Pacific Ridge School
Discussion-Based Learning in Middle School
Middle school is a time of both challenge and opportunity. Students face increasing social distractions and often larger classes, making it easier for them to “check out.” Yet, developmentally, adolescents are primed for intellectual growth.
One of the best ways to keep middle school students learning is through active discussion. At Pacific Ridge School, they use Harkness, a teaching method in which an average of 15 students sit with their teacher around an oval table and coursework is collaboratively discussed.
Some benefits are:
Engagement: Harkness is student-centered. Rather than passively receiving information, students participate in obtaining, sharing, and evaluating it. Everyone has a seat at the table – students have a voice and their peers listen.
Skill building: Harkness helps students develop a cache of important skills, such as critical thinking, fact-based observation, effective speaking, respectful listening, collaboration, and an appreciation for differing perspectives.
Confidence: Adolescents want their opinion to matter, and are pleasantly surprised when it does. Students take intellectual risks in Harkness, gaining confidence interacting with peers and adults alike.
While proficiency with Harkness generally comes in the high school years, regular practice is both stimulating and invaluable for middle schoolers, resulting in young adults who are self-reliant and articulate, engaged in collaborative problem solving, and who value divergent viewpoints. The earlier students develop these skills, the more engaged in their education they will become.
For information about Harkness at Pacific Ridge or to register for their Nov. 16 Open House, visit pacificridge.org/OpenHouse.