• Menu

Harkness Learning

Every student gets a front row seat, each voice is heard.

Instead of sitting at rows of desks facing a blackboard, Pacific Ridge students sit with their teacher around a large, oval table, called a Harkness table. Because of this arrangement, the exchange of information during a lesson differs from that in a traditional classroom. Students listen, ask questions, and learn from the teacher and from each other. The Harkness teaching method fosters the development of critical thinking skills and provides a supportive academic forum in which students can express their ideas.

List of 4 items.

  • What is Harkness?

    The Harkness teaching method was originally developed in the 1930’s by philanthropist Edward Harkness and Phillips Exeter Academy, and is in use at many of the nation’s top independent schools.
    The oval tables that bear the Harkness name allow students to sit alongside their teacher and discuss any subject of study, whether it be English, mathematics, history or a world language.  Students are encouraged to express their ideas and opinions, and can refine them in dialogue with their peers. The teacher masterfully guides the discussion, helps students clarify their arguments and supports the development of critical thinking, listening and speaking skills.
  • A lot goes on in a Harkness discussion.

    A Harkness classroom provides a safe space for everyone to learn, as everyone’s thoughts are valued.
    Students are asked, through conversation with their peers, to think deeply about academic content. They use examples from the text to support their comments. They listen carefully to their classmates’ perspectives, and can add to their ideas. Students have time to explore, question and confirm their own thinking. And the teacher is with them every step of the way, listening, asking guiding and clarifying questions, and facilitating participation of all students, even those quieter in nature. Thanks to Pacific Ridge's Harkness-style discussions, critical thinking and listening skills improve, and students find confidence in their authentic voice.
  • Harkness is for more than English class.

    The Harkness method is used in various ways to explore material in all academic disciplines. In mathematics, Harkness encourages students to develop problem-solving skills rather than relying on rote memorization of singular techniques. In our language immersion classrooms, the method paves the path to fluency.
    An added benefit of the pedagogy is that it encourages students to focus on big ideas and to integrate what they are learning in different disciplines. When 7th-graders in Life Science harkness about the impact of California’s drought on ecosystems, they can incorporate information about science, history, and even government policy. The big picture becomes clearer.
  • Sometimes, it's just the table that makes the difference.

    Classroom time at Pacific Ridge is dynamic by design, and Harkness discussions don’t take place every day in every class.
    Some class sessions are dedicated to group projects, while others may contain a traditional lecture and lesson plan. However, the teaching and learning dynamic is always influenced by the face-to-face orientation of the students to the teacher, and to each other. Through Harkness, students at Pacific Ridge engage actively and deeply with academic material, thoughtful discourse and the learning process itself.

Find out more: