Collaborative Tables Thanks to Edward Harkness

The collaborative discussion method traces back at least to Socrates, 2400 years ago.
The method used in classrooms today originated with a monetary gift from Edward Harkness to Phillips Exeter Academy in 1931. Mr. Harkness was a generous philanthropist whose giving benefited many educational institutions.

In the collaborative learning classroom, students are seated all around one table. Typically oval in shape, the table allows everyone seated at it to see the eyes of everyone else at the table, meaning no one is hiding. No student is left out of the discussion. Classmates at the table learn by discussing their thoughts and ideas with their teacher and each other, rather than by just taking notes. Students are encouraged to challenge ideas, and to collaborate rather than compete with each other.

Teachers, also seated at the table, are participants in classroom discussions, guiding students without lecturing. Parents sometimes wonder if this means the teacher isn’t teaching, when in fact the teacher is demonstrating to the student how to learn, rather than just what to learn. Collaborative learning teachers excel at asking questions that excite inquiry. The more students want to know, the more they learn.


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