Archive | Teaching tips

Planning for Mantle of the Expert in an Icelandic primary school – part 1

I’ve been having some really enjoyable conversations with Hākon Saeberg who teaches year 4 students in Iceland. Hākon has been using Mantle of the Expert for the last few years and recently completed his Masters on the approach. You are invited to listen in as we nut out the planning for his next adventure which will explore social studies topics from the National Curriculum. Thanks, Hākon for helping me share this record of our dialogue…

Next instalment coming soon…

Viv: Hi Hākon, would you like to introduce yourself and tell us a bit about the class you are planning for.

Hākon: I am a teacher at one of the largest primary schools in Reykjavik, Iceland. Currently, I teach a year 4 class of 45 students in a team with two other teachers. Mantle of the Expert is not widely used in Iceland, but I try to use as much as I can in my teaching. I have taught this same class for two years now so the students, as well as my colleagues, are familiar with Mantle of the Expert.

Viv: You mentioned that you were keen to plan a Mantle of the Expert where the children would ‘build a society’ What gave you that idea? You also mentioned you’d prefer to set it in contemporary times, rather than make it historical. Can you explain more about that?

Hākon: In the school where I teach, teachers are required to follow a school curriculum where they are required to teach certain things at certain times. At the beginning of the school year I was looking at the agenda for year 4 students which includes, among other things, map-reading/map-making, religion, government and culture.

As I am required to teach these things to my students, I started thinking how they could be incorporated into a Mantle of the Expert. Government, religion and culture all play a vital role in society, so I thought that building a society would give my students interesting opportunities to think about and discuss these terms, what they mean and the roles they play in their own lives.

The reason I would like it to be set in modern times is twofold. The first reason is I think that by placing the Mantle in modern times gives the students better opportunities to connect what they are learning to their personal lives. For example, I would like them to be able to think about their own values and preferences as of today while establishing a culture for their society, as opposed to them trying to imitate the culture of people a long time ago. The second reason is that I have already planned a Mantle around the settlement of Iceland which will take place next spring, and I don’t want to make them too similar.

Viv: In Iceland, unlike NZ, you have a prescribed syllabus of certain ‘content’ you must teach at certain levels, is that right? Do you find that makes it easier or harder to use Mantle of the Expert?

Hākon: Overall, I think it makes it harder. Prescribed content can inspire an idea for how to plan a Mantle, as was the case for the society building, but since Mantle of the Expert is a highly creative approach to teaching and learning I feel like any obligations and/or restrictions mostly work against it.

Viv: And you have standardised tests as well? How does teaching in Mantle of the Expert fit with preparing for these?

Hākon: Not at all to be honest. My year 4 class is at the moment preparing for a big standardised test in the end of september and I wouldn’t think using Mantle of the Expert to prepare them. A lot of the time that is spent preparing the students just goes towards showing them how a standardised test is conducted, which would make for an uninteresting mantle. Then there is the matter of standardised tests and Mantle of the Expert being almost polar opposites. Standardised tests measure if you know the answer to a specific question at a specific time while Mantle of the Expert does not look for specific answers but challenges students to make up creative solutions to open problems. It’s like water and oil, they don’t mix.

Viv: OK, so if we want to create a Mantle of the Expert experience where children are building a new society, the first question we might ask ourselves is ‘who does this kind of thing in the real world?’ …. One idea that springs to mind is space exploration.

Hākon: That was my first idea too! Students would take on the role of colonizers on a distant planet, establishing a new society. However I have some concerns about that idea.

Viv: Space exploration is a logical idea because space is the one place where we are still finding new territory. At the same time, it’s an idea with a strong popular culture association. Real space travel is serious business, but most of us have mostly encountered the idea through movies and science fiction, therefore you’d need to be careful to be clear on whether things that belong in popular culture versions of space travel were allowed in to your imagined world.

Hākon: I agree. My biggest concern about the mantle taking place in space would be that the focus might too easily shift away from society-building to space exploration, since it’s more exciting. Also, I’ve previously done a space mantle with the same class which focused on the solar system and I think they might have a hard time separating the two.

