Knowledge Bank - Creative Teaching & Learning

Drama For Learning and Mantle of the Expert

'Drama for Learning' is the use of drama as a cross-curricular medium for learning, in distinction to drama taught as a discrete subject. It is a highly effective teaching tool in developing collaborative and cooperative skills, fostering emotional literacy, applying and reviewing subject knowledge and, further, developing high-level thinking skills.

John Mckella argues that, (A Dramatically Informed Lesson’), ‘Drama, in essence, is about confronting and resolving problems in an imaginary context that nevertheless engages the cognitive and emotional intellect on many levels and usually at the same time.’ Drama activities are effective at engaging students and can be instrumental in changing students’ attitudes to learning and teacher/student relationships.

‘Drama for Learning’ encompasses holistic curriculum approaches such as Mantle of the Expert, or stand-alone drama techniques. Such techniques are used to fit a specific purpose – such as interacting with subject content or developing communication/empathy skills. Such strategies include hotseating, spotlight, freeze-frames, role-play, teacher in role, forum theatre and many more. For a detailed look at different drama teaching strategies, games and resources, see the invaluable resource, www.dramaresource.com. For interesting case studies of use of drama techniques see The Tiger Who Came to Class! by Debra Kidd. For a look at the use of forum theatre and teacher-in-role, see Fringe Theatre – Patterson and Thornton, for a case study of using role-play and performing arts with SEN students, and A Dramatically Informed Lesson – Mckellar, for an interesting examination of using role-play combined with Logo Visual Thinking to foster emotional intelligence and thinking skills.

For a further look at the use of drama strategies to develop thinking skills, read Nigel Toye’s article, Learning From Within. Nigel shows why he thinks drama strategies, and particularly, ‘teacher in role,’ offer something above and beyond P4C in challenging children’s thinking and enhancing their questioning, reasoning and empathy.

Mantle of the Expert
Mantle of the Expert, developed by Dorothy Heathcote is the most developed and well-known ‘total drama’ approach to learning. In this strategy learners take on the role of experts in an imagined enterprise; they may be scientists in a laboratory, a rescue team at the scene of a disaster or archeologists excavating an ancient artifact. As the drama unravels, the experts must respond to the challenges and jobs that these experts face in real life. In role, students can undertake any manner of subject-related and thinking skills tasks – interrogating, interpreting and analyzing evidence, reasoning and problem solving, writing relevant reports or adverts or creative pieces, making collective decisions together. The crux is, that everything the students do, they do in role. Within the imagined situation – each task is as a real-life task, with a real purpose.

Mantle of the Expert provides a cross-curricular approach to curriculum, since learners will use any range of different subject knowledge and complete subject related assignments – in role. Teachers can plan the tasks that drive the enterprise to meet specific National Curriculum objectives. In their article, Expert Thinking, Abbot and Taylor show that Heathcote’s approach allows the content of the curriculum to be viewed as ‘great stories’ waiting to be told, rather than as objectives to be attained and tested (Egan, 1986).

It is a creative approach to learning that uses creativity in the learning process. Heathcote and her advocates argue that Mantle of the Expert offers a way of making learning relevant, purposeful and meaningful. Dorothy argues that learning should be fun, and the teacher’s role is to help students get excited by learning. In Mantle of the Expert, students are motivated to learn and discover and excited by their learning. Through its special properties of being able to foster a kind of ’emotional investment’ in the learning activity, the technique can generate high-level, subject specific learning, as well as sophisticated thinking and philosophical enquiry.

For a detailed look at the role of the teacher in Mantle of the Expert and how to carry out a Mantle of the Expert project, look at the case study by Abbot and Taylor – Expert Thinking. For a case study of Mantle of the Expert in History, see Exploring History Through Drama – Tim Taylor and, used in A Level English, Breaking The Exam Yoke – Louise Astbury. To read a fascinating interview with Dorothy Heathcote herself, where she discusses the nuances of making Mantle of the Expert successful and describes in detail a Mantle of the Expert project she carried out, see Drama, Energy and The Crane. Heathcote sadly died in 2011. You can read an obituary, also in the previous mentioned article. Visit the Mantle of The Expert website at www.mantleoftheexpert.com.

Dramatic Enquiry
Dramatic Enquiry is a second holistic curriculum approach using drama. This approach combines Philosophy for Children with the use of theatre-based frameworks and strategies. For a fascinating look at a project using dramatic enquiry in KS4 science, see Using dramatic Enquiry to Explore Controversies in Science – Neil Phillipson and Gordon Poad.

D4LC – Drama for Learning and Creativity
D4LC is an initiative that uses drama as a whole-school improvement strategy. Working with drama expert practitioners, schools develop their use of different drama techniques to raise achievement and improve behavior, motivation and relationships. See the article, Drama and Proud! – Patricia Baldwin, for more information, or visit the D4LC website at www.d4lc.org.

Read More