IDL in Teacher Education, Part Two: Planning for IDL Through Dramatic Enquiry

In part one of this two-part article, I exemplified how my student primary teachers critically examine CfE guidance on IDL. In this second post, I describe how I have been exploring IDL examples and implementation with students through Mantle of the Expert (MoE) – an approach to dramatic enquiry first developed by Dorothy Heathcote in the 1980s. MoE is currently experiencing a renaissance in pockets across the UK (e.g. Woodrow First School and the Welsh Border project).  

Through MoE, pupils operate within a fictional context as an expert team, working for a client who sets the team a commission leading to a range of curriculum-related tasks. For example, pupils might work as an expert team of archaeologists commissioned by the Museum of Cairo to plan and undertake the excavation of a newly discovered tomb.

A catalyst for an interdisciplinary approach is a problem or issue beyond the scope of a single subject that must be of relevance and real-life purpose to the learner (Barnes, 2015; Boix-Mansilla, 2005). MoE is an approach to curriculum integration which, as situated learning, can provide student teachers with an example of how to contextualise the kind of real-life purposeful problem that drives IDL.

In the first mantle I explore with students, pupils are an expert team of animal conservationists working in an animal sanctuary. The team are commissioned by an animal rescue organisation to reconfigure their existing enclosures to incorporate the needs of some newly rescued animals (Taylor, 2016). Pupils must acquire knowledge and skills across subjects such as science, maths and technologies, and synthesise these new understandings in order to address the problem.

While learning across the curriculum through MoE may not always be truly interdisciplinary (and it doesn’t have to be), well-planned commissions can lead to rich and purposeful IDL. For example, consider the IDL opportunities if the animal sanctuary team are commissioned with any of following:

  • Develop an education programme for the sanctuary
  • Create a television documentary about the sanctuary and the animals it protects
  • Plan a fundraising campaign to help support the additional animals
  • Create an awareness raising campaign about endangered animals
  • Plan for the reintroduction of a rescued animal back into the wild

One might ask where drama fits in all this. With an MEd in Learning and Teaching in the Performing Arts, I have a particular interest in the power and potential of drama to enhance learning across the curriculum. Sometimes referred to as process drama, this type of educational drama is not performance-focused, but instead involves pupils and teacher working and learning together through a range of drama conventions (or strategies). We can’t always bring the real, or ‘as is’, world into the classroom; however, through drama we can co-create an ‘as if’ world to give context to learning, providing learning with purpose and relevance (Edmiston, 2003). Through MoE, pupils work both inside and outside the fiction. For example, during the animal sanctuary mantle pupils might work inside the fiction in role as sanctuary workers to interview a local zoo owner. They might create still images of the public opening of the updated sanctuary or explore reasons for the animals needing sanctuary in the first place, presenting their ideas back to their peers as short role plays. At other times the pupils might work outside the fiction to research animal habitats or develop their understanding of scale and technical drawing. These newly acquired knowledge and skills would ultimately be applied within the fiction when, as an expert team, the pupils planned the new animal enclosures.

Last session, my PGDE students explored two different mantles before working collaboratively to plan mantles of their own, sharing some of this work in microteaching sessions.  Purposeful problems the students planned included:

  • A team of astronauts tasked with applying their understanding of gravitational forces to design and pitch a new rollercoaster to the amusement park owners and park engineers.
  • A team of expert scientists commissioned by an island government to investigate what is causing increasingly frequent tsunamis on the island. The commission includes the development of tsunami defense guidance.
  • A Katie Morag themed mantle where a team of boat builders is commissioned by the people of the island of Struay to design a boat to meet the inhabitants’ diverse needs.

The students were encouraged to analyse their work using Harvie’s (2020) model for IDL (see below), identifying where curriculum tasks might necessitate disciplinary learning, where aspects of their plans were multidisciplinary and which elements were truly interdisciplinary. The students reflected that there is, and should be, space for multiple approaches to learning within the curriculum.

(Harvie, 2020, p. 58)

As part of research I was engaged in at the time, I undertook formal analysis of the impact of learning about MoE on PGDE student teacher understanding of IDL. Findings evidenced that MoE became a way for students to make sense of and connect their developing understandings of learning within and beyond subject boundaries. Students unanimously agreed that MoE was an effective way to exemplify IDL, and that it provided a supportive framework for IDL planning. I am working collaboratively with a colleague to integrate MoE throughout our undergraduate interdisciplinary module, providing further practical exemplification of its potential for effective curriculum integration.

Education Scotland’s (2020) Ambitious Learning paper describes classrooms where IDL is commonplace as exhibiting a ‘culture of thinking’, stating that in this culture ‘young people don’t just learn about history; they learn to think like historians. They don’t just do science; they learn to think like scientists’ (ibid. p.11)’. What better way to nurture this than by supporting young people in adopting the mantle of the expert?

Acknowledgements

The animal sanctuary mantle was an adaptation of the work of Tim Taylor, a primary teacher and now teacher-trainer for Mantle of the Expert. You can find out more about Tim’s work and how other teachers are connecting the curriculum through MoE at the Mantle of the Expert website.

References

Barnes, J. (2015) Cross-curricular learning 3-14. London: Sage.

Boix-Mansilla, V. (2005) ‘Assessing Student Work at Disciplinary Crossroads’, Change: The Magazine of Higher Learning, 37, pp. 14-21. http://dx.doi.org/10.3200/CHNG.37.1.14-21

Edmiston, B. (2003) ‘What’s My Position? Role, Frame, and Positioning When Using Process Drama’, Research in Drama Education, 8 (2), pp. 221-229. Available at: https://www.mantleoftheexpert.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/01/Whats-my-position.pdf (Accessed: 04/10/22).

Education Scotland (2020) Interdisciplinary Learning: ambitious learning for an increasingly complex world. Available at: https://education.gov.scot/media/mkomulen/interdisciplinary-learning-thought-paper.pdf (Accessed: 04/10/22). 

Harvie, J. (2018) Interdisciplinary Learning: A Chimera of Scottish Education?. PhD Thesis. University of Stirling. Available at: https://dspace.stir.ac.uk/handle/1893/29326 (Accessed: 30/01/22).

Harvie, J. (2020) ‘Interdisciplinary learning: addressing the implementation gap’, Scottish Educational Review, 52(2), pp. 48-70.

Taylor, T. (2016) Mantle of the Expert: A transformative approach to Pedagogy. Norwich: Singular Publishing.

Featured image: Alliums. © 2022 Nick Hood.

Author: Nikki Doig

Nikki Doig is a Lecturer in Education at the University of Dundee.

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