Watch The Harkness Method
We prepare you for the kind of learning
you’ll experience in college and beyond.
Episcopal emphasizes learner-centered teaching.
COLLEGE PREPARATORY COURSES
At Episcopal, a learner-centered approach to teaching is valued. This approach to learning is intended to address the distinct learning needs, interests, aspirations, and cultural backgrounds of our students. Since every student is different, it is important that the school provide many different opportunities for our students in athletics, the arts, religious faith and service, and of course, academics. A student is encouraged to select coursework that is appropriate and challenging for him or her as an individual. Every course is college-preparatory in nature, but the different classes allow students to be both challenged and successful in their learning.
A MEANINGFUL DAILY SCHEDULE
The thoughtfully designed daily schedule at Episcopal enhances programs, increases effectiveness in teaching and learning, and reduces stress. The schedule provides increased opportunities for learner-centered pedagogical instruction, collaboration, teacher accessibility, and advising.
The academic schedule is comprised of seven-course sections. Over a seven-day cycle, classes meet five times for 65-minute periods. Longer class periods allow for deeper investigation and exploration (Harkness, labs, learner-centered activities) of content with more time for discussion and reflection in class. Students will have the benefit of greater accessibility to teachers, breaks to allow for mental recharge, and the opportunity to learn to make good use of their time in a day with a manageable pace.
THE HARKNESS METHOD
The Harkness Method, used in many humanities classrooms, is an established and cherished way of instruction which fosters students’ curiosity, initiative, personal confidence and problem-solving. Students sit around a table and the teacher serves as a moderator for a lively discussion in which everyone participates. Students have equal opportunity to provide input and lead the class, allowing for healthy debate, discussion and meaningful homework.
Episcopal's endowed fund for Harkness teaching provides ongoing funds to ensure the effective integration of the Harkness method in Episcopal’s curriculum. The fund provides training, evaluation, and support for teachers using the Harkness method and helps to spread and maintain the culture of Harkness teaching.
"I am in my 26th year of teaching high school English in an independent college preparatory school context," says Bert Harrell, English Department Chair. "I was blessed with superb mentors whose approach was grounded in the best of both lecture and Socratic styles, and I developed my own blend of these approaches over the years, for the most part very pleased with the results.
However, my first encounter with the Harkness philosophy in 2014 proved to be revolutionary for me; Unlike the trends I had seen come and go over the years, Harkness drew me to the heart of the educational task: effective discourse. Sitting with students around a table with the unequivocal expectation that we will discuss material on which we have prepared has been rediscovering the teaching vocation all over again. Students doing the heavy lifting opening up material with and for each other proves over and over again to generate learning of a very different kind than lecture or Socratic approaches.
Lecture focused on me as the source; Harkness focuses on students collaborating as a process of thinking things through. Socratic method is always between teacher and student, even in a class with several students--the teacher is still the focus; Harkness is a whole array of voices, listening to each other and speaking to each other in a continuum that demands a high standard of decorum. Manners matter in Harkness; manners establish the possibility of high level discourse.
The first set of semester exams I read after trying Harkness full time proved to be a wonderful surprise. My students manifested a depth of mastery and ability to think with the material far beyond what they had done in previous years. Students reporting back on their college experiences are very clear that they are advanced in their ability to lead in classes to both generate and support substantive discussion. Our students have found that their writing also grows in new ways.
As one of my own Harkness mentors put it, 'A good session around the Harkness table is, in effect, the same process as writing an essay.' For me, this has been both energizing and productive. My students are so much better served than even my best work of years past."
Class sizes ensure students are known as individuals; this facilitates helping students learn how they learn best, as well as allowing us to recommend courses of study that are specific to a student’s particular strengths, interests, and goals.
AP AND HONORS CLASSES
Episcopal’s Honors and AP courses are for selected students with exceptional intellectual curiosity, intrinsic motivation, and advanced abstract thinking skills. Episcopal offers 23 Advanced Placement (AP) classes. Recommendations for Honors and AP classes are based on a combination of student achievement, personal responsibility and initiative, intellectual curiosity, and developmental maturity. Each year, placements are a departmental decision based on students' past performance, placement test results, and teacher recommendations. Recommendations are shared and discussed with the student and with his/her advisor and parents so that, together, we can arrive at the optimal level of challenge for each student.
As students develop as independent learners, there may be the need for academic support. It is essential for students at Episcopal School of Jacksonville to develop strong self-advocacy skills. Just as a coach serves as a mentor to his or her athletes, ESJ teachers and advisors also serve to guide students in seeking out the support they need to be successful. It is not uncommon to see seeking individualized and small-group help from their teachers; in fact, it is encouraged.
Individuals with learning differences who attend or seek to attend Episcopal School of Jacksonville will be supported with accommodations that are considered reasonable in this educational setting. In order to access these accommodations, a student must present documentation to Student Services that indicates a disability that substantially limits a major life activity, including learning.
Student Services has two full time Learning Specialists on staff to work with incoming and current students with diagnosed learning disabilities to coordinate accommodations and support with academic management. We ask all incoming families to contact the Student Services office within the first month of school in order to provide appropriate accommodations if needed.