I’m delighted to share the link to the new site for The Dramatic Inquiry Aotearoa Network Trust (DI Trust). It’s great for the DI community in Aotearoa to have this new ‘landing space’ and expression of our identity as a Network of Expertise (NEX)

Right now the site has information about DI as well as who’s involved in the Trust, and the various rito / projects the Trust is running supported with NEX funding. In time, you’ll see lots of free planning and resources related to Dramatic play, Process drama and Mantle of the Expert.

If you are a New Zealand kaiako with an interest in DI please visit the site and subscribe.

The new website will be your central hub for information, announcements and updates related to Trust matters, including Cluster Meetings, and NEX-funded projects.

Meantime, this Mantle of the Expert Aotearoa website will continue as a space for sharing professional reflections, planning, research etc that fall outside the umbrella of the Trust.

Thanks to those who have contributed to the development of the new site – look forward to seeing it grow and evolve.

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.

Very excited to share information about this year’s Winter School in Mantle of the Expert to be held in July in Hamilton. This year, for the first time, there will be TWO courses available to choose from – one on the foundations of Mantle of the Expert, with an introduction to planning and the other on effective teaching strategies, with further planning and assessment ideas.

This is a great opportunity whether you’ve been looking for ways to get started with Mantle of the Expert, or you want to deepen your existing knowledge.

Content will be tailored for participants, with options for all levels. And the enrolment fee is very reasonable, thanks to support from Ministry of Education Networks of Expertise (NEX) funding.

In response to feedback from last year, we’ve extended the offering to two full days (12th and 13th July) with a social gathering on the evening prior (11th July).

It’s wonderful to have another face to face gathering to look forward to- it’s been so long! Big thanks to hosts and organisers Whakarongo Tauranga and Nicole Antoniadis. All the details are in the flyer below – or if you want to go straight to the registration form, click here .

The DI Network Aotearoa has used some of its Networks of Expertise (NEX) funding to set up a new website, to be launched soon. Here’s a glimpse of the cover page (still in development).

The new site will be dedicated to the work of the DI Trust including NEX funded projects. It will include: information about Dramatic Inquiry, details on cluster meetings, and a range of free resources to support teaching in dramatic play, process drama, drama for learning and Mantle of the Expert. It will also provide links to the best national and international material on all aspects of DI including Commission Model, and Rolling role.

I’ll let you know when the site is launched and I hope you will subscribe. It’s very exciting to see things within NZ evolve to the point where a site like this is needed. It’s great to know that we’ll soon have a platform to represent the whole spectrum of approaches our community is passionate about.

To be clear Mantle of the Expert Aotearoa is not going away … after discussing different options with the website development team and others on the Trust, I definitely want to carry on with this site – which has been a labour of love since 2009. The focus here has always been on Mantle of the Expert, and there’s benefit to maintaining a dedicated space for this. You might see something of a shift towards posts written in my personal voice (like this one!) since I’ll no longer be posting on behalf of the wider DI community. I’m looking forward to sharing my own reflections, learning stories, and tips. And I hope you’ll enter into dialogue through the comments.

Along with the new website, the DI Trust has developed a social media strategy so you should see more ‘action’ on the Facebook pages associated with the DI / Mantle of the Expert community in New Zealand. Personally I have left Facebook so have asked the DI Trust to “rebrand” the Mantle of the Expert Aotearoa facebook page and reinvent it for use by the wider the DI Trust community. I also encourage you to check out the Drama NZ site as there are rich process drama resources there too.

Exciting times! I hope subscribers to this site will stay connected and also take these new opportunities as they arise.

Posted by Viv Aitken 23.2.22

Yr 1 children at HNS play ‘hairdressers’

Over the last three years I’ve had the privilege of working closely with Hillcrest Normal School in Kirikiriroa Hamilton. The whole staff has explored Dramatic Inquiry in its various forms and the school now has DI embedded into its local curriculum. Our work together resulted in a number of awesome outcomes one of which I’d like to share in this post.

Guided by their team leader, Trace May, members of the junior team undertook a collective inquiry into dramatic play in their NE and year 1 classrooms, beginning with a definition of assessment as “celebrating that which is most of value”. The inquiry included trialling a number of different tools for observing children’s play, including Broadhead’s Social Play Continuum.

With the permission of the school, I’m sharing the report that was shared with the School’s Board of Trustees. I think it’ll be of particular interest to colleagues investigating play as part of the Dramatic Inquiry spectrum.

The report identifies various next steps for this team and I’m sure they would agree that another important focus for future inquiry is how to ensure assessments are culturally sustaining within the bicultural context of Aotearoa New Zealand. The mahi continues!

