Harkness Table Diagrams: FAQs

Do these diagrams form the basis of my class participation grade? No. Generally, the diagrams show only the quantity of class participation, your grade will be based more on the quality of your comments. Though a few students, who are not talking at all or who are over-participating may have their grade reduced, most students' grades are not determined by how frequently they speak. See my participation grading page for more information on how your contributions to class discussions might factor into your grade.

So why bother with the diagrams? The diagrams provide a historical record of every discussion and provide concrete, immediate, visual feedback to students about their level of participation day-to-day. They are particularly useful for individuals who fear they may be talking too much. By allowing them to self-monitor and then reduce their level of participation, they help to create a more inclusive discussion. They also may prod shy students to speak more often, making the class discussion richer because it includes more voices.

But doesn't the diagram encourage people to speak just so they can have a line next to their name? Maybe. But this question implies that some students have valuable things to contribute and others don't. That also is the reason why some students never speak up in class. They feel that others know more and have more intelligent things to say, so "why should I speak?" When individuals speak only to get a line next to their name, they may not contribute much to the discussion, but then it may at least keep them in the game, and eventually they will make valuable contributions. And it has been my experience that classes where all or most students participate are better than classes in which only a few students carry the discussion.

Are there any other uses of the Harkness diagrams? Yes, it helps me learn names at the beginning of a term. It also reminds me to take attendance. If I forget to enter absences on Monday, I can look at the diagrams the following day. It also prevents me from talking too much by giving me something else to do. Finally, I sometimes write notes in the margins of the diagrams about particularly apt contributions or on the different types of comments individuals make. At the end of the term I sometimes refer back to these notes when I'm looking for a concrete detail to add to a comment slip.

What do the letters that sometimes appear under our names mean? These letters are abbreviations referring to types of comments. Ask me, and I'll be happy to interpret them for you.