The Harkness/Exeter Model

by NYC Firm Schools on March 4, 2010

The Exeter educational model that New American Academy Principal Shimon Waronker plans to utilize when creating his own vision of an educational model is an expansion itself upon an older educational model.

The Exeter model is actually based upon the Harkness Educational Model. The Harkness table refers to a style of teaching where students sit at a large, ovular table with their teachers. This type of group interaction encourages class discussions and more involved learning from students and teachers alike.

Developed at Phillips Exeter Academy, the method’s name comes from the oil magnate and philanthropist Edward Harkness, a graduate of St. Paul’s School in Concord, NH. His vision was a classroom where students could sit around a table with a teacher who would talk with them and instruct them in a tutorial or conference method rather than a pyrmid method that encouraged focus on one person, the teacher, and all learning and discourse was directed at that one person.

The Philips Exeter Academysite talks about the Harkness Model:

It’s a way of learning: everyone comes to class prepared to share, discuss, and discover, whether the subject is a novel by William Faulkner or atomic and molecular structure. There are no lectures.
It’s a way of being: interacting with other minds, listening carefully, speaking respectfully, accepting new ideas and questioning old ones, using new knowledge, and enjoying the richness of human interaction. You see the Harkness philosophy played out on our dorms, in our theater productions, on our playing fields. It’s fun, it’s exhilarating, it’s the way to be.

Different styles of learning and teaching are naturally better suited to some students and not others. Students who are easily distracted by groups or easily shied by groups of peers may find such a large group model to be overwhelming. On the other hand, a model that openly depends in interaction can spur those same children into overcoming their fears and confidence issues and excel.

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