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Independence through Harkness Tables

In our latest Teaching and Learning meeting, we discussed the use of Harkness tables.

Brief Outline = discussing the use of Harkness Tables as a pedagogical tool to promote independence in students.

Benefits and Aims:

  • Encourages pupils to apply their judgement explicitly and logically

  • Encourages pupils to have to make effective arguments; this involves using subject terminology correctly

  • Promotes engaged and sustained interactions where knowledge is challenged, altered, shorted and confirmed

  • Furthers critical thinking skills and forces students to adapt what they know into coherent, cohesive points/arguments.

Current Project = running with 8BHA on the topic of 'Should we always forgive?' The group undertook two Harkness tables, with two additional preparation lessons. Twelve students were chosen to sit around the table, while the remaining 16 others observed the Harkness table. They all had a purpose and function to fulfil while they are watching: - Group 1 = Recording (drawing) the table. - Group 2 = Summarising the ideas discussed. - Group 3 = Raising additional challenge questions. - Group 4 = Drawing conclusions from the comments discussed.

One lesson was be given in advance of the Harkness table to help prepare the students and maximise success: Explanation of what Harkness is, experiment with each external quadrant (see above), trial with problem based learning situation (PBL), give students material to read in advance of the Harkness table.

Both the preparation lesson & the Harkness table were recorded with IRIS (see bottom of email)

Further Reading

  • Educating with the Harkness Table Tyler C. Tingley, Philips Exeter Academy, 2002

  • Introducing and Using the Discussion Harkness Table Brian Mullgardt, National Association of Independent Schools, 2008

  • After the Harkness Gift: A history of Philips Exeter Academy since 1930 Julia Heskel and Davis Dyer

Take Away! = If you were unable to make the session you can still a Harkness Table in action. 8BHA discussed the question: “Should we always forgive?” and had their Harkness filmed. You can watch it on the school shared drive: V:\Senior\RS

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