The Harkness Discussion
Similar to Socratic dialogue, the Harkness Discussion is a discussion-based format for learning (rather than a lecture-based format). The discussions are student-led. After students read (annotate, etc.) their assigned selection, they are then able to talk about what stuck out to them and be able to make their points using principals of sound debate, etc. This method helps our students learn how to think critically and logically, engage in civil dialogue even with those they disagree with, helps them learn why they think something, and be able to back it up with evidence.
The Harkness table and method were named after philanthropist Edward Harkness, who had given Exeter a gift in 1930. His desire was to have small classes in which students
“could sit around a table with a teacher who would talk with them and instruct them by a sort of tutorial or conference method …”
The oval table ensured everyone could see the eyes of everyone else, making discussions more direct and meaningful.
Watch this short video to see an example of how St. Catherine incorporates the Harkness Discussion in their Language Arts Curriculum.