Harkness Discussion Methodology

Rachel McQullin describes ways in which Harkness discussion methodology has informed reflective practices in her teaching.

'While developing my use of Harkness discussion-based learning in the History classroom I am interested in trying to identify and measure the impact, if any, this style of teaching and learning has on my History students. I am mostly focusing my research on my L6 class but may also use my Year 10 class. I am interested in various areas:

  • First whether Harkness discussions have an impact on students’ learning in History - in particular the quality and depth of knowledge and understanding, confidence in independent thinking and making their own judgements, active reading skills, essay writing, and ability to critically engage with historians’ perspectives.
  • Second the impact on students’ non-cognitive skills - for example discussion skills, listening skills, collaboration inter and intrapersonal skills.
  • A third area of interest is the impact of Harkness discussion-based learning on motivation, enjoyment and pace of learning. So far I have asked my L6 class to fill in an evaluation of the term. I also plan to collect qualitative evidence from one-on-one interviews with my L6 students and a further questionnaire.

    I hope to be able to establish a ‘control’ given that this is a shared HL class with two teachers. The other teacher is not using Harkness style discussions, which should mean that we can compare the experience of the students in the Harkness lessons to  lessons that do not use its method. In order to reduce the variables I will also experiment within my own lessons'.

Useful Links

The Harkness Difference - Phillips Exeter Academy You Tube Video

Williams, G.J. (2014) Harkness Learning: Principles of a Radical American Pedagogy. Journal of Pedagogic Development, 4 (3). Accessed 29.11.18.