It’s been so rewarding to see the positive responses to this new resource from teachers in Aotearoa and around the world.

They are selling like hot cakes … around 200 copies so far – and that’s before we have officially launched in the UK!

Try This … is not strictly speaking a book about Mantle of the Expert, though quite a few teachers I know are using it to plan the activities within a Mantle. It’s useful for all kinds of Dramatic Inquiry in all kinds of settings.

To support teachers with planning and exploring the keys, Tim and I will be hosting a series of monthly meetings over zoom, looking at the keys one by one. These will start in October. Invitations are going out to everyone who has purchased or ordered a copy of the book by then. So, head to  to order yours and join the fun!



Try This – New Dramatic Inquiry resource for teachers

I’m proud and excited to tell you about a new book I’ve just finished writing with Tim Taylor. Try This … is published by Singular Publishing UK. It has fabulous illustrations by Virginia Warbrick and expert input on local history from Warren Warbrick and Virginia Warbrick: THEN – histories of Pāmutana.

Put simply, Try This … is a set of forty flexible sequences, or ‘keys’ that can be adapted for lots of different contexts. It’s a really practical handbook. For those new to Dramatic Inquiry it’s a gentle introduction. For those with more experience, it provides ways to refresh and deepen your practice.

We asked teachers from all round the world to trial the keys in Try This … See the end of this post to read some of their feedback. Colleagues in Aotearoa have found the keys especially helpful when planning to meet the requirements of the new Aotearoa New Zealand Histories curriculum.

Each key in Try This … is illustrated with two examples – one from the UK and one from Aotearoa New Zealand. You can use these as a guide and adapt to your own content. With tips on planning and emotional and cultural safety, you’ll have all you need to create hundreds of hours of quality planning using Dramatic Inquiry in your classroom.

Try This … is currently with the printers and will be available for purchase in just a few weeks’ time – watch this space! Tim and I will officially launch it during a North Island workshop tour in July (more about that in a separate post). We’re also developing a dedicated website featuring support material, videos, and a space for teachers to share planning ideas

Email for a free sample key to trial in your classroom, or pre-order your copy of Try This

What teachers are saying about Try This – New Dramatic Inquiry resource for Teachers

I am really enjoying this new book by Rosemary Hipkins from NZCER, which explores the kind of complex systems thinking students need for success in the twenty-first century.

Many will be familiar with Hipkins’ scholarly work on key competencies, science education, assessment, and curriculum integration. She’s a super smart thinker herself (and yes, she’s also Minister of Education Chris Hipkins’ mum!)

In this volume, Hipkins suggests that we need education that prepares young people to grapple with complexity or the ‘wicked problems’ of the world. As well as being able to model and predict, she says, students need to learn to apply “It Depends” thinking. We need to teach them that humans are part of systems that can change in unpredictable ways – and we need to teach them using approaches that are authentic, engaging, and cross-curricula.

The notion of complex systems thinking is fascinating and my own head is popping with all the ideas, insights and practical examples included in the book. I particularly love the stuff about assessment – I feel like this is information I’ve been looking for for a long time. And it’s very gratifying to note that Hipkins specifically mentions Mantle of the Expert as a pedagogy that ‘brings thinking and sensing together'(page 80).

I have the feeling I’ll be returning to this book many times as I continue to muse about ‘complex systems thinking’ and how we can support this in our teaching.

This significant new textbook on drama education research includes several chapters about Mantle of the Expert (and other Dramatic Inquiry approaches) written by teachers and academics from Aotearoa. Great to get this kind of international recognition for our local mahi. Check out the contents page at this link.

Scholarly texts like this tend to be on the pricey side but if you know someone who’d like to purchase a copy, there’s a discount voucher attached. Thanks to editors Mary McAvory & Peter O’Connor.

I am chuffed to report that since its launch in April, sales of my book have been going really well. NZCER tell me they have almost sold out of the first print run. You can still order a copy from them here.

There’s also an e-book version available for Kindle. It can be purchased on Amazon here.

I also have a small number of the hard copy books available if you’d prefer to buy from me (I’ll even include a friendly message inscribed in the cover!) Cost is $50 payable to the publishers plus $10 payable to me to cover postage. Email and I’ll send out to you the same day.

This new book by Viv Aitken, is available from NZCER from 14th April 2021

Drawing on a decade of classroom practice, research and professional development, the book will be of interest to teachers and researchers around the world. However, it is written specifically with the local education context in mind, with references to the New Zealand curriculum, and familiar metaphors of weaving used throughout.

