From Values to Curriculum.

I have been recently asked to summarise my learning and thinking about Mantle of the Expert in the context of completing the 18 month English NEU Mantle of the Expert course. Alongside this, our school has been designated a training school for Mantle of the Expert and so I am putting together information to help those who we train, including new staff members.

This requires thinking about how Mantle of the Expert fits into our school curriculum, which of course it does very much. But how do I go about explaining that thinking.

School Values

Our school values are: Love, Courage and Respect. We have spent three years working on embedding those values not only by referring to them on school documents or posters on the wall but living them, teaching them, exploring them and reflecting on them. I have come to believe that having a values driven school is extremely important. We actively love each member of our community and actively seek to champion and love those who may be harder to love than others – this includes colleagues, governors, neighbours, parents and of course, children (last in the list because they tend to be the easiest to love). We are tasked with courageous learning, living, leading and teaching. We want to take real risks with our curriculum because we want to make it real, important and valuable to our children – and our community. Finally, everything we do, we must do with respect for one another. You may disagree with me about the value of values in this sense but to me, they are vital for ethical and moral teaching and leading.

Learning Behaviours

We have talked about learning behaviours throughout this year. The ones we have chosen are: Imagination, Independence, Resilience, Collaboration, Compassion, Inquisitiveness. They are not as embedded as our values but our learning journeys will reflect these throughout the next year. In the context of Mantle of the Expert it is easy to see how children can use all of those learning behaviours in their learning.

Concepts

Community Justice Relationships Creation Stewardship Representation Empathy Migration Evolution Adaptation Diversity Democracy Civilisation Trade Power Legacy Change Truth.

These concepts sit above our curriculum and provide the cross curricular links. Having an understanding of these concepts and their differing subject specific definitions will help us to make curriculum links. They also provide a common language to explore big concepts that the world is struggling with. One cursory glance through our national newspapers will tell you that we struggle as a nation with many of these.

Mantle of the Expert

And so, to Mantle of the Expert. Our curriculum is informed by the above thinking and delivered using Mantle of the Expert. When planning contexts to explore, the above values, behaviours and concepts are useful. When acting as a team, what values are important to us? What is going to inform our decisions? What happens when we passionately disagree with each other? (see the blog post about the Martian criminal) How are we going to behave and, can we apply that learning in our own lives.

Mantle of the Expert allows for space in the curriculum to explore all of this is a safe, high stakes, low threat environment.

 

 

Co-constructing enactively

Context: Earthquake and Tsunami research

Beginning a new Mantle of the Expert context is a good time to review the ways in which you begin the work to engage the children, foreshadow their learning and explore what they already know about the world in which you are going to inhabit.

We started this context, in which we were going to investigate the destruction of a city because of an Earthquake, sitting in a circle imagining a city skyline. This was because I wanted the children to have in their mind a variety of buildings and man-made structures that are present in a city. I talked about size, shape, materials and purpose as they imagined their city landscape. I asked them to focus on one building and then some children, 3 or 4, came and made their buildings in the space. We talked about what they were for a while, each time exploring why that building was important to the city. We had a church, the leaning tower of Pisa, a skyscraper and a statue or a boy holding a plane (this is based on a real life statue).

The purpose of exploring the importance of each building was to elevate the importance of the type of building but also the contribution of the child. The other children therefore knew that their contributions were going to be important which is motivating but also encourages contributions that will add value to the session. Another purpose of this was to discuss why different buildings are important; the church told us that the people of this city (or some of them) had religious beliefs, the leaning tower of Pisa told us that the city was an old city that valued its past and its culture, the skyscraper told us that this was a modern city that had wealth and the statue of the boy told us that there must have been a war at some point in the past in which the city was bombed.

After this, we repeated the exercise with a few other children. This time we had McDonalds, a palace where a Queen lived, a building representing a slum (the children didn’t really know what this was but they knew poor people lived in slums), the Liver birds (an Easter visit to Liverpool must have happened) and an unexploded bomb underground. These buildings meant that the was enough money in the city to warrant fast food restaurants*, the city was part of a country that had a Monarchy, there were areas of deprivation and poverty in the city, the people of the cities had invented stories and myths about their city (if the Liver birds fell it meant the city would be destroyed!) and the unexploded bomb was an interesting addition to the possible future of the city after the Earthquake.

