Harkness Learning in the Senior School
Parveen Loodu

At Southridge, we’re proud that we are the only school in Canada that has fully implemented the Harkness philosophy across our high school curriculum. What exactly is Harkness you might wonder? The Harkness philosophy at Southridge can be described as fostering a student-centered, discussion-based, collaborative learning environment. This is achieved by bringing no more than 18 students and one teacher together around a table in various subjects to support active learning opportunities.

A student-centered approach shifts the focus from the teacher to the learners. Students come to class prepared to question, discuss, debate, and share knowledge. The teacher helps coordinate dialogue by asking probing questions or initiating ideas, so as to allow the students to mould the conversation and form a more personal and collaborative understanding of the course content. While the learning may look and feel a bit different from teacher to teacher, as well as between subjects, the general principles encourage students to shape their own ideas and understanding of the subject matter, and to facilitate effective dialogue that results in a deeper understanding of the world. For example, in science, students will engage in discussion when they are planning a procedure to solve a problem in the lab, analyzing experimental results and developing theories, arguing a conclusion based on data, examining scientific models, and developing their understanding, or determining the best way to solve a problem. You will find teachers sharing  knowledge in science class (and in other subject areas) as it is important for students to develop basic understanding before they can engage in deeper learning through discussion. It is through discussion that a sophisticated understanding of concepts is developed.

The more you understand the Harkness philosophy – and its active support of inquiry and collaborative learning through our Senior School Education Plan, it’s easy to recognize that there is a natural progression from our Junior School’s International Baccalaureate program and the core
competencies that it fosters. The partnerships created at the table lead students to find their own meaning through analysis and discussion with their peers. The purposeful integration of technology, incorporated with this student-centered approach, enables our students to:

  • ask excellent questions that challenge them and others to think critically
  • listen to and understand different perspectives
  • work collaboratively with others to solve problems
  • think critically and apply concepts to new learning
  • communicate their thoughts and ideas succinctly
  • be an engaged learner
  • experience learning through doing
  • increase awareness of their own learning

“Harkness begins in the classroom and extends throughout Southridge,” explains Drew Stephens, Head of School. “It’s representative of how we work together across the school and is demonstrated in the way everyone meets – including our various departments, our senior management team, parent volunteers, and even our board of governors. It fosters respect and collaboration, where voices are treated equally. In recent years, it’s positioned us in a unique way as have entered into the important conversations of pluralism, diversity inclusion, and environmental stewardship. Harkness supports collaboration and communication skills, and Southridge is so fortunate to be in a position to offer our community this way to learn and grow.”

Contributed by Parveen Loodu, Communications and Marketing
Originally published in Spirit Magazine - Fall 2022