The Exeter Bulletin — Fall 2012
Harkness Tables Move to Public Schools
A Harkness table is moved from Phillips Hall to a classroom in Raymond, NH.
Seventh-grade teacher Rebecca Sharrow got a surprise addition to her classroom in July, one that she says fulfills the dream she's had since becoming a teacher of having a table. Sharrow works at the Iber Holmes Gove Middle School (IHGMS), in Raymond, NH, and her classroom received one of two Harkness tables from Phillips Hall.
As preparations began for interior renovations to Phillips Hall last spring, Principal Tom Hassan considered Exeter's three-year partnership with IHGMS and Raymond High School (RHS) through its Harkness teacher-training workshops and outreach summer school program for students. With the furniture headed for storage, Hassan contacted Director of Summer School Ethan Shapiro and Raymond School District Superintendent of Schools Dr. Jean R. Richards to ask whether the schools were interested in the tables. Dr. Richards was elated; so too was Sharrow when she learned she would be one of the recipients.
Sharrow participated in her first Harkness training in 2010, attending meetings with Exeter instructors and observing Summer School classes on campus and during student enrichment programs at IHGMS. She says the traditional arrangement of students sitting in rows does not work well for language arts learning. She believes students should be comfortable. "Students should not look at each other's backs but should work at a table where they can see and hear each other and have room to write," she says.
Using Harkness methods for literature study and discussion, Sharrow's students read at least two novels and tackle a unit on short stories. During discussions, students are assigned roles such as topic and discussion "police," and everyone has an equal opportunity to speak. "[This] concept is great for creating students who take charge and are responsible for their own learning," she says. "I think the [Harkness] style is transferrable to a public school setting with some tweaking."
"Working with the PEA teachers...has given me a great model for what Harkness should look like."
One major adjustment is Sharrow's average class size of 20 students—about eight more than at Exeter. Before getting the Harkness table, Sharrow arranged her students' desks in a horseshoe or circle, to encourage better discussions.This year, the Harkness table is used for literature study and discussion. "After discussions, every other seat around the table is vacated and those students then physically transition to another station, the desks, to begin working on their writing assignments," she explains.
Though it's still a work in progress, Sharrow is confident of the outcomes of employing the Harkness table. "Working with the PEA teachers . . . has given me a great model for what Harkness should look like," she says. "I have taken their strategies and tried to mold them to fit a public school setting.While I don't believe I have a perfect situation yet, I do feel that Harkness is creating a positive workshop-type environment that is fostering a classroom of students who enjoy reading.