Monday, 27 October 2014

Part 3: The strange label

Continuing my commentary on DH's 2009 keynote. My comments in italics [I'm dispensing with the convention of square brackets as I think it is clear enough which bits are which...!]

After her opening comments, DH talks a little about why she chose (and stuck with) the name she gave this teaching approach - Mantle of the Expert. As she does so, she compares the approach with what she sees as the limitations of traditional teaching. First she talks about the word 'Mantle'. 
Let us first examine the strange label. Mantle is not a cloak by which a person is recognised. This is no garment to cover. I use it as a quality: of leadership, carrying standards of behaviour, morality, responsibility, ethics and the spiritual basis of all action. The mantle embodies the standards I ascribe to. It grows by usage, not garment stitching. 
DH is very clear here that the 'mantle' or 'cloak' of expertise is not to be seen as something gifted to a learner by the teacher: it is an inner quality in the person themselves that is fostered through the learning process. She also stresses that the teaching and learning process in Mantle of the Expert is about developing ethical, moral, spiritual and social standards: qualities of leadership that develop over time and through practice. 

Now she goes on to talk about the word "expert"
Expert is essential in the name because I value learning and curiosity to enquire. Schooling imposes such burdens of “out there” information upon students, that ways must be found to inspire and reward curious enquiry and give children the first steps towards pleasure in exploring new fields, and shedding the insidious fear of error or making mistakes. 
Here DH makes a number of points about why repositioning students as experts is so important. First, she suggests, it allows them up to ask questions and be genuinely curious in ways that traditional schooling may not allow. Then she implies that working as experts means students encounter information in a context - so that it is immediately relevant. She mentions that the repositioning of students lifts engagement - makes learning a pleasure - and also that it helps students feel confident about mistake-making and true inquiry. 

Next,  she shifts her focus onto the relationship between Mantle of the Expert and children's real lives - including their play.  She suggests that for children, school can feel like something separate from their real lives and how by using drama and the imagination, the teacher can bring those real lives into the classroom and bring them alive for children. 
At one fell swoop this system prevents children from leaving their real lives in the cloakroom with their coats and lunchboxes. Because it uses the nature of drama to shift context into the classroom.  
Its root lies then in the instinct to play. To transform the power-less structure of most classrooms to the power-full exploration of being human in controllable domains, selected for learning purposes.
When she talks about the instinct to play, she does not mean children wish to "mess about": she is referring to the way Mantle of the Expert is based in drama and how appropriate this is for young children given that they naturally use dramatic play (pretending games) to explore and understand the world. Finally, she remarks on the shift in power dynamics that occurs when teachers work in Mantle of the Expert. The final sentence gives a pretty good summary of what Mantle of the Expert is: "the power-full exploration of being human in controllable domains, selected for learning purposes". 

This final sentence also reminds us that the domains, or areas of learning within Mantle of the Expert are bounded, controllable, limited. This is not open-ended inquiry which could go anywhere... The teacher will direct and select which areas are explored with a specific purpose in mind..

This section of the address concludes with several more passing comments each of which are enormously rich in themselves: 
We transform, by contract with our students the contexts in which we shall function. 
So the first law of theatre is invoked. Our enterprise gives us the boundaries so we can focus on the fields of experience we want to explore with our classes. Because we promise as teachers to introduce information as well as experience, the Mantle structure is neatly efficient and “elegant” in form. 
Should it ever be seriously adopted as a system our schooling would change. There is no reason why a “Mantle” school could not be administered within the portals of the nineteenth century model which most schools operate in. Montessori and Waldorf schools can do this already.
First she comments on the importance of a clear contract between teacher and students - both need to agree on where we are pretending to be and how we agree to behave there. She comments that this is at the core of theatre too - and thus Mantle of the Expert is an essentially theatrical pursuit. She returns to the idea that the inquiry is boundried: as teachers we choose the enterprise or company we will work in and this takes us into particular areas of learning and experience. 

She concludes with some advocacy. She delights in the elegance and efficiency of her teaching approach and suggests that if adopted, it could see a real shift in the schooling system.


Brian Edmiston said...

I've become increasing interested in the overlap between what we could call the imagined and the real experiences of participants in any dramatic pedagogy. Dorothy is clear that in the Mantle of the Expert approach, because it engages people over long periods of time, the expectation is that the participants understanding of their selves in relation to other people will be transformed. It’s the sense of connection with other people and other worlds that I understand as what’s ‘spiritual’ about the work. The leadership that students can take on as well as the social and ethical standards that they work toward are experienced in contexts that are real-and-imagined: contexts are fictional but also real. The 'mantle' is not 'just pretend' it's a new way of being, relating, and acting in relation to peers and adults in the room but also in relation to the imagined others that are encountered in fictional worlds and represented by other students and the teachers in ongoing dialogic interactions.

