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Harkness Methodology

Several Quarry Lane Humanities instructors have implemented the Harkness Methodology into their International Baccalaureate (IB) classes. Below is some information on this approach to global learning.


The Harkness Methodology:

The Harkness Methodology puts the responsibility for skill acquisition on the students by creating an environment conducive to critical thinking and analysis. Instead of directing inquiry to the instructor as an authoritative source, the Harkness Method requires students to respond to essential questions by asserting, challenging and elaborating with well-considered analysis. The instructor's role is to generate the essential questions which initiates students’ engagement without constraints to their analytical thinking, various approaches, or possible conclusions. An instructor using the Harkness Methodology easily speaks for less than 5% of class time. It is an approach which enables them to meet IB requirements on their own terms thereby retaining important information and skills and modeling for themselves a sustained lifelong approach to learning. It also teaches more vocal students to encourage their quieter peers to speak out, and it requires active listening from all participants. Students who learn via Harkness methodology are more likely to retain information after the tests have passed because they relate it to knowledge they are requiring in other classes or to ideas that already interest them.

Classroom layout: 

Our Harkness tables allow all the students to face in to each other, which encourages discussion and student-driven participation.  The Harkness tables teach the students to collaborate with each other, rather than compete with each other, and this interaction continues beyond the classroom and becomes a cornerstone of our IB program. The instructor is a participant in the Harkness discussion as well, demonstrating to students how to learn, by teaching them how to ask questions and how to find answers. When it comes time to taking tests or quizzes, each Harkness table has pull-out test tables to give the students individual work areas.

Students' response:

Ravi Maddali, a current Quarry Lane student who attended a summer program at Cornell said the following about the Harkness Method, "Being able to build on someone else’s idea and not just your own initial thought was really useful in a college setting."

Students realized how hard they had to work when they were in charge of leading the class discussion. However, they are better able to internalize information and apply it in testing and essay-writing. Harkness models the adage: “"Tell me, I'll forget. Show me, I'll remember. Involve me, I'll understand.” It makes sense that the students come to a better understanding when they are the ones generating the discussions and figuring out the answers on their own. It’s similar to what happens in the Applied Science classes.

The Harkness Methodology and the Quarry Lane educational philosophy:

The philosophy at The Quarry Lane School is “Education is a lifelong commitment” and our mission is to foster a lifelong love of learning. The Harkness Methodology gives our students the short-term and long-term skills to be lifelong students. The most effective teaching methodologies are practiced by doing and teaching others. Harkness makes extensive use of these methodologies through its discussion-centered practices. It also fosters a sense of community and connectedness that connects our students long after graduation.

In line with student-lead discussion, we asked IB students for their input on the Methodology as well as the addition of the new tables.


“I feel that the Harkness Methodology creates an environment in which everyone feels comfortable and free to speak their mind” - Tushar Kundu


“The new tables help convey messages more directly” - Dhruv Gupta


“[I’ve learned] how interacting about the novel with my classmates helps me when I am explaining quotes on a test or taking a quiz” - Zahra Shivji


“The new tables are more comfortable and even professional. They inspire a better Harkness [discussion]” - Vivian Hernandez


“The Harkness Methodology has taught me to look at various elements of books that I would never have considered, as well as to look at the opinions of everyone in the class” - Arnosh Keswani


“The new tables have created a more discussion based classroom environment” - Parker Newton

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