Viv explains that the book’s title emerged from a classroom conversation:

‘A few years ago I was teaching a Mantle of the Expert experience to a class of 9-year olds. One of the children asked whether what we were doing was real or made up and I replied, “we’re creating a story together using imagination”. The child seemed satisfied with this clarification. Just then another boy in the class spoke up:  “It’s real” he said quietly and emphatically, “in all the ways that matter.” His words capture the depth and complexity of Mantle of the Expert so perfectly I could think of no better title for this book.’

The text is wide ranging, including chapters on the history and development of Mantle of the Expert, the steps required to plan and implement a Mantle of the Expert experience, tools for enhancing teaching, tips and advice for getting started, and a section on why Mantle of the Expert is such a good fit for the goals of twenty-first century education.

Real in all the ways that matter has received very positive comments from reviewers, including this from Prof Brian Edmiston (Ohio State)

“Open this book to discover why and how you can transform your classroom with the Mantle of the Expert approach to dramatic inquiry. The theoretical sections and the descriptions of practice are as carefully created, presented, and engaging as Viv’s masterful teaching. Inquire, savor, and then share this gem with your teaching colleagues.”

Copies of Real in all the ways that matter can be ordered from NZCER at this link. Cost is $55.00 NZ

Thanks to the editors for permission to share this article: Real Learning in Imagined Worlds: Supporting Literacy Learning with Dramatic Inquiry, recently published in Literacy Forum: the journal of the New Zealand Literacy Association. Here’s a link to their website where you can find out more about this publication and the work of the Association.

The article gives an introduction to the dramatic inquiry spectrum – which includes Mantle of the Expert as well as child-structured dramatic play, process drama, and drama for learning – and discusses how each approach can support literacy learning.

I especially like the way the article includes quotes and examples from real teachers in real classrooms. Thank you to colleagues from Hillcrest Normal and Knighton Normal Schools for contributing these. Identities have been changed for privacy reasons, but I’m sure those involved will recognise themselves and their words!

At the end of the article there’s some planning for a simple process drama with play elements, written for New Entrants by myself and Keirryn Hintz in 2019. It is based on the big book “Monster’s Lunch” by Janice Marriott, illustrated by Scott Pearson (images used with permission).

Viv Aitken December 2020

Here’s a story I only just spotted from the GUARDIAN in 2013. Great advocacy from a teacher in the UK who discovered Mantle of the Expert (which she calls Imaginative Inquiry) and now uses it regularly in her junior classroom. I particularly like how Jenny links Mantle of the Expert to Philosophy for children and dialogic pedagogy. The story was written by Emily Drabble and first published Sun 7 Jul 2013 07.00 BST Click here for link to the original story.

After drifting through her first few years of teaching, Jenny Lewis was put on an inspiring professional development programme that sparked a passion for creative approaches to learning

Jenny Lewis
 Imaginative inquiry: speaking and listening skills have gone through the roof since Jenny Lewis introduced an imaginary world of learning to her pupils. Photograph: Jenny Lewis

Both my parents were teachers and they advised me not to go into teaching. I did a degree in English literature at Goldsmiths University then worked for a few years in shops and offices. I didn’t really have a clue what I was doing. Then I decided to do a PGCE at Goldsmiths, not because I had any burning ambition – just because I wanted a career. I worked in two inner city schools in London, first South Haringay Infants school then Allen Edwards primary school. I loved the kids and the challenge and of course teaching is always more than a job, but I didn’t have a clear vision about what learning should be about or what I believed teaching was.

I moved to Oxford and got a job in another inner city multicultural school called East Oxford First school. It was here I started finding myself as a teacher. I had a fantastic head and we had challenging children from complex social circumstances. We had to work so closely with families as many of them were refugees and travellers – and we needed to create a really nurturing environment and our biggest drive was to help children be receptive to learning even with such complicated home lives. I became part of the leadership team and I started to get more emotionally involved with teaching.

But it was when I moved to Norwich that everything really started to change for me. I started teaching at Avenue First School which is now part of Recreation Road primary. Our head Serena Dixon is incredible and she’s changed my life in so many ways. She finds and nurtures talent in people and I can’t overstate the massive impact she has had on me as a person and a teacher. It was really at this point that I began to learn a lot more about pedagogy, about how children learn and think, rather than just delivering the curriculum.

