Conversations for synthesis: Using the Harkness method in student-led historical inquiry

Alison Bedford


The overhaul of the Queensland senior secondary syllabuses has provided a valuable opportunity to teachers to reconsider their pedagogy during the 2019-2020 implementation. For History teachers, the new syllabuses continue to promote inquiry and foreground the cognitions of analysis, evaluation and synthesis. However, the pedagogical approach suggested by the syllabus does not overtly support the students in the development of synthesising skills. This article explores one pedagogical approach, the Harkness Method, which through collaborative, student-led, structured conversations, may offer teachers and students a means by which synthesis can be explicitly modelled and practiced. This method may better enable students to develop and demonstrate this complex cognition, particularly when embedded within a broader practice of student-led inquiry.  I argue that the implementation of a student-centred approach in senior History classrooms, coupled with the explicit emphasis on and development of synthesis through the Harkness method best enables students to demonstrate the syllabus objectives and also develop the broader 21st century skills which will enable them to become the “empathetic and critically-literate citizens who are equipped to embrace a multicultural, pluralistic, inclusive, democratic, compassionate and sustainable future” (QCAA, 2019-a, p. 1), that the Syllabus aspires to.


inquiry; student-centred; student-led; Harkness method; pedagogy; Queensland; History

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