There was also a statue of a pirate which I took the opportunity to note that this might mean the city was by the sea. As we were exploring earthquakes and tsunamis, being by the sea will be important. I would have taken any opportunity that presented itself throughout the activity to draw out that our city might be near the sea.

Given that I wanted to construct a city and then destroy it with an Earthquake so that we could then explore the consequences, the above activity may seem like a waste of time or pointless in terms of the outcome but, there are three points that we should bear in mind about the future of the potential learning now.

  • Engagement and investment – the children are now invested more in the city that they have created and they will care more about what happens to it and the stories and learning we can create from it. This cannot be underestimated.
  • Knowledge – I know have a much better idea of what the children’s knowledge of the world is like and what their experiences are. The addition of the statues, the Liver birds, the unexploded bomb and the leaning tower of Pisa has given me much about what the children know about the world and what they feel is important; this can be used as the unit of work progresses. How would the people of the city react to the destruction (or revealing) of these structures?
  • Foreshadowing – I now have a handful of threads of learning that I can pull on in future learning have begun with the children. This includes: wealth and poverty, why statues are built and what they signify, city planning, cultural importance of buildings and the stories that they create and most importantly, what happened to a city hit by and earthquake that is by the sea.

The geography content of the learning is about where in the world earthquakes, volcanoes and tsunamis happen, and why they happen but we have a much richer context for that learning then we had.

 

NEXT: What happened when the Earthquake struck!

Exploring why Easter is important to Christians through the medium of statues.

As it is the end of the Easter term, many schools across the country are exploring the Easter story and its meaning. The children I teach already have a fairly good understanding of the story and why the events from Palm Sunday onwards were important to the story of Jesus’ death and resurrection. What they were lacking was an understanding of how those events impact upon Christians today. Why do Christians celebrate those events and what impact do they have on the lives of Christians and their worship?

So, to the Mantle of the Expert approaches I went, and in particular, the use of artistic expression in interpreting and receiving wisdom. In this case using ‘frame-distance’ to explore the impact of Easter on Christians.

My understanding of frame distance is that it is a tool that can be used to get closer to or further away from an event. This can be used to place learners in a specific role to generate ideas and thoughts about the event from different points of view.

A further scribble exploring my understanding of Mantle of the Expert

In this case I chose to place the children in the position of artists commissioned to create a display of sculptures of the Easter week for Winchester Cathedral. The children had to create their sculptures, name them and write a sentence about it to add context.

The children were given 10 minutes to discuss in groups and create their sculpture, give it a name and a summarising statement which had to be written on paper and displayed. We then created the display, first clearing an appropriate space (in retrospect we should have used the hall with our stained glass window as a backdrop). The children, half a class at a time, looked at the statues and tried to interpret them, with much success.

The children then had a copy of their statue photographed and printed and they wrote why Christians today would find their sculpture helpful to their worship.

Why this worked.

In using frame-distance, we were able to depersonalise the task and think about how other people would interpret our work. Placing it in a Cathedral gave it importance and encouraged a more respectful working atmosphere where children couldn’t opt out. Being self-conscious is OK when using dramatic inquiry but the Cathedral made it more difficult to opt out or mess it up for their group. The whole class took part with enthusiasm, engagement and meaning – they were really thinking about how their body position and face would be interpreted.

On that interpretation, two groups chose to represent the last supper. Both groups had a Jesus character breaking bread and two characters either side of Jesus, one facing him and one facing away. The rest of the class interpreted the person facing away as being Judas, rightly in one case. The children instinctively knew that turning away represented  the betrayal. Interestingly though, the second group were represented Peter. The child was miming pulling a sword out as if to say ‘I will always defend you’ but was facing away to represent the denial later in the evening. This was a fascinating discussion to have and gave real depth to the work because on the face of it, the two characters were similar but were facing away for entirely different reasons.

