Just a follow-up to my last post: one of my biggest challenges this year has been one ninth-grade class (“E block”) that really resists Harkness. They are quite shy and loathe to say much of anything at all, and they all joke about how they “hate” Harkness. In five years of teaching using Harkness, I haven’t ever experienced this, so it threw me for a loop. I’d assumed that sooner or later they’d come around, as their other peers had, to the process, but it’s nearly May and they haven’t.
And then during my EARCOS presentation in Bangkok, where I showed maps of E block’s discussions and talked about the challenges specific to them, one of the audience members asked if I’d tried breaking them into two circles within the class and letting them discuss in smaller groups. I hadn’t ever tried it, but I liked the idea — one my colleague used with her second-graders when she piloted Harkness for me at the elementary level.
We tried it today in class and the whole vibe was immediately different. All the kids talked, the discussion was constant and lively, and the discussion maps were (as one students remarked) “beautiful” — even, balanced, and uniform. Even my shiest students participated of their own volition — something that had rarely or ever happened after nearly a year of large Harkness discussions. Afterward, during our debrief, students acknowledged how much easier and more enjoyable this was. “I think we’ve figured out how to do Harkness in this class,” I remarked, unable to hide my smile.
So glad I got the chance to learn from someone in the audience that day at EARCOS (thank you, anonymous audience member!), and glad for opportunities to learn in the classroom — for my students and me.