About Mantle of the Expert
Mantle of the Expert is an education approach that uses imaginary contexts to generate purposeful and engaging activities for learning. Within the fiction the students are cast as a team of experts working for a client on a commission. The commission is designed by the teacher to generate tasks and activities that fulfil the requirements of the client as well as create opportunities for students to study wide areas of the curriculum. For example, a class of students are cast (within the fiction) as a team of archaeologists excavating an Egyptian tomb for the Cairo Museum. To complete the commission they research ancient Egyptian history – learning about tombs, artefacts, and rituals – and in the process study history, geography, art, design and other subjects, as well as develop their skills in reading, writing, problem solving, and inquiry. Mantle of the Expert is not designed to teach the entire curriculum, all the time, but is rather an approach to be used selectively by the teacher along with a range of other methods.
Mantle of the Expert was developed by Dorothy Heathcote at Newcastle University in the 1970’s and 80’s. An internationally renowned authority on drama for learning, Heathcote’s aim was to provide non-drama specialists with an approach that would support them in using drama across the curriculum. Heathcote believed drama was an underused approach outside drama studios and could be used as a powerful medium for learning across the curriculum.
Mantle of the Expert works by the teacher planning a fictional context where the students take on the responsibilities of an expert team. As the team, they are commissioned by a client (within the fiction) to work on a commission, which has been planned by the teacher to generate tasks and activities that involve them in studying and developing wide areas of the curriculum.
From the beginning the students are aware that they are involved in a fiction. Mantle of the Expert is not a simulation invented by the teacher to trick them into thinking they are involved in something real.
Consciously going in and coming out of the fiction is an important dimension of the Mantle of the Expert approach. Like imaginative play. the participants are always aware that the fiction is something that can stop and start as a when they or the teacher decides. In this way, an activity inside the fiction can create a purpose for curriculum learning outside the fiction. The teacher can introduce the task to the students ‘as if’ they are the expert team, such as writing a report to the museum, and then stop the story and come out of the fiction to teach them directly the knowledge and skills they need to complete the task. Once the task is complete, the teacher can restart the story and the students can see how their work has an effect inside the fiction. It is this process of going in and coming out of the fictional context that defines Mantle of the Expert as a teaching and learning approach.
The ‘mantle’ in Mantle of the Expert is a metaphor. It does not mean the students are endowed with expertise in the real world. Heathcote was clear about this. They are only experts inside the fiction, in the sense that they are taking on the powers and responsibilities of the team; they are not experts outside the fiction. Both the teacher and the students work collaboratively inside the fiction as people working for the same team. This means the teacher deliberately changes her power relationship with the students to one of equal power and authority. In this way decisions are made through discussion and distributed leadership. Outside the fiction, the teacher’s authority remains unaffected.
The creation of a fictional context where the students experiment with making decisions, taking on responsibilities, and meeting challenging situations, is a kind of ‘safe zone’ within the classroom. Unlike the real world where children would rarely, if ever, have these experiences, in an imaginary world they can explore, discuss, and evaluate them. For Heathcote this is what she meant when she described her ideal classroom as a laboratory – “when you enter such a lab you bring in your knowledge and training with you and take on the mantle of responsibility that goes with the character of the setting. Above all, you know that the result of what you do there matter to someone other than yourself. Such settings are cells effecting change in society.”
Links & bibliography
Viv Aitken, Dorothy Heathcote’s Mantle of the Expert Approach to Teaching and Learning: a Brief Introduction. Ch.3 in Fraser, D. Aitken, V. and Whyte, B. (2013) Connecting Curriculum, Linking Learning. nzcer Press.
Bolton, G. (2003) Dorothy Heathcote’s Story: the biography of a remarkable drama teacher. London: Trentham Books.
Bolton, G. (1999) Acting in Classroom Drama. Birmingham: Trentham Books.
Edmiston, B. (2014) Transforming Teaching and Learning with Active and Dramatic Approaches: Engaging Students Across the Curriculum, Routledge.
Heathcote, D. and Bolton, G. (1995) Drama for Learning: Dorothy Heathcote’s mantle of the expert Approach to education. Portsmouth: Heinemann.
Heathcote D. (2002) [http://www.mantleoftheexpert.com/about-moe/articles/ Contexts for Active Learning].
Hesten, S. (1986) [http://www.mantleoftheexpert.com/about-moe/archives/dh-archive/ The Heathcote Archive. PhD thesis].
Johnson, L. and O’Neill, C. (ed.) (1984) Dorothy Heathcote: Collected Writings on Education and Drama. London: Hutchinson.
Morgan, N. and Saxton, J. (1987) Teaching Drama: a mind of many wonders. Porstmouth: Heinemann.
O’Neill, C. (2015) Dorothy Heathcote on Education and Drama: Essential Writing. Routledge.
Taylor, T. (2016) A Beginner’s Guide to Mantle of the Expert. Singular. (Due for publication July 2016)
Wagner, B.J. (1976) Dorothy Heathcote: Drama as a Learning Medium. London: Trentham Books.
Note: This blog is a copy of the Wikipedia page I wrote for Mantle of the Expert on 28th April 2016
A Beginner’s Guide to Mantle of the Expert
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