All the children in the class are now able to say why the events of Easter week are important to Christians and they have a list of questions to ask a Baptist minister next week:

  1. Why did Jesus have to die?
  2. Did Jesus want to die?
  3. Why were there 12 disciples?
  4. Why were they only men?
  5. Why did one of the criminals go to heaven?
  6. Why did Jesus turn the tables in the temple?
  7. How did Judas die?
  8. Why did the people want Jesus to die and not the other criminal?
  9. Why a cross rather than any other method of death?
  10. Why did Jesus go to Jerusalem?

When drama is a little too close to reality.

MoE context: Crime and Punishment in British history from 1066 to modern day.

The classroom was organised in the usual MoE way, in the way that the class understood meant we were in a MoE lesson, I began by leading the class in recalling previous learning and I was using 2 of the 3 voices that the children understood(facilitator and character voices) although in retrospect some of the class didn’t recognise the change.

I wanted the class to explore what might happen if a crime had been committed. What would the consequences be and what steps might happen next? What are the principles we might employ in a class/school in order to maintain order?

So I told the children that a crime had been committed in the classroom at lunchtime. I didn’t reveal what the crime had been because I wanted to keep it vague and stop them picking holes in my story with real evidence (as the crime was fictional they could probably tell me how it couldn’t have happened and that would have broken the tension completely). I revealed that the crime was theft however and began to drop hints as to what might have happened and offer the children the opportunity to give their views about what might have happened. At which point a child put their hand up and said ‘Was it the blue-tac?”

So apparently, a child had taken from a drawer in the classroom some blue-tac so that they could put some signs up in the library as part of their librarian role.

A crime had been committed!

Although that depends on your definition of theft. Two definitions arose and we were able to explore the differences. One child said that theft was taking something that does not belong to you. If that is the definition than the blue-tac was stolen. The second definition was taking something that belongs to someone else without permission. That’s where the lines get a bit blurry. Who owns the blue-tac? Is it me, the teacher? Well, I didn’t buy it. (I know that a lot of teachers do mind!) So, who does it belong to. If it is a resource for the whole class to use, then surely it’s not stealing. If it is in a drawer with a name on it, is it stealing then? The lines are blurred you see. Did a crime take place?

In the end, we decided that they should have done more to seek permission from an adult but that it was not stealing. We did explore that the consequences of stealing would be though. What would an appropriate punishment be? How could there be reconciliation and restoration? Is it simply enough to say, “Please don’t do that again?” What are the purposes of punishments. Do I want it clear that no blue-tac should be stolen and made the punishment overly harsh as a deterrent? Is that unfair? Do I want recompense for my loss? If so, in what form is that appropriate. If I punish a child by keeping them in at break-time, have they made up for their crime or just had a punishment to appease for what they had done (although when you keep a child in at break, you have to stay with them so who are you really punishing?)

The answers aren’t important here, the questions are. Most children think that there should be a punishment if someone does something wrong but what form should that punishment take and how do we move on from it with relationships restored, intact or even improved and what are the unseen consequences of the initial crime and the punishment?

 

‘You do choose interesting subjects for your mantles!’

This comment was made to me after revealing our last Mantle of the Expert context. In truth, we are just following the national curriculum although we do also keep an eye on what is happening in the world to see how it can link as real life application and authenticity really work with upper KS2 children.

This term’s context revolves around a thematic study of English history from beyond 1066. We have, as many others have, chosen crime and punishment.

This provides children with a gory and fascinating study and we could plan a series of lessons where we explore how different periods of history treated criminals. What crimes were common and how were they punished. I’m sure this topic has been taught in a number of interesting and engaging ways up and down the country. A short internet search would confirm this – they’d be plans a plenty to magpie from.

Having worked with MoE approaches now for over a year, a think there is a better way and here is my reasoning.

I have now spent three weeks, on and off, looking into, researching and planning for our next context. This is not to say that I have been solidly working but I have been thinking. Each time I work on it, I find another angle that is interesting to me, answering questions like: How would I feel if someone had decided what my life, or a limb of mine, is worth? Would I think it is fair? What if I found out that my neighbour is worth more than me? Is it right that punishments were about deterring others, rather than punishing the criminal? Why do powerful people (Kings, landowners) seem to relish controlling those below them in gruesome and degrading ways? What are the modern day versions of public humiliation (Instagram/Snapchat/Facebook anyone?) How many people who were mutilated/killed/drowned as witches we innocent (obviously all the witches were) Why is it that otherwise God-fearing adults felt it was morally right to hurt children? Can you absolve somebody of a crime after they have died? Who does that benefit?

