Harkness Teaching Method

A Stevenson School education provides the foundation for a lifetime of learning and achievement for curious and engaged students. Stevenson’s process for building that foundation combines unparalleled educational content that is masterfully delivered, to students in grades 6-8, by teachers using the Harkness teaching method, a principled approach to learning, continually utilized by some of the most recognized schools in the nation. As a result, Stevenson’s Carmel Campus offers an innovative curriculum with exceptional learning opportunities that stands alone as a Center of Excellence on the Monterey Peninsula.

Video: Stevenson’s Kathryn Koontz on the Harkness Teaching Method

When you step inside any one of Stevenson School’s Carmel Campus classrooms, you will likely be struck by the collaborative nature of the academic content being exchanged among students and teachers. Stevenson’s approach to each child’s education is a significant departure from the traditional classroom setup of a teacher at a chalkboard lecturing to students seated in rows of desks, as evidenced by the Harkness model illustration below:



Originally developed in 1930 by oil magnate and philanthropist Edward Harkness, a large, oval table was intended to be the centerpiece of any classroom that employs the Harkness method of teaching. The Harkness teaching method allows students to sit with their classmates and teacher around the table and discuss any and all subjects, from mathematics to history, often in great detail. As a result, individual opinions are formed, raised, rejected, and revised in Stevenson’s classrooms, where the teacher’s main responsibilities are to support each student as they gain confidence with critical thinking while keeping the group on task.

Imagine being a student and walking into your classroom. Last night, you read a section of Robert Louis Stevenson’s novel, “Treasure Island”. One of your impassioned classmates states, “Long John Silver is annoying! He thinks he’s so cool but he’s not! Does anyone else not like him? He pretends to be cool with the other pirates but behind their back he’s so deceitful towards them!” You and your classmates are trying to decide. Someone jumps in and says, “I like him, he’s feisty! Check out what he says on page 213…” But you don’t think so. You point out his constant betrayals of other characters found throughout the story. Students’ ideas fly around the table. No one is left out of this discussion. Everyone speaks his or her mind, yet you each explore what is known about Long John Silver and question one another’s assumptions. You have time to think, question and critically consider the story’s content while discovering and confirming your own ideas. Suddenly, you’re seeing the big picture. Learning just became exciting.

Instead of a math book with an endless number of identical problems and the answers in the back of the book, Stevenson teachers can design problems that will challenge students to thoughtfully consider equations as well as their solutions. In history class, students are asked to share what “the facts” mean and why they are important. In English class, teachers want to know which books students have already read, and which ones they want to read. Stevenson’s students are inspired to go to school because they are comfortable challenging themselves with the unknown. The collective quest for more understanding is what makes class at Stevenson’s Carmel Campus captivating and keeps everyone immersed in learning.

Harkness Table

Initially, some prospective parents may question the Harkness teaching method because it lacks the familiarity of an old-fashioned classroom they became accustomed to as students. However, our parents quickly discover that Stevenson’s teachers are demonstrating to students how to learn rather than just what to learn. That’s where our notion of “a child focused curriculum” comes from. Stevenson’s faculty excel at asking questions that motivate further inquiry. The more students want to know, the more they learn. In fact, our Carmel Campus teachers routinely see students discover their voice in Stevenson classrooms. Many new Stevenson students are accustomed to internalizing their thoughts and opinions, but soon can’t wait to speak up, both inside and outside of class.

The Harkness method fosters a sense of collaboration and encouragement that continues when class is over. Whether on a visit to our Carmel Campus or around our community, you will recognize Stevenson students by their sincere willingness to give and receive information in an ongoing effort to know more about the world we all live in. Imagine a school like that. We welcome you to contact us and schedule a visit to our classrooms and see for yourself how it is possible.

For additional information about the Carmel Campus, visit the following links:

A Parent's Perspective Video

Carmel Campus Overview Video

Apply to Grades PK-8

Schedule a Campus Tour

Carmel Campus - Harkness

"The Harkness teaching method includes a large, oval table as the centerpiece of any classroom to encourage discussions rather than traditional lecture methods."

Carmel Campus - Harkness Table Vertical

The Harkness method fosters a sense of collaboration and encouragement that continues when class is over.