Wednesday, 11 January 2017

Part 4: The internal structure of Mantle

In this section, Heathcote offers an attempt to identify the key elements (here she calls them 'internal structures') that make Mantle, well.... mantle...!  It is interesting to compare the list she offers here to the checklist of seven core elements provided on the UK website - here and the list of 10 core elements I suggest in my chapter - here. The discussion about elements is likely to be ongoing as different commentators go about explaining Mantle in their own way. Here, though, Heathcote offers seven aspects to consider: This post will discuss just the first three points ... 4-7 will be expanded on in my next post...

So what is the internal structure of Mantle?
1. All participants will function in the now-immediate time of social engagement - as does theatre / drama. "I do"

2. All behaviour arises from tasks not the generation of emotional demonstration of behaviour, before it can be authentic. (see chart 4 a, b, c, d)

3. All agree by contracts to a context, from which all behaviour will spring. These contexts create the domain boundaries which enable attention to be paid to specific explorations of curriculum and society. Just as theatre does.

There is so much in these few sentences - it's worth taking each one at a time and pulling it apart for meaning...  I hope some colleagues will expand further in the comments, too...

1. Here Heathcote reminds the teacher of one of the fundamentals of all drama - that it uses imagination to bring something to our immediate experience by playing about with time. In drama, when we take on a role, we agree to pretend as if something is happening NOW, (and often - though not always - TO US....) This is important because it makes what is happening 'feel' real and immediate. It also requires the teacher to adjust language and instructions accordingly: For example, in discussing a historical event instead of "how do you think the people felt about the King?", the teacher says, "let's see the moment when the King's fate is decided" - or even "Very well... People of the kingdom, what do you wish to do about your King?" 

2. Here Heathcote makes another key point about how drama is used within Mantle of the Expert. She reminds us it is not about 'acting' in the sense of 'showing an emotion in an authentic way' (which is a very narrow and limiting definition of acting anyway - but one many people assume is what's meant). What matters most in Mantle is the authentic sense of commitment to the tasks that arise in building the worlds and working on the commission ... This is what the teacher should look to build first and foremost... from there everything else (including authentic emotion) will follow.

3. Heathcote reminds us here of the importance of participant buy-in to the fictional contexts of a Mantle inquiry. She underlines the words 'contract' and 'context', emphasising that the fictional worlds and the ways they are set up must be mutually agreed and clear to participants - avoiding any kind of deception. She also reminds us that the 'givens' of the fictional world provide useful boundaries for the inquiry so that rather than exploring an curriculum area arbitrarily, there's a focus provided by the commission.

[As an aside, I've found that this notion of 'domain boundaries' is an aspect of teaching in Mantle that really appeals to teachers with experience in inquiry ... They appreciate how working with the commission provides an authentic reason for narrowing the curriculum focus and 'going deep' instead of giving the learner free reign to study any particular topic. Open ended inquiry, while it comes with a welcome sense of agency can result in rather 'shallow' investigation, unless the teacher has skills to narrow and focus to enduring understandings or big questions. Mantle provides a way to get around this issue. Another aspect of this that teachers appreciate is the messages it gives about curriculum learning areas. Learning in 'boundaried domains' allows us to 'pay attention' to what curriculum learning is required for the task at hand, without implying that the bits we are not paying attention to are less necessary or less important. In this sense, curriculum is democratised].


Brian Edmiston said...

I started to write about these three sentences and ended up writing pages (so have to post in more than one comment)!! Thanks, Dorothy (and Viv)!

I find it very significant that (as I interpret her writing) the first two points about the ‘internal structure’ are more about the real world than any of the fictional worlds that will be created as the Mantle progresses. Over the years, I’ve become more attentive and responsive to how young people are always interacting as ‘themselves in the classroom world.’ As DH stresses, we must always pay attention to what the young people are actually doing in the emerging context. It’s never sufficient to focus only on where or who they might imagine they are. Seeing the ‘internal structure’ of how the young people are interacting requires that we ‘see’ more than individual ‘behaviours.’

When we acknowledge that meaning is being made in ongoing and cumulative social interactions among 'all' in the room - adults as well as every young person - then, as teachers, we must ask ourselves how and what meaning is actually being made (and could be made) in the 'now-immediate' time-space of each interaction within every activity. This view of what classroom time-spaces are needed to create over time a learning context is in contrast with the dominant 'over-there time' of those classroom time-spaces where teachers believe they can 'give' knowledge to learners often by ‘telling’ and where activities are not sequenced to pay attention to the actual experience of the young people. DH advocates for classrooms that echo the sort of fluid social engagement experienced by people working in teams in everyday community life activities who adopt a ‘community point of view.’ This is in contrast to the classroom experience of young people in a very different sort of classroom community where they are expected to listen as individuals to a teacher talk about a topic or only read about someone else's ideas or experiences with minimal social interactions that are often directed through the teacher.