Viv: Another idea might be a society that has to relocate and rebuild in a new place. This reminds me of the real-life example of the island community of Kiribati, which is experiencing the effects of sea rise. The government of Kirabati is planning ‘relocation with dignity’, which includes buying up land in other countries and creating a new home for themselves.

Perhaps your commission could spring from something like that?

Hākon: This sounds interesting. I can’t say I’m familiar with Kiribati’s situation, but it could work. It would make for a dramatic context with a real-world connection.

Viv: I do think it would be important to ensure you fictionalised the context by creating a parallel imaginary setting, perhaps a fictional island community nearer to your home in Iceland… there’s something dodgy about using a real-world issue, or real names for Mantle of the Expert – especially from another cultural context. However respectful our intentions, one is bound to oversimplify and misrepresent. At the same time, it could be very interesting to finish your Mantle with reference to the places in the world where this is happening for real and encourage participants to think about the realities of that… and consider the real-world actions that are needed (which may be very different to the ones you carried out in your mantle!)

Hākon: Yes! If the students were given a chance to immerse themselves in the lives of the people on the fictional island and the changes they have to undertake, then drawing a real-world connection in the end could be really powerful.

Viv: Another question is how you want to frame the participants. Another way of putting this is to ask what their point of view will be. Do you want participants to be ‘puppet master’ type figures, arranging the details of this world, setting up the culture, observing and overseeing and guiding change? This is the sort of stance we might use in a rolling role approach. Or do you want them to be right IN the situation, going through it for themselves? This would be more like drama for learning. Or, do you want to use the ‘expert team’ perspective to create a collective concern – which is what Mantle aims to do… That would mean having a team of people with a particular ‘take’ on the situation. For example, if they were map makers, then their concern would be to accurately plot the layout of the new society. Or If they were city planners, they would be focused on planning for the needs of the citizenry. Or if they were counsellors, then their concern would be to advise the people setting up the new society on how to cope and how to make the new society work at a human level.

I think any of these approaches could work and all could involve understanding the aspects you have talked about (government, social systems, culture etc) but with a different frame of concern, or point of view. And there are loads of other possibilities. You can use Heathcote’s list of possible enterprises to help you choose.Of course, none of these is absolutely fixed… When using Mantle of the Expert you can still employ ‘drama for learning’ to take on the role of people in the situation… but your overarching concern would be whatever your group identity is.

Hākon: I think you are right. I feel like I might go with a mixed approach, where the students take on a role of an expert team or puppet masters tasked with overseeing the actions needed for rebuilding the society, while also using drama for learning to examine the emotions that the island inhabitants are experiencing…I am getting all excited, I really like this idea!

Viv: Fantastic – thanks Hākon. Good luck with the next stage of planning and we’ll talk again soon.

 

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Drama and maths with new entrants

This video from D4LC (Drama for learning and creativity – a UK-based initiative by Patrice Baldwin) shows classroom teacher Terri English using teacher-in-role to teach maths with her class of new entrants.

While not a full-blown mantle, the video provides a really useful illustration of ‘mantle-esque’ aspects of drama (taking a low status role and asking students for help, introducing a fictional context for learning, using tensions and conventions). A great model lesson to try, especially for student teachers and those taking their first steps into using teacher-in-role.

[Just a couple of things to consider: Terri operates in shadow role and pretends she found a letter in the real world – given my recent post about clear signalling, I’d probably advocate being clearer from the start that Chef Jeff is an imagined character. Also, while the other teachers clearly enjoyed donning their chef outfits, it’s not necessary to hire any special costume to teach in role.]

 

Thanks to Terri and Patrice for a great resource… we need more like this!

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Six tips for teaching in role.

A little while ago I shared a post with suggestions on how to introduce children to a teacher in role for the first time. Here’s the promised follow up – six tips for teaching in role. This includes advice on what seems to be many teachers’ greatest fear – what to do when children resist, or reject the teacher in role.

