Using the Harkness method to help post-16 students make confident historical claims

Teaching History article

By Carina Ancell, Alan Kunna, Chris Dillon and Toby Green, published 3rd July 2020

‘Can you tell us the answer instead?’

Struck by their sixth-form students’ self-doubt when asked to make an historical claim, teachers Carina Ancell and Alan Kunna went in search of ways to build their students’ confidence. A fruitful discussion with university lecturers Toby Green and Chris Dillon, about the challenges faced by first-year undergraduates in seminar discussion, led to a joint-venture in trialling the Harkness method with both school and university students. In this article Ancell and Kunna explain how they used small-group and whole-class discussions at their comprehensive sixth-form college to help students learn to orient themselves within an historical community. Green and Dillon show how the Harkness method encouraged undergraduate students to evaluate the strength of their claims in collaboration with others. The authors’ reflections on the joint-venture led them to make a case for using the Harkness method to improve the transition of post-16 students from school classroom to university seminar.

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