Published in

January 17, 2014

“Harkness Method” comes to Oak Hill Academy

A true and successful method of teaching students has come to Oak Hill Academy in Lincroft. The main feature of this style of instruction is the Harkness table which is a large oval table wherein students and their teacher can see each other at all times. This allows the teacher to encourage students to come up with ideas of their own and learn good reasoning and discussion skills.

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According to Oak Hill Headmaster, Joseph Pacelli, utilizing this approach requires students to think rather than just memorize and regurgitate information. “Our intention is to use the Harkness method with our middle school students in their social science and literature classes. We will have this type of atmosphere also for our younger children’s reading classes,” stated Pacelli. Twenty-first century learning skills such as being creative and fostering collaboration are also by-products of this method.

Students are also encouraged to take charge of the discussions by posing their own questions, debating a point, and feeling free to ask follow-up questions for clarification. Students work together rather than taking notes dictated by the teacher. Discussion is lively while being equally respectful. Students indicate that seeing everyone’s face and seeing their reactions makes everyone feel more a part of what is happening and being at the Harness table makes topics more interesting.

This method and table are nothing new. Both were born in the 1930’s when philanthropist Edward Stephen Harkness challenged the faculty at Phillips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire to create a way of teaching using his vision of students sitting at a table where teachers talk with them and each student has an equal chance to speak. Something old is now something new as many elementary, middle, and high schools across our nation are adopting the Harkness method as a powerful means to engage students to think deeply about the issues being studied.

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