Tip 1 – assume the best. In my experience, children challenge a teacher in role very rarely – much less often than teachers fear they will! So the first piece of advice is not to use your fears as a reason to write off teacher in role as ‘not for me’ or ‘not for this class’. You may be surprised how readily children are prepared to ‘buy in’. And if you don’t try, you’ll never know!

Tip 2 – give it time. Don’t dismiss the approach if children don’t ‘get it’ first time. As with any other new set of skills you ask children to adopt to help their learning (using a new digital device, for example), you need to be prepared to give them time to become familiar  with it. It gets easier with practice!

Tip 3 – explain the rules of the game. Using the three step transition into role will set you and the children up for success. By explaining the rules of the game you make it more likely that children will get on with the game rather than focussing on working out what the rules are – what’s real, what’s not and so on. Often it’s this ‘figuring out’ process that can be disruptive.

Tip 4 – pull out don’t push on. If you’ve clearly signalled the role, you are protected by the ability to transition OUT of role at any time. It doesn’t mean you have ‘failed’. This is not a naturalistic theatre performance where you are on stage and must stay in character. There is no pressure to ensure ‘the show must go on’ in that sense. Rather, it’s a feature of process drama and mantle that the fiction stops and starts. Participants spend more time OUT of role than in it… So, if a child responds to your transition into role by saying “you’re not really a police officer.” DON’T reply “Oh yes I am!” unless you want a power struggle or a chorus of “Oh no you’re not” like an old fashioned panto…! Instead, step out of role for a discussion (see below). This ability to step between the worlds of the fiction and the classroom, renegotiate and revisit is all part of the approach.

Tip 5 – get past the giggles. Children will often respond with giggles or laughter when they experience teacher in role for the first time. This is a natural response to something strange and new. How you respond to giggles is a matter of judgement. If it is only one or two children and if it seems more important to progress the drama (for example, if you are bringing an important message from the client or introducing a key tension) you might trust that the giggles will gradually subside as the children engage with the tension. You could appeal to them from within the role (‘I’m sorry – I thought I was dealing with a professional team here, was I mistaken?’) Or, if the children seem to be stuck you could pause the drama, step out of role and take the opportunity for a discussion about the tricky feelings that come up in drama work. Be careful of your language though. Rather than ‘telling off’ a child for laughing or resisting a role, try asking them what’s going on for them. Acknowledge that it does feel strange at first to work this way (‘It’s tricky, isn’t it?’) and suggest that if they can work out how to use their imagination and work with you within the drama then interesting things might happen. I remember hearing one teacher saying to her class, “You know, I’ve got the feeling that just the other side of that giggle there’s something really interesting, let’s see if we can move on and find it!” – a lovely way to appeal for focus without demeaning the children.

Tip 6 – treat resistance as a teachable moment. Just occasionally, despite your best efforts and clarity, children will resist the role.  This will probably be for one of two reasons. Either a) they genuinely don’t understand what’s going on or b) they are interested in subverting the usual authority structures of the class and having a joke with the teacher. It’s sometimes hard to tell which of these lies behind the resistance but in both cases the situation can be handled in a similar way. The scenario below illustrates this. Imagine a teacher (female) who has just stepped into role as a male (Wiremu). A student (Alex) challenges the role. Here’s how the teacher could respond and turn the situation into a learning opportunity.

Alex: I didn’t know Wiremu wore lipstick and earrings!

Teacher: I’m just going to stop for a moment and come out of role.

Removes signal prop – a hat

Teacher: Now, someone just raised something quite important there that I think we should talk about. Alex, can you repeat what you said a moment ago when I was in role.

Alex: No, it doesn’t matter

Teacher: I think you were saying it’s tricky to see me as Wiremu when I go into role …?

Alex: Well you aren’t Wiremu. You’re not even a man.

Teacher: Alex is quite right, isn’t he? I’m NOT really Wiremu. That’s exactly what ‘taking on a role’ means. Like I said before, this only works if we agree to use our imaginations. And that’s quite tricky … So,  perhaps  there is something else I can do to help you imagine that I am Wiremu. What do you think?

