Year 9 Critical Conversations Program 

With more than 125 years of experience nurturing and empowering young women, St Catherine’s School understands Year 9 is a critical point of self-discovery for many students. 

Our signature Year 9 program harnesses the interests and passions of our young women to enable a confident transition to their senior years of learning. A key element of our Year 9 offerings is our Critical Conversations  Program. This Program cultivates St Catherine’s Thinking Agenda across Year 9. 

What is Critical Conversations? 

Inspired by the Harkness approach our Critical Conversations Program is an alternative methodology of teaching and learning in which students lead critical conversations. The central purpose of the approach is to develop student capacity to use questioning and dialogue to direct their own learning. 

Critical Conversations in Action 

Harkness-inspired discussions revolve around students engaging in challenging aspects of Geography and History. Students read and prepare in advance of the discussions, including viewing videos, reading texts and interpreting graphics, maps and other data. 

Students then conduct the critical conversations, which are then mapped to monitor the balance of contributions.  


Benefits of the  Model 

 The advantages of our Critical Conversations Program for Year 9 Students includes: 

  • Places onus on students 
  • Requires independence and critical thinking 
  • Works through collaboration and constructive discussion 
  • Develops intellectual and social skills required of students 
  • Promotes confidence in contributing to rigorous discussions. 
Specialised Rooms 

Within St Catherine’s, our Harkness-inspired approach not only changes the classroom patterns of teaching and learning, but the architecture and design of the rooms. Class sizes are limited to 12, increasing the capacity of students to be confident in their contributions, and active and supportive listeners during discussions. 

St Catherine’s currently provides two specialised  rooms for the Critical Conversations Program. The focus of the room centres around the large, oval shaped ‘Harkness Tables’, replacing the standard student desks. 

To be successful in the Critical Conversations Program, you must be a good listener, a thinker, empathetic and articulate. Given all of these advantages, introducing this at Year 9 hopes to develop an open and academic thinking culture.