To answer these questions there is no doubt that children will need a vast amount of knowledge but it is in answering these questions that the subject matter really solidifies. To know how you think about complex issues relating to right and wrong in a safe environment is truly life-long learning.

Oracy and rehearsal in Mantle of the Expert

There are, of course, many ways in which to develop oracy in classrooms and many ways to introduce speaking (and writing) for a purpose but the collaborative nature of Mantle of the Expert and the use of adults in role (and of course children) lends itself very nicely to both.

Consider the need to meet with a local councillor (an adult-in-role) to discuss the application to develop a tourist attraction about the Vikings. Having drawn up plans and ideas, the children knew what they wanted their tourist attraction to be like. By adding in the local councillor, you have a ready made way of critiquing their work in a safe, protected way. Before every important formal meeting, you also need to rehearse and think about what you are going to say. This provides an excellent opportunity for modelling speaking.

‘I’d like everyone to look at your plans and see what you notice. I know that the councillor will be supportive of your hard work and effort but I wonder if they might have some objections to the proposed plans. If we can think before we meet them about the problems they might notice, we can come up with good ways of solving the problems.’

We paused then and thought about what it might be like if we could notice the problems with our work at other times in school and out of it. If we got good at spotting what we had done wrong, would we be better at putting them right.

‘What did you notice?’

The replies were like this…

‘I’ve noticed that there aren’t enough paths around the site and the councillor might think that is a problem. In my opinion, we should put some more path in so that visitors can get from this building to this one easily,’

‘I think it will be difficult for cars to get in and out of the museum so I think we should have a one-way system. Cars and buses can come in this way and leave this way (pointing at the plans) so there aren’t really bad queues.’

‘I agree with … but I’d like to build on their point because I think that we should have better road signs so that people know where to go.’

and obviously

‘We will need more toilets here, here and here.’

This gave the teacher the opportunity to plan what they would say as the councillor. When the councillor did arrive, they were able to structure the conversation so that the children could answer in a more formal, appropriate way. The level of speaking was high and the rehearsal meant that children who weren’t as confident had the chance to see others at work beforehand so that they could have a go when it mattered.

Drama need not be dramatic.

Team: Detectorists

Client: Local Farmer

Commission: Explore a farm for potentially historically important artefacts, possibly relating to a king.

 

The story so far is that the team did indeed find evidence of a Viking settlement and a Viking burial mound. Inside was a burial ship with bones and a number of important Viking artefacts. Meanwhile, an envelope arrived at Lost and Found Ltd headquarters with evidence that the farmer was selling his land for housing development, against the wishes of his family. The children inferred that the envelope had been sent by the farmers brother. The origins of the envelope don’t actually matter, there inferences do!

So cue the drama. The children were sat in a circle of chairs and there was one table to the corner of the space. Without any contextualising the teacher paced nervously around the space, fiddling with a pen. Here is what was said:

“I…I don’t know… I just don’t know what to do,”

He sat down.

“I just want what is best for my family.”

Then the change of voice, “So, what dis you make of that.”

And that was it – the dramatic moment was over. From there the class discussed what they thought the farmer was feeling (they worked out that it was the farmer without being told) they decided that he was indeed going to sell the farm to housing developers and they didn’t want that to happen. They chose to come up with reasons why he should not sell the farm and listed 7 really good reasons. When asked how they wanted to tell him, they thought that an e-mail was best… and so we wrote an e-mail.

One example from a Year 4 child is attached.

The drama didn’t need to be dramatic or involved, it didn’t require much preparation, just enough to prompt the thinking of the children. Of course, a lot of foreshadowing and activity had gone into the context, but it was worth it.

 

Moving from the Mantle to the ‘topic’

We have begun a Mantle of the Expert context loosely based on the Viking screenwriter context on the Mantle of the Expert website. The steps is have been adapted to take account of the dry summer we have had and the significance of that to historians and archaeologists and the fact that the team are detectorists rather than screenwriters. However, we have reached the part of the story where the children find a Viking burial.

