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How to Democratize Harkness Tables

Student Frustrations with Harkness Tables

I recently had a conversation with some Grade 12 students who told me that they did not enjoy Harkness Tables. I asked them to elaborate on their frustrations. The outstanding issue was that:

Harkness discussions can create a “me vs. you” mentality, this is because students are often graded (or believe they are graded) on how much they participate. This creates competition for the opportunity to speak when there is a short time limit and a large group of students.

This is a fair concern. The element of competition undermines the success of a Harkness Table in two ways:

1. Students that don’t normally have the confidence to speak up during a discussion will be less likely to do so in an increasingly competitive (and therefore high pressure) situation.

2. Students will be focused on the wrong thing: only speaking. Listening is equally — if not more   important.

How does Parlay help?

1. Encourage QUALITY Contributions with the Parlay Point System.

Parlay’s Point System allows teachers to set expectations for “quality” responses. This is a tangible reminder that quality is even more important than quantity, encouraging students to listen and think before they speak. Some example point types are shown below.

2. Understanding Quality vs. Quantity

At the end of every Live RoundTable, teachers can contrast the volume of student engagement (# of times spoken) to the quality of student engagement (# of points received). This enables teachers to reward students that speak infrequently, but make really strong points and as well helps to identify students that speak often, but perhaps need to work on the quality of their engagement.

3) Introduce cadence and control.

When running a Parlay Live RoundTable, students know that they can’t be rewarded unless the teacher clicks on their icon (initiating the beginning of their participation). This simple distinction reminds students to slow down and be mindful of their peers, letting others finish speaking before they can make their point.

This promotes composure, respect for others and stops students from blurting out one line rebuttals that don’t merit points.

Update: Live Roundtable now includes a “HandRaising” button. Students have the opportunity to raise their hands without disrupting the conversation or rushing other student’s responses. Pressing the button lets the teacher know which student has raised their hand and who will be speaking next, letting the teacher keep track of who is speaking next and creating a seamless order to Harkness table discussions.

It also gives quieter student’s who may be wary of raising their hand an opportunity to get used to the idea of contributing to the conversation, helping to make the process less intimidating.

4) Reward quiet and introverted students with points.

Not every student feels confident speaking up, especially when they are new to Harkness tables or when the language of instruction is not their first language. Just because a student doesn’t speak up doesn’t necessarily mean they are not engaged. Parlay’s Live RoundTable module gives students the opportunity to provide written feedback to their peers in the event that they don’t have the time or confidence to speak out loud. We collate these comments into each student summary so teachers can see the volume and quality of this type of feedback.

5) Understand class sentiment with student Agree or Disagree.

Students need an opportunity to voice their opinions without disrupting their classmates who are currently speaking.  To ease the tension of participation and to get an idea of how the class is thinking/feeling, students are now able to press the “Agree” or “Disagree” buttons to share their candid opinion about what may have been said by the teacher or their classmate.

This quick ‘vote’ gives the teacher real-time opportunity to get a feel for what the class is thinking. Teacher’s can then follow up with specific questions as to why students agree or disagree, giving students an opportunity to dig deeper into the conversation and reflect on their thoughts and feelings.

The Live RoundTable module encourages more contributions, better conversations and a broader range of perspectives. Rewarding Harkness Table participation in this way helps reduce unnecessary competition, and promotes a more collaborative conversation.

Experience a more connected, constructive and thoughtful kind of in-class discussions using Parlay.

Your first class is free  🙂