcoasted.com.


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Dave Hoffman