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!



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.

In August 2021, Amanda Denston from the University of Canterbury published a literature review for the NZ Ministry of Education. It was based on this research question:

What does the literature show to be the most effective, engaging, and equitable
speaking and listening approaches that effectively support learning and speaking and
listening demands across the curriculum along the whole learning pathway

The result is a fascinating read, which pulls together a lot of literature from different approaches within a specifically NZ context. And yes – Dramatic Inquiry (including Mantle of the Expert) is specifically profiled towards the end of the review. Check it out here:

For those in our community who are doing teacher inquiry, studying for Masters, PhDs or writing academic articles around Dramatic Inquiry, I hope you can see how your scholarship makes a real difference? When the Ministry conducts literature reviews like these, the evidence of your research is gathered to inform policy and you help to shape the future direction of education. Be proud!

With thanks to Pauline Maclean for drawing this lit review to my attention.

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.

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.

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

These slides are from Renee Downey’s presentation at Drama New Zealand conference in Christchurch, April 14th 2019, with findings from her Masters research. Renee wanted to know whether students from her class (who had experienced 4 years of learning through Mantle of the Expert) felt prepared for inquiry learning at Intermediate. So, she interviewed them, their teachers and another control group of students who had not experienced drama at primary. Findings are presented here, along with quotes from the students.

This research is an important contribution to the field, offering data to assist teachers and school leaders and reassure parents. We really need more research like this looking at long term impacts of dramatic inquiry

Kia Ora Renee … Hope you will write this one up for publication before long!?

These slides – presented at the Drama New Zealand conference in Christchurch on 14th April, 2019 – reveal exciting new findings from a two year research project exploring dramatic inquiry and culturally responsive pedagogy in a Northland primary school.

Here’s a quick guide to what’s inside:

Slides 1-10 provide background information about the school and research team (names are shared with consent)

Slides 11-16 give findings from the teachers’ TLIF inquiry including this gorgeous poster / metaphor encapsulating the teacher’s understandings of culturally responsive teaching within Mantle of the Expert at their school.

Slides 17-20 give findings from data analysed in a larger research project. These include THIRTY FIVE benefits for students’ writing mentioned by teachers, and more than FIFTY other benefits observed in the key competencies. Non-confirming and surprise findings are also listed.

Slide 21 shows the huge list of new things the teachers tried in the 2 years of the project.

Slides 22-24 discuss implications and possibilities for future research as well as listing references.

You are welcome to share this information but please acknowledge the original authors.

We will be writing up findings for publication in a peer reviewed journal shortly.