Collaborative inquiry into supporting and assessing dramatic play 2021

Yr 1 team & Dr Viv Aitken

The Year One team has been providing a Learning through Play environment for the last four years. Our goal in Learning through Play is to help develop the social and emotional skills of children as this then aids them in coping in other learning areas as well. Observations of children have been part of the teaching and planning during this time. In 2021, the team was asked to be a part of a collaborative inquiry to explore Learning through Play (with a particular focus on dramatic play). Two key guiding questions for the inquiry were: What can I as a teacher do and say to support children’s learning during the play? How can we assess / celebrate children’s learning in meaningful ways?

Through PLD with Dr Viv Aitken we learned about the Broadhead Social Play continuum that travels from the Associative Domain (where a child will watch and not engage in play with others), through the Social Domain (where a child starts to interact with others), to the Highly Social Domain and the Co-operative Domain (where children co-create play together). We also learned about theories of play and the importance of dramatic play for literacy and academic and social development. 

During the inquiry the team trialled new planning techniques to introduce dramatic play into other areas of play. We also used a range of new teaching techniques and conducted trials of different observation formats including Broadhead’s Social continuum (P. Broadhead, 2003). Teachers were supported with ongoing PLD support, one meeting per term for reflective conversations and sharing back and with weekly 1:1 coaching sessions.

We trialled the Social Play continuum assessment tool with target children identified as having difficulties joining with other children to play.  One child from each of the 5 classes was chosen for focussed observation. There was a mix of two girls and three boys with a range of ethnicities from Maaori, European, African, and Indian.  The ages of the children were between 5 and half and 6. 

Data was generated on these children’s progress using the social play continuum. Case studies were then produced, which provided evidence of progress over time. An example of a case study can be found at this link. As well as providing individualised assessment information, the case studies were collated to give a sense of how this group has progressed over the year. Here is a summary:

  • Children accepted the teacher’s offers. 
  • Target children were assessed as being mainly in the Associative Domain at the start of the year.
  • All children had traits of being on the outside of social play at the beginning of the year.  
  • All children were often non-verbal within play and seemed to lack the communication skills to interact with their peers.  
  • All were better at verbally interacting with their teacher by the end of the year.
  • Significant teacher support was required to help these children become more confident in their interactions
  • 4 out of the 5 children were able to consolidate their skills within the Social Domain.
  • One child started to make progress and wanted to join his peers but due to his aggressive behaviour the other children would not let him join.

Other data for the wider inquiry included photographs of all children’s play, teacher notes of professional conversations during PLD sessions and team meetings, and learning Snapshots shared on padlet (online collaborative scrapbook).

As well as providing new assessment data for target children, the inquiry resulted in many rich themes and findings. There is insufficient space to go into full detail here (a slide show is being prepared to share at a professional conference). Benefits for children included high engagement, increased skills in interacting and improvising with their peers, and improved oral language. Benefits for teachers included new learnings for their teaching and new ways of approaching assessment. 

Our recommendations include 

  • Continue written observations using Broadhead’s social continuum and other observation methods
  • Continue case studies approach for focussed tracking of  target children 
  • Keep going with padlet ‘snapshots’ for sharing with colleagues 
  • Explore ways of reporting progress to parents, children, and other teachers (written reports? Sharing padlets? Case studies?)
  • Maintain the regular coaching sessions for staff
  • Continue to set aside time during team meetings for reflections, professional readings
  • Ensure ongoing professional learning for this group – and induction of new team members

Afterword (from Viv A): The year 1 team under the leadership of Trace May, showed great commitment to this inquiry – continuing to give their time and energy even with the extraordinary challenges of this year and its various Covid disruptions. I commend them on their professionalism, energy, insight and effort as teachers. I truly think the results of this ako are cutting edge and the new tools and approaches developed will be of great interest to others in the field. I would definitely encourage them to present this work at regional and national professional conferences etc. Kia Ora.

It was such a rich experience working with Hillcrest Normal School on this inquiry and our wider Professional Learning – funded by Ministry of Education. Big thanks to Trace, the NE and year 1 teachers, to Gay Gilbert (recently retired dynamic DP) Marie (Principal) and everyone else involved.

Illustration by Carly Schulman from a story in The Daily Northwester called “Okay Zoomer: How to use Zoom”

Cluster hui are friendly, low key gatherings for teachers interested in Mantle of the Expert and other Dramatic Inquiry approaches. They are hosted by fellow teachers with experience and passion for DI. Whether you’re a complete beginner or an experienced practitioner, clusters are a great opportunity to meet like-minded folk and gain some informal PLD. All welcome…

Usually cluster hui are held face to face but with Covid restrictions this term’s hui are being held over zoom (zui). Cluster leaders have put lots of thought into how to get the most out of this form of connection, and we think you’ll really enjoy the sessions.

