Transition, translation, Mantle of the Expert and courage
In secondary, it might come as a surprise that we don’t have to look too far away for that bit of inspiration that will help us be the best teacher we can be. For me, it was going into a Key Stage One classroom and watching the teacher talk to the children shortly before I was going to take over delivering a Mantle of the Expert session. As hardened teachers at (what we believe is) the sharper end of education I think we’re sometimes guilty of thinking that those that teach our much younger…’clients’…have an easier time of it. If you still think like that, get yourself down to your local primary school and offer to teach Year One for a day. I did, and it was like being hit in the face with a comedy saucepan. Repeatedly. Talk about having your faced pressed against the edge of your comfort zone. At the start of that session I really liked the way the teacher spoke to her class:
Oh Thomas, that is lovely sitting.
Ravi, you are listening well. Everyone look at Ravi’s listening
Look at me Sally. Focus now. Good girl. Sally knows how to focus.
If I talk like that to my Year 10s, I thought, they’ll be phoning Childline. But then I realised I just need to think about my teacher language, not change the message I’m trying to put across – in this case, expectations.
Sit down Tom so we’re ready to go.
(quiet, thumb up) Thanks Ravi.
Sally. I’m here Sally. Look at me. Thank you.
I love it when everyone looks at me*
This subtle translation of teacher-talk can also be applied to our secondary curriculum – particularly in Key Stage 3. I’m not suggesting we copy successful projects from primary, but I think we need to look at what works there and see how we can build on them – the tools, the strategies, the energy, the hooks, the lures, and the learning integrity. Encouraging our colleagues into doing some action research around transition for example, would illuminate very quickly that the action of dragging the Y6s up from the partner primaries to spend a day of being frightened witless by big school is not always the best method of settling new students in. Now your school may have cracked transition, but many have not. Curriculum transition should be as smooth as the best transition systems our secondaries offer, and that requires us to look at the educational diet offered up to Y6 and then at what we’re doing in Y7 and beyond.
I am a secondary teacher through and through, and spending time in primary phase has enabled me to touch base with elements of my practice that had been eroded over time – experiential learning, for example. I’m now the secondary teacher who wishes for role play areas in secondary spaces – would it be wrong to have a WW2 space in the History department? Or perhaps a Plague space set up in the Science area? I simply don’t believe that children switch off from a desire for experiential learning because they move to a new building. Now this may be coming across as a little Drama-lite for you – like I’m trying to sneak a whole load of Drama pedagogy into the mix. The thing is, when I was a Head of Drama, I was wholly focussed on resources, data and arguments over why my spaces were always used for exams; not a right lot of my middle-leader-head was focussed on, you know, the pedagogy, the teaching and learning, the core business. I was woken up by being introduced to the work of the late Dorothy Heathcote
But it is obvious that any drama activity must involve drama laws….because of the audience – not the direct audience in a theatre, but the sense of audience derived from the continual awareness of preparing something for a client…the scrutiny of each other’s work is built in as part of the mantle of the expert system.
(Drama for Learning, Heathcote and Bolton 1995:172)
I used to believe that the late Dorothy Heathcote’s brilliant Mantle of the Expert system was firmly rooted in Primary phase until a) I watched her working with a group of challenging young men via You Tube – search for Three Looms Waiting, an excellent Arena documentary from the 1970s b) she helped my team develop a fresh KS3 curriculum approach c) I participated in a workshop she led for teachers d) she told me so. The system which works so convincingly in Primary does work in Secondary, it just takes an element of courage to give it a go. I now use it as a tool of learning across both phases.
The reluctance of some children to participate in anything vaguely Drama-orientated has been a consistent challenge for teachers to negotiate. One of the key features of a pupil’s reluctance is the fear of the peer audience. It is what breeds embarrassment and a shrivelling of confidence. This fear is universal amongst adults as well as children. What the Mantle of the Expert system offers is a method that can remove this fear and offer a bridge between the real and the imaginary – stepping stones that protect participants into a learning context. I urge you to seek it out (see breakout box)
I recently worked with a group of Secondary Middle Leaders where an element of the programme was to look at how their specialism was delivered in Primary. Their findings were very interesting, but not nearly as fascinating as their responses to them. For some, they knew that the link between their subject offer and what was going on in Primary was coherent, but for most, they saw that their KS3 offer looked pale and uninviting compared to the action in Primary. English discovered that they had lower expectations of their students in Y7 than the teachers had in Y5. Why not invite your middle leaders to do a similar piece of action research?
I’ve talked a lot about scrutiny in this piece, so, if you get chance, look at
- Your Primary partner schools – do some learning walks
- Your transition process
- How Primary pedagogy can influence how we lead our children – I use Mantle of the Expert as an example here, but there is so much more
- The delivery of your subject in Primary
- Your expectations of Y7
- What useful things you do with Y8
- Courage in your curriculum
- The mirror in your bathroom.
Cheers. A version of this post first appeared in Teach Secondary magazine.
Working with the wonderful Dorothy Heathcote 2010