Flipped Learning and the Harkness method

The content of the IGCSE Language and Literature course is fairly substantial.  Our year 10 course is focused on completing the coursework but this does not mean that I don’t want pupils to have at least read all the poems from the poetry anthology and all the non-fiction works as well before they go into year 11.

To offer an introduction to these texts that will hopefully form a solid foundation for year 11, I have decided to try a slightly different approach.

Each week pupils are either introduced to one of the poems or one of the non-fiction texts as their core homework task.  They receive two copies of the text.  Having attended a number of webinars run by Barbara Bleiman who advocates for pupil personal response, the first text is used by pupils to complete an initial reading.  As they are reading, they jot down their responses, their thoughts, ideas, feelings and any words or structural items they think strike them as particularly interesting.

Copy of booklet tasks

On the second copy of the text, a more detailed analysis is completed.  This is done by watching a video lecture I assign to pupils via Loom.  Pupils watch my video lecture and annotate their second copy of the text.  Each video lecture focuses in on our core conceptual question for the term (although slightly nuanced depending on the text).  For term 1, this question is ‘How do texts incite and inspire change?’

Example of video lecture slides:

Harkness video screenshot 1

Harkness video screenshot 2

It is an expectation that they will turn up to our Thursday lesson with the above work completed, ready to discuss the poem and non-fiction text assigned.

Example of pupil’s annotated work:

Pupil annotations

At the start of the lesson, I create a harkness group.  Having completed this task for the first time last week, I will admit that I used pupils I believed would be strong oral contributors initially.  The pupils are organised around a table (I had six pupils instead of the identified four).  (Across the term, all pupils will have been placed in the harkness table at some point).  I then shared our harkness discussion questions.  These questions are slightly more thematic / conceptual as having completed the homework, pupils should arrive with an understanding of the text and a word / sentence level analysis complete.

Harkness discussion

Harkness questions

Each question is discussed in turn by the harkness group in the centre.  As they are talking, I am using the standard harkness structure to monitor their talk.  I control the time spent answering a question and can adjust in a responsive way according to the success of the discussion.

Whilst the group in the middle discuss their responses to the questions, the pupils on the outside are completing a reflection sheet – noting any interesting ideas, any interesting examples of language or structure and a response to the term’s key conceptual question.

Reflection sheet

The first run through of this with War Photographer was brilliant.  Pupils arrived at the lesson equipped with their knowledge of their poem, which meant time could be given over to developing interpretations and discussing / debating these.  Pupils, in fact, offered interpretations I hadn’t considered before and confidently agreed / disagreed / built upon ideas from their peers. Pupils on the outside made notes and deepened their own understanding of the poem.

It was a real joy to observe.  At the end, we reflected on our reflections and we reflected, using my diagram, on the contributions of the different members of the harkness group.

Having completed the first run-through, I am going to make two tweaks.  Initially, the reflection sheet was focused on the Assessment Objectives from the specification.  I am going to change these simply to the harkness discussion questions.  Secondly, with our focus being on oracy, I am going to also ask pupils on the outside to track one student and evaluate how well they perform in the group discussion.  I will use the harkness codes as the basis of this reflection.

What I am hoping is that through these harkness discussion lessons, pupils will come away with a solid grip of the text without spending hours analyzing and evaluating.  At the end of this term, I will provide pupils with a task to cement their learning.  They will be given the conceptual question again.  This term the conceptual question is ‘How do texts incite and inspire change’? and they will have to write a personal response drawing on a minimum of three texts studied across the term.  Thus developing skills in comparison and personal reflection and response (and tying parts of the course together).



  1. This is great. I tried Harkness for the first time the other day, but the group was way too big… How did your students respond? Did they enjoy themselves?


    • Hi, Yes they did – they had a cracking decision and although the first stab at it were able to confidently agree and disagree with each other. My next step is to mix confident and less confident pupils together and explore how we include those less confident pupils through questioning etc etc.


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