Interactive Learning the Harkness Way

Updated June 25, 2014 |
Interactive Learning the Harkness Way
Students sitting in rows of desks listening to a teacher lecture? You are not likely to find this scenario in a school which uses Harkness Tables.
Students sitting in rows of desks listening to a teacher lecture? You are not likely to find this scenario in a school which uses Harkness Tables. The brainchild of wealthy industrialist Edward Harkness, an Exeter alumnus, Harkness Tables are oval tables which seat 12-18 students together with their teacher. You cannot hide in the back of the classroom which uses Harkness Tables. That's the point. Engaged students learn.
 
In ancient times teaching was collaborative - think Socrates and Quintillian - but somewhere in our Victorian-Edwardian past we got off the rails and began lining children up in regimented rows of chairs and desks. Maria Montessori and Rudolph Steiner rebelled against this sort of regimentation. Their classrooms became what we would now call activity centers.
 
High school lab courses such as chemistry and physics have always been interactive and hands on. Discussion of findings and research are encouraged in that collaborative environment. Every member of the class has an opinion and a finding. That is the idea behind the Harkness Table. Every member of the class is encouraged to be an active participant. Because eye contact is a critical element of this style of learning, the Harkness Table's oval shape is ideal. It allows everybody around the table to see and be seen. Students and teacher interact. The teacher facilitates without dominating the lesson. He guides and steers the learning process. Maria Montessori would be thrilled.
 
Harkness Tables are widely used in prep schools here and abroad. Does the school you are looking at use them? Find out.

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