In terms of history, what are the children learning when they learn about a Viking burial site? The National curriculum aims for history at Ks 2 state that children should ‘know and understand the history of these islands as a coherent, chronological narrative, from the earliest times to the present day: how people’s lives have shaped this nation and how Britain has influenced and been influenced by the wider world.’ In terms of content, the curriculum states that children should study ‘the Viking and Anglo-Saxon struggle for the Kingdom of England to the time of Edward the Confessor’. There is not a lot of specifics there so what is it that we want the children to learn and how best can we go about it.

In my mind, and in keeping with the aims of the curriculum, we should teach children that the history of the United Kingdom is complex and inter-linked between the civilisations and peoples that have invaded and settled here over thousands of years, that each group brought distinct culture and practises that influenced the history of these islands and that they have a historical, cultural and geographical legacy that remains today. In studying the religions, Gods, stories and rituals from another culture we are recognising what they valued as people and can contrast that with our own values. We are learning much more of course but this is a good start.

Today we evaluated the grave goods that might have been present in a Viking burial site. What might these things say about what a culture values? What do these things tell us about the everyday lives of people of the past? How do these things compare with the value we place on things and what we might want with us after we die. More importantly, what do we believe happens to us after we die and how does that compare with the Viking beliefs about the afterlife?

We did this with the fictional drama of preparing for a Viking death ceremony, which we will act out. You could argue that historical accuracy is important here but so is the interpretation of the information by the children. What did they think it was like and why do they think this. My class decided that these ceremonies took place at night and under torch light. They may or may not be right, they haven’t looked it up to find out. The key question though is why they think this and how does it link to what is true and what fits in their understanding of history and rituals.

So today we moved between the Mantle of the Expert circle, where we were acting as detectorists, the inquiry circle where we were finding out about Viking rituals and burial practices in books and on the internet and the drama circle where we were re-enacting a Viking burial ceremony. The children have learnt a lot about the Viking culture but also about their own values and what they think should be important to people and this is one of the things that marks Mantle of the Expert out as different to ‘topic’ lessons.

Tension.

I think I recommended to my headteacher the BBC series ‘The Detectorists’. We may have both seen it and had a conversation about it, I can’t remember. In the series, written by Mackenzie Crook (The Office, Pirates of the Caribbean) who also stars in the show, two metal detectorists search the local landscape of the fictional village Danebury, in search of treasure. It is beautifully filmed, extremely well acted and very funny, in an English sort of self-referential dry humour way.

In the final series of the show, Lance and Andy have to rush to search a farm that has been sold to be developed into a solar panel farm. They believe there are Roman remains on the land. As a consequence they have to enlist the help of their friends but also the shows long term protagonists, a pair of rival metal detectorists.

In what has to be the funniest television sequence involving a classic car since Basil Fawlty took to his with the branch of a tree, Lance and Andy agree that whoever gets to the field first, them or their rivals, gets to detect on it, and so follows a chase between a Triumph and a classic motorcycle through British country lanes at about 25mph. In addition, towards the end of the series, Andy and Lance attempt to attract bats to a tree in the field in order to place a banning order on felling the tree as the bats have protected status.

And so to tension. While planning for this terms Mantle, about finding a Viking barrow in the English countryside, the Detectorists came to mind. And so our team this term will be a team of Detectorists searching for Viking treasure. The tensions in this context have almost directly come from the series and revolve around the two inquiry questions, who owns the land that we walk on and what lies beneath it and how should land be used?

Here are a list of possible tensions

  • is there actually a Viking treasure hoard under the ground?
  • how long to we have to find the hoard given the land has been sold to developers
  • who is going to find it?
  • who lays claim to it once it is found?
  • do we have the right to block a development?
  • what about land that has important or rare habitats or plants or animals? Does this land have the same rights?

On top of this idea, the weather has played into our hands. The dry spell across the country has left many marks of our past on the landscape which we can discuss and involve in our context. I have felt that bringing the real world into Mantle of the Expert in KS2 is vital to its success. The children know it is fictional but it has enough factual integrity about it that it holds true, holds their attention and gives them the tools and language to discuss these issues in depth. Ironically, the driver for doing this in this context was another fictional story with tensions built in to six beautifully filmed episodes.