For information about cluster zui for term 1 in your region, click here.

Apologies to Waikato colleagues as this post comes a little late – your term one gathering was held today! Please let us know if you’d like to attend the next one and we will make sure you get the information.

Last year saw new clusters opening up in Taranaki, Gisborne and Manawatu, while established groups continue in Northland, Auckland, Waikato. We’d love to start groups in other regions, including the South island colleagues. We are also holding space for a dedicated cluster hui for Māori colleagues. The DI Network Aotearoa Trust has Ministry funding to support these initiatives, so please get in touch if you’d be interested in joining – or running a new group!

On Sunday 10th October, eight members of our NZ Dramatic Inquiry community enjoyed the opportunity to link up over zoom with presenters at the ‘Heathcote now’ conference in the UK. It was really great to have this exchange, which allowed us to mark the 10th anniversary of Heathcote’s passing.

Those around the table at the UK end included David Allen, Brian Edmiston, Tim Taylor, Cecily O’Neill, Iona Towler-Evans, and Dorothy Heathcote’s daughter Marianne. On the New Zealand side, Viv Aitken and Whakarongo spoke on behalf of the group.

The occasion began with karakia and a few memories of Dorothy. These were touching stories indeed, mostly focussed on Heathcote’s humanity and generosity towards others. Next, we heard about the themes emerging from the UK conference – including some of the exciting work on the Heathcote archive.

Whakarongo and Viv spoke about developments in Aotearoa New Zealand, including the metaphor of the harakeke that underpins our approach to governance.

The meeting wrapped up with the blessing of a tōtara seedling. This was one of twenty trees to be planted later that day to honour the occasion.

Here are Whakarongo’s reflections:

I absolutely loved our kōrero (conversation) this morning. I am so grateful for the incredible opportunity we had to share our whakaaro (thoughts/ideas). It was such an honour and a privilege to hear the voices of our UK colleagues as they shared stories of aroha (love), manaakitanga (compassion, care and respect for others) and humour about Dorothy. I felt the wairua (spiritual connection) and was so moved listening to these stories. The thing that struck me the most was the sense of whakapapa – the connection between the people in the room to Dorothy and ultimately her connection to her community and Papatūānuku (Earth mother) through her love of nature and gardening. I can think of no better way to honour her legacy than to plant these magnificent tōtara trees in Aotearoa.
Thank you all for sharing your hearts and passion with us. We are truly blessed. Ngā mihi nui ki a koutou katoa.

The first AGM of the Dramatic Inquiry Network Aotearoa Trust was held on Sunday 10th October 2021. The meeting took place over zoom immediately after our link up to the UK ‘Heathcote now’ conference, and those who had been in the previous meeting arrived at the AGM already buzzy and excited.

Viv A read a report from the Joint Chairs – celebrating the many achievements of 2021 as well as the frustrations and challenges we’ve experienced due to Covid. Then there was financial report from our financial officer, Carrie, who has done an amazing job getting her head around the financial requirements associated with handling Ministry money!

Trust positions for 2022 were confirmed, with Viv Aitken, Whakarongo Tauranga, Renee Downey and Carrie Swanson continuing in their awhi rito (Board) roles. These people have worked their socks off in 2021 and it’s great to know this mahi is continuing. It was also encouraging to see the number of people who indicated they would be keen to step into awhi rito positions in future.

The next phase of the meeting was structured to allow for active, reflective listening and several members of the community took the opportunity for five minutes’ uninterrupted reflection on their experiences. Others had offered feedback and reflections in written form and these were summarised and shared.

The meeting ended with a review of our Trust’s vision and five year goals. We agreed it’s important to hold a gathering early next year (or as soon as Covid permits) to allow us to celebrate our achievements, and to strategise next steps.

When Covid interrupted our planned DI Symposium for October 2021, the organising team initially hoped to reschedule for January. However, the dates were not available, and Covid has continued to spread. So, we are rain checking the event until the October school holidays in 2022 – hopefully back at beautiful Whāngārā.

We are really sorry that we weren’t able to make this event happen, after so much hard work, dedication and generosity from everyone involved. Huge thanks are due to the organising team and all the presenters for all the work preparing the event and creating an incredible range of presentations, workshops, hikoi, stories and other special moments. Here’s the schedule, so you can see what I mean (NB some blurbs and biographies not complete)

We really look forward to a future where we come through the current uncertainties with Covid. We hope our wonderful presenters will just as keen to present next year – they are definitely all invited! Our keynotes have already recommitted, which is fantastic…

In the meantime, the Dramatic Inquiry Network Trust is determined to offer lots of exciting PLD and networking opportunities to keep us inspired and keep the magic of DI alive. By October 2022 when we finally do come together, there will be even more stories to tell!