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Kelly Harmon

More than 20 years ago, Kelly Harmon, MAEd, began teaching. Her first class was composed of at-risk learners. That began a lifelong passion for increasing all student achievement with a very special focus on those students most at risk. Her two decades of experience and passion have led her from teaching to leadership roles to her position at Learning Sciences, where she makes a difference in students’ lives every day by supporting teacher effectiveness. She earned her master’s degree at University of Texas, San Antonio.

Resources by Kelly Harmon

Interviews by Kelly Harmon

Q&A with Kelly Harmon on
Practicing Skills, Strategies & Processes

Kelly Harmon has a passion for coaching teachers, especially those who work with at-risk students. With more than 20 years of experience in education, Harmon develops classroom-tested tools and strategies that help teachers evaluate where each student is in the learning process and how best to address their needs. Practicing Skills, Strategies & Processes, her latest book, gives educators an invaluable close-at-hand teaching guide. In this interview, Harmon discusses tips to boost procedural and declarative knowledge, why modeling is so crucial, and what constitutes “perfect practice.”

Your book deals mainly with procedural knowledge, but you write that teachers must keep in mind the relationship between procedural knowledge and declarative knowledge. Why is the relationship important?

Declarative knowledge is inherent in procedural knowledge. With any mental process that I have, I must understand the facts about that information. If I’m going to analyze a character in text, there are certain facts that I’m going to look for. Without clear steps, it’s hard for students to process. You need to guide them.

You write that practice must follow a certain set of steps in order to be effective. Why?

It’s important to follow steps because there is a progression of learning. We can’t expect students to simply pick up what we’re trying to teach. We have to provide guided practice at first. And we have to do that because we don’t want the students to practice incorrectly because it can become permanent. It’s difficult to undo that.

What is modeling, and why is it important for effective practice?

There are two types of modeling. There’s modeling by the teacher, which is simply demonstration of the steps in a lesson. It’s “Let me show how this works.” This is important because kids can’t read minds. Then there are models that the students create. They create a model of what it is they are doing. The idea is that you have procedural fluency but you have procedural flexibility, as well. There’s more than one way to solve a problem. It’s vital that the students learn to think in a variety of ways.

You wrote that the phrase “practice makes perfect” is incorrect; only “perfect practice makes perfect.” Would you expound on that?

As teachers, we have to set up situations where students can have perfect practice, which includes practicing in a way that will be successful. The teachers are choosing the right material and the right problem to practice the mental procedure. And it can’t be too complex for where the student is. You have to know the student well and start where they can understand.

What is the biggest mistake teachers make when providing opportunities for students to practice learned material?

Giving practice that is too difficult and sending it as homework. Then the parents try to teach them in a way that the parents learned, which may not be correct. If the student doesn’t have the declarative steps―the how-to―and you ask them to practice without coaching, the child can easily become frustrated and quit. It takes a lot of practice to become proficient at something. It’s important that we give kids ample time to really get it. Often, we get them to 50% and then we move on to something else. That’s not really learning.

What is the most efficient practice technique to help students acquire new procedural knowledge?

Guided practice and close monitoring and coaching. Coaching is stepping in when needed. It’s prompting without doing the thinking for them. You have to be there at first to make sure they’re on the right track. If that part is missing, everything else will fall apart.

Speaking Engagements

Endorsements

I enjoyed reading Practicing Skills, Strategies & Processes and learned a great deal. I am anxious to implement the techniques and practices in my classroom!
Kimberly Shearer, 2012 Kentucky Teacher of the Year
Practicing Skills, Strategies & Processes has just the right number of examples to allow the novice teacher or the teacher that needs a refresher or suggestion to improve his or her instruction.
Lisa Staats, 2011 North Carolina Regional Teacher of the Year

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