At that time Norfolk Education Authority had this incredible programme: Thinking Schools, Thinking Children. Serena Dixon was really keen to get involved and it was the start of a really inspirational few years that Norfolk schools are still benefitting from today.

The real revelations were using philosophy and drama for learning. We got to hear amazing inspirational speakers including Barry Hymer and Sir John Jones – speakers who have had a real impact on education and made me think about what learning is about. So suddenly all this opened up to me.

The best thing about the programme for me was that it was based on action research so we would go back and try things out in our classes, it was a really reflective process.

We found that using philosophy for children (P4C) and creating a dialogic classroom was right for our school. Robin Alexander from Cambridge University taught me so much about using talk in the classroom and creating a real co-constructed learning environment – so instead of a teacher imparting knowledge by asking questions it’s more about being a facilitator in the classroom and getting high-level dialogue and a higher-order of conversation.

Then in 2004 I went to hear a speaker called Luke Abbott talk about imaginative inquiry. I was completely intrigued by what he had to say about the Mantle of the Expert (MoE) pedagogy, a drama-based learning where the children learn in an imaginary world in role. That was the day that my teaching life took an incredible turn.

It seemed such an exciting way for me to move forward as a practitioner so I was thrilled to become part of a project that trained me in the use of MoE. Since then I have worked with a group of colleagues who have become a committed and transforming support group and who are still helping me to refine and improve my practice and understanding of the approach.

I have run a series of long term MoE contexts with my classes, while developing imaginative-inquiry as a pedagogic approach that we use throughout the school.

My current year 2 children are a group of curators creating a museum about a workhouse. We have co-created the story of the Baxter family who entered the workhouse in 1835. As museum creators in 2013 we examine these fictional historical documents to piece together information. We co-create the whole world and the class’ job to go in and turn the classroom into a museum. They partly work in the present and partly in the 19th century in a process (rather than a performance) drama.

We spend around half our time in school fully in role. It’s a very deep way of working. You can cover most of the curriculum within the imaginary world.

The children absolutely love it and speaking and listening skills go through the roof. Because the world is co-created and the pupils lead the story they have a huge ownership of it. They have so many ideas and have a really big say over their learning. Children come in with ideas and as a teacher you weave them into the drama. When you start there’s a lot of learn, it’s a complex pedagogy.

Now we use MoE across the school, as well as the forest school approach and P4C. There is nothing fluffy about it. We are an Ofsted outstanding school. Our data holds up, we have strong academic achievement.

Working like this takes a lot of time, you aren’t dusting down old plans, you’re being constantly creative. But it’s such a lot of fun. I compare it to being in an amazing film. We all become very emotional at this time of year when the film is about to end, it’s really hard to say goodbye to these year long projects.

Thanks to Jenny for sharing these Fictional historical documents which are part of her year 2 class’s MoE co-created story of the Baxter family who entered the workhouse in 1835.

Jenny Lewis teachers at Recreation Road Infant school in Norwich. Jenny is also involved in training and supporting other teachers in Norfolk and beyond.


Here’s something I’ve been working on for some time with input from teachers and colleagues in NZ and beyond. It’s a work in progress that I’m updating and improving as more people contribute their ideas … I’d love to get your thoughts, suggestions and refinements and I can add your name to the long list of acknowledgements…!

The document is an attempt to offer answers to some of the most common questions asked by people who want to understand Mantle of the Expert, especially those wanting to use it across the whole school: “What does it look like in my context?” “How does it relate to other drama in education approaches?” and “What’s the fit with development?”

There’s a diagram on the first page, then a sort of table with definitions and examples. Not perfect, but so far people seem to be finding it pretty useful. Check it out at the link below, and let me know what you think.

Some time ago I was invited to write a chapter for a book on University-school partnerships. I had never really thought of our activities as being worthy of academic attention, but I was tickled to be asked and I wrote the chapter – with help from a bunch of other people including Delia Baskerville, Renee Downey, Stephen Hall, Jon Jenner, Robin Kermode, Jodie Moore, Sophie Stevenson, Gaenor Stoate and Carrie Swanson…

After quite a few delays, the book finally came out in October last year. I’ve been given permission to share our chapter on this website… and you’ll find it here . Big thanks to those who helped with comments and input.

P.S. I nearly called the chapter “It’s not what we’re teaching, it’s how we’re teaching!” which was a bit of a catchphrase for the ‘Mantle Underground’ in the early days… but as you’ll see I went with something a bit more conventional in the end. Enjoy!