Alex: Maybe use a deeper voice…

Teacher: OK, let’s try that. I’ll put the hat on and use a deeper voice and you remember to work with me as if I’m Wiremu. Ready to try again?

Alex (nods)

Teacher goes back into role….

This example is from a real classroom interaction in which I was the teacher. In this case Alex (not the student’s real name) was very familiar with the teacher in role strategy and I think he was resisting the role as a way to explore his agency in the situation. He was grinning as he spoke and then looked a bit embarrassed when I came out of role and asked him to repeat himself. His statement, ‘no, it doesn’t matter’ was a signal that my authority as teacher had been restored without ‘telling him off’ and we could probably have finished the conversation there. However, the next bit of the conversation also served a purpose. By reframing the exchange as a positive thing (‘that’s exactly right – that’s how role works!’) what could have been a ‘behaviour management’ moment turned into an opportunity for discussion about drama techniques and how these help us work with someone in role. If you re-read the exchange again, I think you’ll see that the same approach would also be appropriate where participants are resisting the role because of genuine confusion. I have certainly used the same tactic in such situations (though this has only occurred a handful of times in many years).

So there you have it – six tips for teaching in role, including what to do if children resist or reject the role. If you have other suggestions or pointers, please share  in the comments!

Summary of key points.

  • Tip 1 – Assume the best Don’t assume children won’t accept the Teacher in role – most do so really well.
  • Tip 2 – Give it time Understand that working with a teacher in role, like any new skill, takes PRACTICE.
  • Tip 3 – Use 3 step transition  Explain the rules of the game so they can get on with the game.
  • Tip 4 – pull out don’t push on If children resist the role – step OUT of role to renegotiate expectations before stepping back in
  • Tip 5 – get past the giggles This might happen naturally or through acknowledging ‘it’s tricky isn’t it!?’
  • Tip 6 – treat resistance as a teachable moment Say ‘yes you’re exactly right’ not ‘no, you’re wrong’. This reasserts your authority AND reinforces how role works without telling children off.
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Teaching in role – the importance of clear signalling

One of the key strategies used in Mantle of the Expert is teaching in role – used to introduce a new tension, deliver the commission or present a new perspective. There are many ways a teacher can take on a role (see Dorothy Heathcote’s list of role conventions) but the most common is for the teacher to move into ‘full role’ – ie act, speak and move around as if they are another person.

If you are using teacher in role, it’s important for this to be clearly signalled – in other words, for children to know exactly what you are doing. It’s very exciting for children to hear they are having a visit from a spy, an astronaut, a kaumatua or whatever – and it may seem to ‘spoil the fun’ if we spell out that this person is ‘only’ the teacher in role. However, not to do so runs the risk of ‘spoiling’ things in a more serious way.

A teacher who does not signal the transition into role is denying themselves and their learners the special benefits that can only be found from learning in the overlap of fictional and real worlds.  Drama can only do its job where it provides a safe, no-penalty zone for learning in.  Unsignalled role is ethically and aesethically unsafe as it risks confusion and resentment from the children. As John O’Toole & Julie Dunn succinctly put it: ‘The teacher who trusts the power of the drama does not need to use deceit’ (O’Toole & Dunn, 2002, p.6)

Where children understand what’s happening, they can frame the experience correctly and feel more confident to adopt the behaviour and speech appropriate to the fictional context. There’s a big difference between what a child will do or say when an adult visits the classroom and the way experts in a team will respond to a visitor – and exploring this difference is kind of the whole point of Mantle! As Brian Edmiston states, ‘One of the core reasons why as a teacher I use drama is because when we create an imagined world, we can imagine that we frame events differently so that our power and authority relationships are changed. A long-term aim of mine as a teacher is as much as possible to share power and authority with students. I want students to have more opportunities to use words and deeds to act appropriately but in ways that are often not sanctioned in classrooms’ (Edmiston, 2003, p.225). If the teacher’s role is not signalled, the power and authority is not shared in the way Brian is describing here. For a fuller discussion of the arguments for clear signalling, check out this article Borat FINAL copy

 

So, how to signal clearly? Here’s a simple three step transition that can be used each time the teacher moves into ‘full role’. The same three steps can be used to set up the ground rules for any role or drama convention. The three steps are particularly recommended when using teacher in role for the first time. Note that the transition takes place in the classroom in front of the children.