 

 

Do you avoid insurrection?

“Gather closer… closer… I don’t want to be overheard. What I have to tell you is of vital importance to the Kingdom and I don’t want anyone to know that it was me that uttered these words. Can I trust you? You know that we all share the same view; that the Kingdom be a happier place?” This was me acting in role and the Queen’s uncle.

The children agreed that I could trust them

“It’s the Queen. Her latest decree – that the citizens must always be happy. It will cause chaos and it will be us, you and me, that have to go out into the kingdom and arrest anyone who is not happy. I don’t know about you but I’m not sure I could do that. What do you think”

General agreement, a few comments about the Queen ‘losing it’ or ‘being a bit mental’.

“So I think that she needs your help. We know we can’t enforce her decree so we have to do something about it. What do you think we could do?”

There were a couple of suggestions before one that created a real sense of tension in the room. ‘We should overthrow her.’

Quiet… then another child spoke, a year 4 girl.

“If we do that we’d have to replace her with another King or Queen. I don’t think we should do that but perhaps we could tell her what she should do. I don’t think she’ll want to listen so I think that we should, like, capture her or something like that,’

A few more comments came and went.

I have to admit to jumping in a little here. My mind was racing, thinking about how we could go about this task that the children were thinking of embarking on. They were suggesting that the authority who must be obeyed should be overthrown. A civil war. This isn’t too far from most histories in the history of the world to be fair, but I wasn’t sure what it taught about obedience and, after all, that was the curriculum learning we were aiming for.

Luckily, collective worship intervened and gave me 30 minutes to think about it. A break duty meant I could prowl the playground searching for what to do next.

When we returned to the class I gathered them round again and said something like, “Thank you for all your suggestions earlier. I have been thinking about what you said and I think I agree that overthrowing the Queen might be difficult but I think that she would want to hear what you have to say about what she should do to make the Kingdom happier. I don’t think she is happy and I think she needs some advice, are you happy to give her some advice?”

The children agreed. I probably them reverted to the facilitator voice too soon but the children were happy to head off into groups and write a list of things that the Queen should do. Partly because we had played many roles and partly because some children just wanted to play the role of the villains, some of the group just wanted to assassinate the Queen. Their view was that once she was gone, everyone would be happy. These children were redirected either subtly… or less subtly (I’m not as patient as I would like to be).

We gathered again, this time with the room in a different configuration to allow the Queen to enter, flanked by guards, and the advice began to flow. After all the ideas were given, we asked the Queen if she would consider any of them. She considered:

  • annulling the decree for everyone to be happy
  • having suggestion boxes around the kingdom
  • having an extra day off a week
  • planning a festival to celebrate the kingdom

We then talked about the merits of these ideas as a class and drew comparisons with real life. At this point time ran out.

Reflections

There was a real tension in the room when the idea of overthrowing the Queen was mentioned, almost like it was naughty – I think the children thought I’d immediately jump on the suggestion and say that it was inappropriate. This of course is not really the Mantle of the Expert way.

The children were, again, concerned for the happiness of the Queen and the Kingdom – admittedly others wanted her dead by any means and for no real reason – those ideas were shut down – but mostly they wanted the Kingdom to be happy.

I was very close to thinking that we would end up overthrowing the Queen, I nearly went with them and planned the assassination of Queen Claire (hopefully this blog won’t end up on a GCHQ watch list – the Queen I am talking about is fictional). Do I avoid insurrection. This is the 2nd time this year where I have had to face that question – the question of taking the Mantle inquiry down a route that the children have suggested that wasn’t in the original plan and might work against the learning intention. I guess the answer lies in whether or not you feel that worthwhile and meaningful learning will come from it. I think, in this case, it could have, but the Year 4 girl (who possibly saw the panic in my face) saved me by suggesting that we simply advised the Queen on how to make the Kingdom happier again!

So, to finish off this Mantle, I think we will plan and execute an end of term festival to celebrate the Queen, the Kingdom, the children and Gold class, who really do understand Mantle of the Expert and regularly talk about it enthusiastically and fondly.

 

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