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Tracy Sherwood
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Article: Learning to Memorize without Understanding = a poor education

Our Children are Not Learning How to Learn – But to Memorize - By Tracy Sherwood


Teaching a classroom has little in common with individual tutoring. When teaching a class, it isn't possible to know how one child is really doing or to give the individual help that is needed. Effective tutoring requires more than just knowing ‘how' the student is doing; it takes knowing what is or isn' t being understood and why, and what to do at any given moment. Tutoring success is not only second nature to me; it's as simple as breathing. I'll share a few basics that have greatly helped in my tutoring results.


Most readers study for memory rather than understanding. They don't even realize there is a difference between studying for memory and study for understanding, because they haven't been educated to study for understanding. Understanding is the most vital missing basic not only for the student, but for the teacher and parent as well. This is why it is so difficult to help a struggling child; we hammer in memorization. It is also why so many children are misdiagnosed with learning disabilities.


Beginning readers who struggle, lack this same educational approach on a lower level. Beginning learners are taught to memorize beginning level curriculum without really understanding them as they go. The alphabet as well as the alphabet sounds is memorized without an understanding of use. Addition and subtraction is passed through too swiftly without mental mastery or ample practical application in life. Even nursery rhymes are memorized without understanding if one thinks in terms of what the words mean within these rhymes. An example might be, “Little Miss Muffet, sat on her tuffet, eating her curds and whey…” There are three words that are most often not within the child's vocabulary, and so the child cannot understand. But the parent and child, as well as the teacher, are not aware of this conceptual barrier. If the child can memorize it, recite it fluidly, and write it without errors, it is considered well learned by all.   But what does it mean? What mental images is the child getting from these words?


Ask the child,   ‘what did Miss Muffet sit on?” If the answer is ‘a tuffet', you might consider that 100% correct, which is comparable to an ‘A' if all such questions are answered this way.


But should you then ask the child, “What is a tuffet?” you would soon find yourself looking at a scrunched up forehead and searching eyes. Following that will be a shrug of the shoulders often accompanied by a look of deflation. The child was doing so well – until you come in and cut through the automatic memorization mechanisms that were so well in place.


But cut through you must, if you want your child to receive real education. For soon, memorization will become more deeply implanted and you will one day be shocked to find that your child's vocabulary is years behind. Take the ‘Pledge of Allegiance' as a more advance example. Ask your child the meanings of the words, and don't leave out the little ones, such as ‘to', ‘of', ‘for' and such. These words have exact meanings and to not know them conceptually, will prevent understanding – even if your child spends hours learning the bigger words. Try changing a few of them around and try it yourself.


Even with this solution of real education, another problem yet remains, and that is that by the time these words are learned, the class has long since gone on to other things – all of which are certain to contain words not within your child's vocabulary.


So to keep up, we resort to memorization and formulate tests to accommodate memorization and do little to consult understanding. In this way, we can accomplish a bright and shiny ‘A', when an honest test might otherwise result in a ‘D' or ‘F'.


This is a shocking awakening for almost every parent and teacher who encounters a demonstration of hidden learning deficiencies. The realization that we have pushed and pressured and sometimes blamed our children for those academic areas where memorization cannot hide lack of proficiency, weighs heavily. And the added realization of the hours and often years of useless time wasted can be enraging.

It may seem an impossible task when one realizes that ‘catch up' will require first backing way up and slowly moving forward and through again – this time studying for understanding at one's own pace. This is the only way to become truly educated.


There was a time when it was difficult to get parents to see that a break for re-educating was more important than keeping up the grades in the short term. Some parents panic with no time to catch up and missing an assignment or studying correctly for a test was unthinkable. These parents wanted the results of real education, but didn't have time to stop for them. So they requested tutoring in the assignment, which on my part would necessitate explaining information or helping the student to memorize without understanding. This became unacceptable to me when so many students were really getting a solid re-education and passing up the others so swiftly. In 1989, I change my policies and would only accept for tutoring, those who I could teach to study for understanding and application in life. My rewards have been great in doing so and through parent attestation I became an award-winning tutor with unsurpassed successes.


There is much more to know besides this concept of understanding the words. This is not merely one skill. It is a network of more basic skills that must be mastered and built upon before a student can utilize them in independent study. Home schooled children have the greatest advantage in the catch-up phase, but few have the techniques or know how to teach them. One three-month program with the child and parent together provides the surest guarantee of re-education, or for beginning learners, an education that will far surpass the most successful home school or private school education.


There are many teaching tools that can be better learned from curriculum selection to communication and patience, just to name a few. One enlightening Orientation seminar/workshop on just a few of my areas of expertise can change your child's future for the better in many, many ways. It's not a serious thing; seminars are fun and rewarding. Bring a friend or two and try one of my free introductory seminars.


Tracy Sherwood, award-winning Tutor, is author of ‘Superphonics'. She has tutored all ages and subjects for thirty years and is tutor to celebrities. She specializes in children who really try but are struggling because they cannot focus, concentrate, retain or conceptualize to learn. From programs for beginning and struggling children to techniques for advanced students, Tracy

Schedule Tutoring Assessment:  1-888-KFI-TUTOR    

Bakersfield and Palmdale call 661-588-4089

Tracy's cell: 818-469-0278

Main program location is now at

15703 Legacy Court   Bakersfield CA   93314

Legacy Estates, west of Allen Rd off Stockdale Hwy

Palmdale location is in Rancho Vista area

near 25th west and Rancho Vista


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