This chapter explaining Mantle of the Expert is taken from Fraser, Aitken & Whyte Connecting Curriculum, Linking Learning Wellington: NZCER and is reproduced with permission of the publishers.
Details about the book can be found here.
For other books on Mantle of the Expert, check out Real in All the Ways that Matter: Weaving Learning across the Curriculum with Mantle of the Expert (Aitken, 2021) and A Beginner’s Guide to Mantle of the Expert (Taylor, 2016)
Brochure for teachers
This brochure was produced as an assessment by student teachers learning about Mantle of the Expert. In role as a fictional company “Learning Links Incorporated”, they were commissioned by a fictional client (the “Ministry of Learning”) to create a resource to help teachers understand some basic principles of Mantle of the Expert. This was the resource they created…!
By Viv Aitken (This article originally appeared in the NZ Education Review, July 3 2009 – the version below has been edited slightly)
ORIGINS OF MANTLE OF THE EXPERT
Mantle of the expert … an active, urgent, purposeful view of learning, in which knowledge is to be operated on, not merely taken in (Dorothy Heathcote)
Mantle of the Expert has been described as ‘a dramatic inquiry-learning based approach to teaching and learning’ [mantleoftheexpert.com]. First developed by Prof. Dorothy Heathcote at the University of Newcastle upon Tyne in the UK during the 1980s, Mantle of the Expert is a fully ‘incorporated’ approach in which children learn across all curriculum areas by taking on the roles of experts engaged in a high status project for a fictional client. For example, they might be charged with designing a world-class sanctuary for injured dolphins. Or they may be museum curators with the job of producing an interactive exhibit on an important incident from local history. Each project is sustained for a long period, often an entire term’s work, and the teacher will move in and out of role along with the children.
As experts the children encounter authentic tasks and solve realistic problems related to the project. This is not quite open-ended inquiry: the teacher carefully plans some tasks from the outset while others arise as a natural consequence of the work at hand. As dolphin sanctuary designers, for example, children might research the habitats of particular animals, draw up a design plan for the new enclosures, work out the weights, volumes and costs of food, write press releases appealing for funding, role play the capture of the first injured dolphin and so on. As museum curators they might research local stories, record soundscapes for the displays and design worksheets for children visiting the museum.
Thus, instead of learning within discrete curriculum ‘boxes’, children develop skills and deepen knowledge in literacy, numeracy, languages, the arts, technology, social sciences, health and physical education within meaningful contexts and with a clear purpose. In the same way, the Mantle of the Expert approach offers many richly contextualised opportunities to work with and learn about IT. Curriculum tasks are framed as professional tasks required for a clearly identified purpose. Put simply, Mantle of the Expert exposes learners to new skills and knowledge in the way that life does and as such provides an exciting and authentic motivation for learning.
The fictional nature of Mantle of the Expert is critical to its potency as a learning tool. First of all, Mantle of the Expert taps into children’s capacity for socio-dramatic play (‘pretending’ games). Not only does this build engagement and make learning fun’, it also aligns to the child’s own way of learning about the world. Research has shown that imaginative play is highly significant in children’s development and is key in how younger children build an understanding of their wider world. Research also suggests that, properly supported, this kind of play continues to be beneficial right through to adolescence. One of the reasons this is so, and one of the keys to Mantle’s success is that in many ways, the ‘pretend’ world can be more empowering than everyday reality for young people. By keeping the project firmly in the fictional world, children can experience a rich combination of safety and challenge. Participants are able to make high status decisions and face difficult problems with the knowledge that while these really ‘matter’ in the world of the mantle, there are no real world implications.
MANTLE OF THE EXPERT IN SCHOOLS
Mantle of the Expert is used in hundreds of classrooms around the world at both primary and secondary level. And the results are impressive. In a recent evaluation of the impact of Mantle of Expert on children’s learning in the UK, a cluster of schools reported measurable ‘improvement in key skills’ and ‘accelerated attainment’ amongst children working in the Mantle of the Expert approach. (Project Report Suffolk, 2007)
Teachers using the Mantle of the Expert approach have also reported significantly improved levels of student ownership and engagement with their learning:
“The MOE system makes learning meaningful, relevant and engaging and the children are the driving force of their own learning path. I could not wish for more.”
“In over four years MOE has transformed my teaching and the attitudes of children in my class. It provides a meaningful learning context, engaging pupils at a deep level and developing them as thoughtful, enquiring and empathetic individuals.”(Project Report Suffolk, 2007)
Children’s comments also provide an insight into what makes Mantle of the Expert successful: one child comments, “I prefer to do lessons this way because you are doing different things all the time and it makes it a lot more fun … you forget how hard maths is when you are having fun doing it.” and another adds, “Instead of lots of lessons it’s like one big lesson that teaches us all sorts of things. The teacher makes it very exciting because she pretends to be other people and asks us questions.” (mantleoftheexpert.com)
Bealings school in Suffolk, UK, has adopted the Mantle of the Expert system as the primary mode of teaching for all classes at all levels and has received the highest commendations possible from OFSTED (the UK equivalent of ERO). The school’s Ofsted report described the school as ‘outstanding ‘ and the teaching methods as ‘highly innovative and imaginative…stimulating and exciting’ (OFSTED 2005). Students at the school have been excelling in standardized tests, including the twenty-five percent with special educational needs. Duncan Bathgate, principal of the school, is careful to point out that he does not see this as the main measure of Mantle’s success: “I prefer to judge children by how flexible they are in their thinking and attitudes, their self-esteem and willingness to have a go at things. This is a place to make mistakes and I am a leader in that!” [Forester, 2006]
More recently, Mantle of the Expert received significant official mandate from the highest level within the UK, with the QCA adopting it as an approved method for implementing the new curriculum in that country.
MANTLE OF THE EXPERT IN NEW ZEALAND
New Zealand has a long-standing association with the work of Dorothy Heathcote, who was patron of the drama subject society Drama NZ (NZADIE) until her death in 2011. Dr Heathcote’s visits to the country in the 1970s and 1980s had a profound influence on the children, teachers and academics who worked with her. Many aspects of Heathcote’s ‘drama for learning’ approach have had a direct influence on the direction of curriculum development in drama in this country (Holland & O’Connor 2004). Likewise, some of the work Dr Heathcote undertook in her visits to this country (for example the ‘Sanctuary’ and ‘True Blue’ dramas) can be seen as important precursors to the emerging Mantle of the Expert approach.
This website was founded following the 2009 Mantle of the Expert conference Weaving our Stories. Since that time, increasing numbers of teachers around NZ have studied the approach through university courses and in-service professional development. Increasing numbers of individual teachers now use Mantle of the Expert regularly in their classrooms, and seven schools have Dramatic Inquiry (including Mantle of the Expert) embedded within their local curriculum.
This is an exciting time for Mantle of the Expert in New Zealand. The New Zealand curriculum invites teachers to explore new and innovative pedagogies and in the post-National Standards era, the search for models of integrated, authentic, connected learning is stronger than ever. Many believe that Mantle of the Expert can play an important part in preparing learners for the uncertainties and ‘wicked problems’ of the 21st Century.
Forester, K. Call in the Experts TES Magazine, 19 May 2006
Holland, C. & O’Connor, P. (2004) Like Writing off the paper: Report on Student learning in the arts NZ Ministry of Education: Research Division
Other quotes sourced from www.mantleoftheexpert.com