Dorothy uses the term 'expert' to describe people who are ‘inspired and rewarded’ for their curiosity and inquiries. She’s thinking of adults who have meaningful lives in their work as ‘insiders’ in their chosen professions or other jobs in which they have developed expertise, for which they are valued. She wants students of all ages to have similar experiences in their classrooms. She does not use the term in any pejorative sense of experts who look down on non-experts or people who are ‘them’. On the contrary, the values that she wants us to live by with children-as-experts would include being non-hierarchical, inclusive, and always open to dialoguing with and learning from anyone else who though ‘other than us’ could become one of ‘us’. As an example, in Newcastle the Spanish Literature students-as-members-of-the-Lope-de-Vega-Club were interviewing some of us-as-potential-new-members.

In the contexts created in a fictional world of people with expertise students take on the role experts and a framing of expertise. In a world of people with expertise even young children (so often judged from a deficit viewpoint) may be positioned not only as competent and capable people but also as ‘insiders’ in the fictional team or enterprise. They not only draw on the prior and relevant background knowledge that they bring in the door with them but they also encounter new knowledge in the way professionals do, as information and ideas that other people in our profession know, and need to know. This is in contrast to how knowledge tends to be presented in schooling, as ‘outside’ (or ‘beyond’) the experience and capacity of children who are assumed to be largely powerless to do anything with what they know or are learning.

However, as Dorothy stresses, when we use the Mantle of the Expert approach, children now experience being more powerful. I love the way she plays with spelling to show the meaning: students feel more filled with their power. They can use their power to act, to make, and to interpret with the fictional authority of adults. They can explore more about what it means to be human beings in contexts (that are limited only by imagination) beyond being merely teachers and students in the real contexts of schooling. As I gradually came to realize, students are more aware of how they may use their power when we position them with authority in relation to activities in both imagined worlds and the real world of the classroom. [more below ...]

Brian Edmiston said...

Dramatic playing is at the heart of all dramatic pedagogy: our human ability to imagine collectively that we are different people who are living elsewhere than in the real world. Dorothy stresses the transformative nature of playing in Mantle of the Expert since children are now collaboratively acting and inquiring with the authority of responsible and capable people in what I think of as real-and-imagined contexts. By acting over time as if they are collaborative, responsible and capable people they develop a sense of responsibility and of their abilities in relation to whatever social activities they engage in. And because the activities that engage the children-as-experts are tied to curricular objectives, the children-as-students are learning in what Dorothy here calls ‘domains’ of knowledge valued by the school. Of course, they are likely to be learning much more than what most schooling values.

What an inspiring ending to this section – a transformative vision of education. It’s reassuring to know that it is being realized in schools where many teachers are committed to the mantle approach. Bealings in Ipswich is one such school in the UK. I wish I could say that’s the case in the United States where increasingly test preparation has become what’s taught and what’s tested has become the curriculum. The closest I have come to school-wide use of dramatic inquiry was in a school-within-a-school with the classrooms of four 1st grade (Year 2) teachers.

Finally, this might be the place to note some of my quibbles! I begin with the term Mantle of the Expert itself. I wish Dorothy had chosen a term that implied both the collaborative team aspect of the work (the singular ‘the expert’ is too individualistic for me) and that the approach is less about a fixed role of identity (like ‘expert’) and more about developing the sorts of understanding and shared perspectives on life that the best professionals develop – that could be called ‘expertise’. Though we can’t change terminology, I’d have preferred a term like ‘mantle of shared expertise’. Additionally, Dorothy’s idiosyncratic use of terminology such as ‘shift context into the classroom’ can be confusing for anyone in education who already uses a term like ‘context’ to describe the social meaning-making that people are always doing in social interactions in any situation.

Note: I spell inquiry with an i to be more inclusive (the enquiry spelling is not used in American English) and also because the Mantle of the Expert approach leads to the sort of extensive and extended inquiry that the spelling with an i implies in British and NZ English).

Vivadrama said...

Brian I really appreciate your teasing out of what DH meant by 'expert' - the concept of people who are 'inspired and rewarded' and have an 'insider' view on the knowledge is such a useful way of putting it... helps us get past the shallower notions related to status and implied superiority... Nice...

Vivadrama said...

Kia Ora Brian. Yes I see what you mean about the collective / collaborative not being fully expressed in the title "Mantle of THE Expert"... had never thought of that but it is a disconnect, isn't it!? Neither had I thought much before about the difference between inquiry and enquiry - I knew I preferred the "i" version but you have helped me understand why...