From the Desk of Kelly Harmon

March 2017 Newsletter

Dear Educators,

Happy Spring! This month we are talking about engaging strategies for preparing students for state assessments, literature circles, and questioning & problem posing. Be sure to check out when we will be coming to your area to present new information on RTI, Early Childhood, and much more.

We pray that spring break renews your strength and passion for teaching! Please let us know if we can help you in anyway. Happy Teaching!

-Kelly Harmon & Randi Anderson

Habits of the Mind: Questioning & Problem Posing

Questioning and problem posing is a strategy of a wise individual. Children naturally question everything around them with "What is that? Why? Where?" All of this is an attempt to construct meaning of the world around them.

Questioning leads to problem posing. Children need to have the understanding that there are many different perspectives from others in the world. Problem posing is seeking clarification or new knowledge. It's important for students to see questioning and problem posing demonstrated for them. This can be done by role playing or presenting the class with questions that capture their interests. The students will find that there are many different perspectives to that one question, which in turn will lead to problem posing.

Here are some mentor texts to read aloud to help students understand this habit of the mind better.

Countdown Assessment Strategies

With state assessments fast approaching, many educators are "teaching with their hair on fire!" We are all trying to get as much review and practice in as possible and make sure to revisit all the tested standards. Sound familiar?

This month, we wanted to provide you with some strategies to help you focus and plan intentional instruction! Here are 3 strategies to consider when planning.

1. Goal Setting

Goal setting is so important. We all need to know what we are working toward. Think of goal setting as a final destination and the plan to get there as the roadmap. Students saying that their goal is to simply get a 100 is not specific enough to produce the desired outcome. Help students construct goals like "My goal is to read for comprehension and reread to look for evidence." Goals need to be specific and achievable. Students need to be coached to establish a personal action plan for achieving their goals. When students take ownership of the goals, outcomes are achieved.

Goals need to be monitored daily. It's important to refer back to your goal at the beginning of each day as a motivational tool. Think of it as "keeping your eye on the prize." Another important element of goal setting is celebration. Every step towards the desired outcome needs to be celebrated. Not all celebrations need to be big, but they can't be forgotten. Everyone needs to be affirmed and effort should be acknowledged in order to stay motivated.

2. Review Critical Content & Academic Vocabulary

Review is a crucial part of refreshing instruction and moving material to permanent memory. Plan to spend 10-20 minutes of each content block reviewing critical content and academic vocabulary. It's important to make the review engaging and fun! Games like Jeopardy, Kahoot, or Around the World are great tools to review academic vocabulary and engage in a little friendly competition.

3. Provide Varied Independent Practice

Practice makes permanent! Students need 20-25 perfect practice sessions with a skill or strategy to become proficient. They need to practice the skill or strategy in various situations across the curriculum.

Be sure that the practice activities are matched to the level of thinking demanded by the test. Have students engage in varied practice while working on projects like a living museum, podcast, literature circles, or real-world problem-solving.

Celebrate Poetry Month!

Next month, April, is National Poetry Month. National Poetry Month officially started back in 1996 by the Academy of National Poets. The month is dedicated to celebrating, reading, and writing poetry of all forms. Here are some ways to celebrate poets and their poetry in your school or classroom!

1. Poetry Genre Study

Create a "book flood" in your classroom or library of various books of poems. Have students browse and read poems of their choice. This is a great opportunity to "marinate" your students in poetry!

2. Poet Author Study

Choose one or several poets to focus on for the month of April. Have students write questions about the poet(s) and allow them to investigate to find the answers. Display pictures of the poet or create a poet wall in your classroom. Consider contacting some poets and schedule time to Skype with them.

3. Sign Up for a FREE Teach This Poem

Check out Teach This Poem on for lesson plans and ideas for engaging students in reading and reflecting on poetry.

4. Poetry Slam

Have your students do a poetry slam! Start by reading an engaging poem aloud to students. Get students excited about poetry. Two great books written in free verse is Crossover and Booked by Kwame Alexander. Here is an outline for a week with Poetry Slams.

Day 1- Choose a Poem

Day 2- Students Highlight Difficult Words

Day 3- Practice Expression & Phrasing

Day 4- Partner Practice

Day 5- SLAM! (Read Aloud)

5. Poetry Writing Choice Board

Use our FREE poetry writing choice board to get your students reading and responding to poetry. This document can be used as a center or even as homework. The most important thing is to allow students to choose their writing task from the choice board. Get our Poetry Writing Choice Board Here!

Literature Circles Tip!

One of my favorite instructional strategies is the use of literature circles! Having been a teacher who used literature circles almost all year long, I have seen the bountiful benefits!


One important component of literature circles or book clubs is student choice! Having students choose or vote on the circle or club they would like to join is a strategy that will motivate and engage your readers.

Voting Day

One way that I incorporated student choice in to literature circles was by hosting a "Voting Day" to kick off a new round of circles. I would have 4-5 texts that I had pre-selected for circles. I would introduce each text with either a book trailer from Youtube or a quick book talk. My goal was to create excitement about the books or texts. Students would cast their vote for their top two text picks. All of the voting was confidential.

The next day when they returned to school, I announced who was in each circle. I tried to grant students their first text choice, but sometimes their second choice was a better fit. This was always an exciting day in our classroom!

For more tips or information on literature circles of book clubs, attend one of our literature circles seminars this May! Click Here for more information!

Guided Math

Small group guided math instruction is a powerful tool for helping students accelerate their problem solving skills. Just ten minutes of coaching and practice can potentially move students by leaps and bounds. Here are a few guidelines for guided math groups:

  1. Keep the group size to three to six students who need to practice the same skills or strategies.
  2. Limit the group time to ten minutes. Problems don't have to be finished in group, but students should have a strategy or plan for finishing the problem without the teacher.
  3. Plan to meet with each group 2-3 times per week.
  4. Present a "just-right" problem and help students read to comprehend the math situation. One or two problems is enough to practice when students are developing foundational knowledge. Students need to engage in a productive struggle as they identify strategies and solutions.
  5. Have students work the problem in PEN. This will allow you to see their thinking and identify any misconceptions before they can erase it.
  6. Don't teach key words! Instead teach types of problems. Students need to read every word in the math problem. They need to decide if the are joining, separating, comparing, or part-part-whole. They need to identify if the result is unknown, the change is unknown, or the beginning is unknown. This is a much better strategy than looking for key words.
  7. Mathematicians are slow and methodical. Stress that speed can cause careless mistakes.
  8. Make sure to have students write a summary of their practice session. What do they now understand better? How has their problem solving skills improved? How close are they to reaching their personal learning goal?

I found a wonderful website with all the problem types for each grade level. South Dakota Math Specialists have done an amazing job of creating hundreds of word problems.

For more information, attend one of my Guided Math seminars. I'll be in Richmond, Virginia on April 5th, Raleigh, North Carolina on April 6th, and Columbia, South Carolina on April 7th. I can also, bring this seminar to your school or district.

Strengthening Your Title I Program Conference

June 7-8, 2017

Arlington, TX

In this two-day intensive, you will investigate ways to ways to better lead your district or campus Title I teams! Discover how to work with teachers to identify and implement the most effective cutting-edge, research-based instructional strategies to increase school and district wide student achievement. Walk away with extended expertise in working with struggling students and ways to monitor and adjust instruction to better meet the needs of at risk learners! For more information, click here!

Onsite Training Opportunities

Kelly Harmon & Associates provides onsite trainings for any of our advertised workshops. Contact us at (817) 583-1290 or for more information!