First off, I’m going to talk a little bit about the Harkness process even though most of you know how the whole thing works. Harkness is a way of learning in which students take the lead in the conversations instead of the teacher. Instead of one person teaching the class we all work and teach together through discussion and conversations around the table. There is no head of the table because were all considered equal in every class.
This is a brand new way of learning for me. I like how it gets the students involved and how we learn from each other through thinking out loud and talking. We may not know what is important at the beginning of class, but by the end we are able to focus on what was important through a truly collaborative process. And sometimes we all have different ideas about what is important, and so we learn how to think about things from a different perspective. It can be eye-opening.
Even though I like the Harkness process, I’ve personally had a hard time getting used to it. It is totally different from my regular school. There the teachers just lecture, and we just have to take notes. There is not much discussion, just raising our hand to answer the teacher’s question. We don’t get the chance to interact with each other much. This doesn’t help the learning process, because students start to become bored just sitting and listening. We are just told what the teacher thinks is important, and don’t have as much opportunity to think critically about the issue.
The Harkness process is also hard for me because those of you who know me know that I am a very quiet person and talking in front of people can be a challenge. I am a very shy person when it comes to talking to people I never met before or even in front of a class. Its hard for me to get out of my comfort zone to talk to people, and so these past 4 weeks have been a challenge. But I’ve been slowly getting used to the process. This experience has helped me to build confidence about sharing my ideas in the discussions.
But with every good, there is always the potential for bad. And the same is true for the Harkness process. I don’t think this happens in every class, but I see the potential for some students to just talk for the sake of talking. Or some students might want to be the leader of the discussion and so they try to take over and cut other people off. Sometimes students take it so seriously and won’t even stop talking to let someone else who has a comment or idea into the conversation. I mean it’s a good thing that they are talking, but our words should be valuable, not just noise.
People usually think of leaders as always out in front and willing to talk all the time. I don’t agree. I have learned and come to value the way our Cheyenne leaders used to be. They used to lead from the back, because they understood what community means. They understood that we are only as fast as our slowest person. I was told that you have to listen to be heard, and you have to understand to be understood. This means we don’t need to always be part of the conversation, and we don’t always have to be the loudest person in the room, or leading the discussions. Sometimes it’s better to just listen and really try to understand other people.
I think the Harkness process sometimes can make some students talk just for the sake of talking or to try to impress everyone, without really “listening.” Sometimes, we need to just listen to what everyone else is saying so we can truly understand.