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.