Harkness Methodology in Summer Academy - Quarry Lane School

At the Quarry Lane School, the Harkness Methodology is a year-round endeavor. Within Summer Academy, students are engaged in this group-led learning system in their daily classes. 

Dr. Gretchen Kellough, Head of English and IB Coordinator has been implementing a new methodology in her International Baccalaureate (IB) English classroom. We had the opportunity to sit down with Dr. Kellough to get the inside scoop on this approach to global learning.


Please describe the Harkness Methodology.

Harkness Methodology is a bottom-up, discussion-based form of teaching. We use it in our pre-IB and IB English classes. It puts the responsibility on the students to generate analysis and answer each other’s questions, rather than the teacher doing all the guiding. Instead of directing their questions to the teacher, students challenge, question, and support each other’s point of view. A teacher using the Harkness Methodology easily speaks for less than 5% of class time. The motivation for using Harkness in our English classrooms is it models for students how to learn. It teaches them to stay close to the text and find proof in the written word for their inferences and literary investigations. It also teaches more vocal students to encourage their quieter peers to speak out, and it requires active listening from all participants. Harkness teaches students to engage with their education. 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.

Can you describe the look of your classroom while using this style of teaching?

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, rather than compete with each other, and this interaction continues beyond the classroom and becomes a cornerstone of our IB program. The teacher is a participant in the Harkness discussion as well. My role is to demonstrate 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.

Where did you first learn about this style of teaching?

I first learned about Harkness-based discussion when I was looking for ways to better structure discussions and involve the students in my IB English class. I found materials on Harkness Methodology through the Phillips Exeter Academy and learned how to use it in my classroom in a way that incorporated the desired outcomes of the IB curriculum. I created a handout and guide for other English teachers to use it in their classrooms. I find it interesting that about a year after we began using Harkness methodology in our IB English classes at QLS, the IB English program revised its worldwide curriculum to include a Harkness-type discussion as one of the assessment methods for IB English.

How do the students respond to this?

Students initially said, “Please, don’t ever make us do this again.” They realized how hard they had to work when they were in charge of leading the class discussion. However, I saw that they were 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.

How does the Harkness Methodology connect to the educational philosophy of Quarry Lane?

The philosophy at Quarry Lane School is “Education is a lifelong commitment” and our mission is to foster a lifelong love of learning. 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.

For more information on the Harkness Methodology or the Quarry Lane School, please contact us at (925) 394-4644 or visit our website


Hours of Operation

  • 7:30 AM to 5:00 PM Monday
  • 7:30 AM to 5:00 PM Tuesday
  • 7:30 AM to 5:00 PM Wednesday
  • 7:30 AM to 5:00 PM Thursday
  • 7:30 AM to 5:00 PM Friday
  • Closed Saturday
  • Closed Sunday