Thursday, July 08, 2010

Hark the Herald Angel Sings

Now that my students are a week into using my slightly informed version of the Harkness method--a discussion based approach to student learning--I am ready to reflect on my own implementation and student implementation. Oh, and since we've been reading A Prayer for Owen Meany with the Rising 9th Graders, the post title aptly fits.

Teacher Implementation
The key discovery of this first week is that I don't trust my students--at least generally, I don't. My Rising 9's who were accepted to independent boarding schools have made trusting them easier than the unplaced Rising 9's who will attend public school in the fall. Our Rising 8's make it extraordinarily difficult to trust, and the Rising 7's are strong, but young (I normally teach high school during the year).
Certainly, in order for me to succeed at the method, I must learn to trust them. But it seems complicated. In order to trust them, they need to know what they are talking about. In order to know what they are talking about, someone needs to teach them. In the past, that someone was me imparting the knowledge base on the student.
In an effort to understand how to implement the philosophy, I purchased Respecting the Pupil: Essays on Teaching Able Students by members of Phillips Exeter Academy faculty. The title is important--Able Students. What if they aren't able enough to make this Socratic approach work?
Too often I find myself abandoning my line of questions to show them some interesting motif or symbol. But I'm slowly improving. I catch myself now, forcing myself to ask a solid, if not leading, question.

Student Implementation
Boys will be boys, is one way of saying that often groups live up to the stereotypes. So, students will be students, whether they are in a public school in the Connecticut suburbs or whether they are urban students with lofty goals of fleeing public schools for hoity-toity boarding schools even deeper in the Connecticut suburbs.
They don't finish their reading which makes participation difficult. If all are not participating, the discussion feels disjointed, almost chaotic. Or, they finish the reading but only at a cursory, hey I got it done didn't I, level. Their active reading makes little sense and shows no sign of mental action despite the many markings.
They are shy and too talkative. They lose focus and talk over each other. But when they click, it is fantastic to watch!


At 5:23 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Trust is the biggest part of any relationship. As much as you need to learn to trust your students, they also need to learn to trust you. This happens through consistency and relaxed control. Most likely, the students you describe have not had the opportunity to control an academic setting. Guiding them through this process will make them stronger students and you a stronger teacher.

At 9:04 PM , Anonymous Justine said...

It's difficult to allow students to lead their own discussions, but I think it can be done. I'm still a pre-service teacher, but I plan on educating my students on how to handle their own discussions so I can take myself out of the situation.

At 6:06 PM , Blogger Mr. B-G said...

Yes, it can be done. It's about providing the scaffolding and structure and incentive for them to see the benefit of meaning-making for themselves.

Teenagers are smart. With the right supports and guidance, they can accomplish a great deal.

At 2:27 AM , Blogger MONICA SHARMA said...

Yes I agree with Mr. B-G and I like your small post but from your heart
Monica Sharma

Click Online Document Conversion and capture Text from your bills, invoices, letters, forms, statements, notices, books, journals, magazines, image or PDF Documents on internet and edit into your system directly.

At 8:12 AM , Blogger DB said...

Hi, I'm a graduate student at Teacher's College, Columbia University. I taught using the Harkness Method and I'm now researching it for my doctoral thesis. Are you still using Harkness in your classroom? Have you seen any other improvements?

I would be very interested to hear your thoughts about the pedagogy. My email is



Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home