Step 1: Tell them what is going to happen. “In a moment, I’m going to take on a role”

Pause – check understanding (you may need to clarify what ‘role’ means)

Step 2: Tell them how they will know. Declare and demonstrate the signal. “You will know I’m in role when … (I’m wearing this hat, or sitting in this chair, using this special voice, or carrying this kete)”

Pause – check understanding (model a couple of times) “Hat on – who am I? Hat off – who am I now?”

Step 2: Spell out the expectations. “For this to work you need to accept me in role and talk to me / work with me as if I am really X”.

Pause – check understanding.

Note that step three is not phrased as a question, such as “can you agree to behave as if I am X?” Only open up a negotiation if you are actually interested in negotiating with the children. If you simply wish to establish the groundrules for an activity then it is more authentic to state your expectations directly. If you only want children to listen to the teacher in role – say so. If they can talk, ask questions etc, make this clear.

 

Once these three steps have been followed, the teacher is as secure as they can be that children understand what is going to happen and what is expected.  Children are less likely to disrupt the drama by challenging or questioning the role. Having explained the rules of the game, they can get on with playing it – If the rules are not explained, they will focus on working out what they are – possibly out loud. This, according to sociologist Erving Goffman (1986) is human nature.

This is not to say that children will all instantly accept and work with a teacher in role. You can expect them to giggle, or laugh and find it a little strange. You can expect some to ‘push back’ and test the boundaries of the new relationship.  When this happens, try not to write off drama as ‘not for me’ or ‘not for this class’. Instead consider it just like any other skill you bring in to the classroom and give children time and practice to become familiar and comfortable with it. In a later post, I will share some tips for dealing with resistance to the teacher in role.

For now, though, here’s a recap of those three steps again:

Step1: Tell them what is going to happen

Step 2: Tell them how they will know

Step 3: Spell out the expectations

 

REFERENCES:

Edmiston, B. (2003). What’s my position?: Role, frame and positioning when using process drama. Research in Drama Education: The Journal of Applied Theatre and Performance, 8(2), 221–229.

Goffman, E. (1986) Frame Analysis: An essay on the organisation of experience. Boston: Northeastern University Press

O’Toole, J. & Dunn, J. (2002). Pretending to learn: helping children learn through drama. Frenchs Forest, NSW: Pearson Education.

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Process drama from picture books

 

Process drama is a great way to bring stories to life in the classroom – and to become familiar with the conventions and strategies used in Mantle of the Expert. Picture books provide a wonderful starting point for planning, as they provide many of the ‘raw ingredients’ for successful drama. In this post I share two resources:

The first is a plan adapted from one of the units in the excellent ‘Playing our Stories’ resource (Learning Media 2001 – now sadly out of print). It’s a fairly straightforward drama based on The Lighthouse Keeper’s Rescue by Rhonda and David Armitage. Designed to support for those trying teacher in role and drama conventions for the first time, the plan is fully ‘scripted’ with links to curriculum etc.

Mrs Grinlings problem 2017

The second resource follows on from the first and gives a set of 12 steps to follow to create your own drama using the same structure with a different picture book. This is a framework for planning I developed and trialled with student teachers over many years. It seems to work pretty well, with many fabulous original dramas developed using these steps. An advantage of developing your own drama is you can choose books that suit your context (for example using texts in te reo, or more complex sophisticated picture books for senior students). The same structure could be adapted for other books too, including novels or playtexts.

Creating drama from a picture book 2018

I do hope you find these resources useful. Just to clarify, they are not ‘mantle’ plans in the sense of setting up full-length cross curricula dramatic inquiry … but I hope they may be useful in developing the drama skills needed for mantle teaching.

See other posts on this site for  tips for teaching in role including dealing with uncertainty from participants and the importance of clear signalling.

 

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