DH here uses the term 'task' which I conceptualize as teacher-initiated and part of more extensive ‘activities’ that have broader objectives extending across more than one task. Initially, tasks must be introduced by the teacher-leader. As DH stresses, the focus must be on the doing of tasks not on showing anything, especially not showing personal feelings or those tied to someone in a fictional world. 'Demonstrating' what another person might be feeling cannot be 'authentic' until much later in the process when 'we' are collectively inquiring into a question that necessitates ‘our’ consideration of such feelings that some (including me as teacher) may agree to show for ‘our’ analysis (that will always include analysis by those who have done any demonstration).

When DH notes that 'all agree by contracts' she's stressing that young people must willingly choose to participate in Mantle activities. They can never be made to engage (and as Viv stresses, can never be deceived into participation that is actual fictional but that they believe is real e.g. the infamous ‘Blue Eyes/Brown Eyes’ simulation). There may be a negotiated agreement or even what feels like a formal 'contract' (e.g. 'So we've agreed not to laugh at each other, right?’). However, with compliant groups the work may begin with a largely implicit agreement to engage in tasks and activities.

Brian Edmiston said...

The context DH refers to in her 3rd point is a fictional context (that extends the actual classroom context from the real into the imagined). Initially, I think of ‘us’ in the classroom world 'looking in' on a fictional context in a fictional world. Especially when there may be some resistance, initial tasks, intended to take everyone briefly 'inside' the fictional world so that we may all for a short time experience as if we are other people, can be designed to feel close to what the young people would be doing anyway e.g. sorting photographs of people and imagining what they might have been doing and saying.

DH notes that ‘all behaviour’ arises from the tasks and springs from the context. She’s referring to initial tasks and beginning fictional contexts. I tend to restrict the word behaviour (following a Behaviourist theory of learning) to when people are responding without intention vs. ‘action’ when they have choice and thus experience agency (as professional actors do when they ‘act’ on stage). This idea might seem to be in conflict with the assertion that young people must ‘all agree.’ However, in a sense it is the tasks and context that determines how young people socially ought to respond. Initially, a young person only needs to ‘agree’ to ‘behave’ appropriately – to go along with what everyone else is doing (or to do something different but in parallel with the others e.g. ‘watch as if you are a reporter’) – in order to realize that they have ‘stepped into’ (or at least ‘looked into’) a fictional world. For example, if everyone considers ‘what our office might look like’ via drawing and/or standing and/or talking as if in an imagined place then anyone’s passive ‘behaviours’ (or intended actions) are in harmony. Provided each young person participates in a subsequent shared reflection ‘outside’ the fictional world on what happened ‘inside’ then each will then experience being ‘outside-looking-in’ on the shared experience of a fictional context and thus have begun to create images of a fictional time-space. In doing so, they will have made it easier to participate in the next task in a real-and-imagined context.

A fictional context develops via activities undertaken by young people and teacher 'as if' all are other people elsewhere with objectives pertinent to the goals of those imagined people. This requires a shift, using dramatic imagination, into activities located in an imagined-and-real time-space that is always experienced as happening to us 'now' and often with the immediacy of being 'now-and-imminent' when what's about to happen (in imagination) feels pressing in on us. Of course, when young people are open to 'playing' with one another and/or their teacher they'll readily do this (vs. feeling 'on the spot' if they're asked to 'demonstrate' something).

Brian Edmiston said...

Beginning a Mantle we always have two fictional worlds to choose from to enter via our initial tasks: the expert world (where the young people will be able to take on the commission as if they are a fictional team of experts) and the content world (of the topic they are going to study that they can always experience and encounter as if they are people who live there). Thus, a task may create an imagined-and-real context similar to one that a team of experts might engage in (e.g. images of what our office might look like) or one in which the young people create meaning about a curricular topic (e.g. images of what concerns the client).

As DH notes, in any context participants are always entering a particular ‘domain’ of a curricular topic that is ‘bounded’ by whatever the tasks are focused on within (as Viv notes) the ‘givens’ of the particular fictional world (especially by the commission in the client world). Further, as DH implies Mantle inquiries into ‘the curriculum’ always extend beyond any classroom limitations into ‘society.’ People can never just study ‘content’ in isolation from the real world: any topic is and always has been experienced by actual people in particular activities in worlds. In Mantle as we inquire alongside the young people we experience tasks and activities not only contextualized in classroom world but also in the fictional worlds of the expert team, the content, and the client that we must collectively enter in imagination if we are to create understanding through Mantle of the Expert pedagogy.