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Harkness Method at SBS
One of the greatest challenges in educating our youth today is to have them look beyond facts, dates and statistics – to actively engage in critical thinking and be able to persuasively articulate what they know and believe.
 
A properly educated Upper School graduate must be able to write and speak effectively, demonstrating not only knowledge, but also confidence in analyzing ideas, problems and propositions. Similarly, they must be able to integrate disparate information and synthesize a coherent meaning that brings greater clarity and understanding out of complex issues.
 
Such an education demands active participation and intellectual engagement from students. To accomplish such worthy goals with our students requires an approach to teaching that encourages – even demands – that our boys and girls write and speak often, continually honing their rhetorical skills.
 
Second Baptist School remains on the cutting edge of learning methods and technologies and strives to adopt new methods of teaching so that its students can succeed immediately and after leaving the halls of this campus. The School seeks to prepare its students in every way possible to be their very best in the ever-changing world around them. To further this undertaking, SBS noticed the excellence in the Harkness Method in 2010 and sought to adopt it slowly in the humanities courses, specifically social studies, history, English and Bible classes.
 
At this moment, Harkness tables are used in all social studies, history, English and Bible class from the fifth grade through the twelfth grade. These teachers have each been trained in Harkness and see the difference it makes in their lessons and their students. The Tables dramatically shift the way education happens at Second Baptist School and how the students view themselves. Requiring students to draw from their own observations and life experiences, the Harkness Method emphasizes the necessity for individualism. Brad Lane, a sophomore Bible instructor noted on this when he said, “What the Harkness Method does is create an atmosphere of discourse.  The Table subtly hints that every student is equally valuable to the class and encourages them to speak.”
 
Our faculty members teaching Harkness classes are trained in the specific methods that help students become proficient in effective group discussion. Students come to class having prepared well at home. Students are taught by competent teachers encouraging them to use their voices confidently; they will answer and ask questions, respectfully challenge ideas, and pose their own views, using the text as a basis for the discussion. While participation is more important than in a lecture-based class, traditional means of assessing student achievement continue to include quizzing, testing, and written essays.
 
Parents and administration alike have noticed changes in their students and the confidence and maturity they now exude, both in and out of the classroom. Sixth grade English teacher and SBS alum Raquel Rees commented on this, noting changes in the students over just one year with the Harkness Method, “The most apparent change I see in my students over the course of a year is their social maturity. They learn to genuinely respect each other's thoughts and to engage, not only through speaking, but also through listening. The most exciting change I see is when as student begins the year without much of a desire to read and finishes the year with a love for reading because of what they were able to contribute to the Table.
 
The purpose of the Harkness Table and the point of using this method is not to unite the opinions of everyone at the table, but rather to expose students to alternate points of view and equip them with the tools necessary to listen to defend their own positions while remaining open-minded to others. Second Baptist School wants to make students who are great thinkers. The Harkness Method is used to train students for life, to make great thinkers, not just great memorizers, and Second Baptist School is grateful to teach their students in this dynamic and life-preparing way.