Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Mantle of the expert - deceiving children or inspiring learning?

I have been teaching through the mantle of the expert approach for seven years now, having first seen it in action at Little Bealings Primary School. I had heard about it in passing from my headteacher and curiosity got the better of me, so I convinced him to send three teachers from school to an open event at Bealings. Our trio consisted of myself (trying to find my niche), our deputy head (and English coordinator) and a new teacher who I had mentored as an NQT.

Your cakes are too tiny for Giants!
Our thoughts about what we had seen differed greatly. We spent some time with a trainee teacher, whose lesson was pure drama from start to finish. Our deputy was concerned about the pace, the learning and the progress in what she thought was an English lesson. I saw it as more than that: PSHE, collaboration, decision making and totally led by the children. There was no written work at the end of it, but photographs and film clips were taken throughout. The planning made sense to me as well. It wasn't comprehensive, because things change. Energy was put into the ideas and resources for the lesson, not the paperwork. To me it was dynamic.

 Even more memorable was what was going on in the infant classroom (a gardening company). It was busy, the children were excited, they were making decisions and different things were happening in different areas of the room. It wasn't a conventional room either. It wasn't dominated by tables and chairs. The displays were not particularly neat, but they were covered with the children's ideas and work. I was hooked. This felt right to me. The learning had been put into a context and the children were thriving on it. I saw much evidence of their learning, but was astounded by the children's confidence and the way that they could reason and articulate their thoughts. Our new headteacher at Roydon felt the same the first time she saw me teaching this way.

My first major mantle

My first mantle S.T.A.R.S (space transportation and restoration services) lasted a whole term. It was with year 5/4 children. I worked in role as many different people throughout the term, but started the mantle as an angry professor who was cursing NASA's inability to launch a rocket. Did the children know it was me? Of course. Did they immerse themselves in the drama of the situation anyway? Totally.

A Chadburys employee
What was more noticeable was the 'buzz' that was created. Parents were interested in what was going on and they were telling me that their children were talking to them about their learning in ways they had done previously.
Teaching through this way seemed to naturally support children with SEN, whilst stretching TAG children. How do I know this? Through what I was seeing and hearing and through their results at the end of the year. I had lots of visitors and they were confirming what I was feeling - it is a positive way for the children to be in control, make progress and learn.

The importance of appropriate language

I have written this post in response to a comment on twitter that suggested I was 'deceiving' the children. It is true that you are creating an imaginary world, but surely this is what we want to do in school - feed and nurture their imaginations? I am careful with the language I use and favourite phrases include:

'I wonder what it would feel like ...'
'What would you do if...?'
'What would it be like if ...?' 
'When I put on this hat/tie/jacket I will become...'

There are many more phrases that I will use during a drama, but sometimes I drop right in role without warning. At these times, language is used carefully to debrief the children. I am not going to go into detail about mantles, as I have written about them elsewhere, but over the years I have worked with the children to rescue orangutans and polar bears (helped by Sir Richard Branson!), rebuild a Chocolatier that burned down, created documentaries and resources for publishing and broadcasting companies, become a rival company to RyanAir, catered for the needs of giants, gnomes and Australian documentary makers, been  trainee timelords and found many different artifacts that have led to huge investigations.

I could talk about drama and mantle of the expert for ever, because I am passionate about it. The benefits for me as a teacher are:

  • It suits my teaching style
  • Its creative nature keeps me happy as a teacher (I like dressing up!)
  • The enquiry approach lets children lead the way. I like pretending that I don't know the answers. It encourages the children to problem solve.
  • You never teach the same thing in the same way (so I don't get bored if I repeat a topic)
  • It promotes problem solving, collaborative skills, decision making and using initiative
  • It enables a personalised learning approach 
  • Amy Pond?!
  • There is never a dull moment!

I do not subscribe to the purist Mantle of the Expert approach that says the children need badges and identities in the drama each time. I have adapted the approach to suit my style and the needs of the children I am working with. That is why I like to call it drama in the classroom. Sometimes I am purely using drama to give a context for learning, other times we become a company. My mantles can last from a week to a term and are very flexible depending on the theme; there is no room for tenuous links. 

If you would like to know more about mantle of the expert, visit their main website. If you want ideas for using drama in the classroom, there is a booklet here. If you are still in doubt, imagine you are 5/6 years old and working for a gnome. Wouldn't that be fun?!

Saturday, October 20, 2012


I did a learning styles questionnaire on the NCSL site many moons ago and it told me things that I already knew about myself, but also made me think about significant weaknesses in the way I approach things.  I scored 2/50 under the 'realistic' tab. I needed to do something about this. Whilst I believe you need teachers who can see endless possibilities, you also need practical teachers who can see the problems. I had a new found respect for teachers that I had previously considered to be blinkered. It was a huge learning curve for me, but really helped me to understand why our school is successful; we have a good balance of personalities.

 How does this relate to BYOD? Well I have realised that my excitement at trying new things has sometimes meant that I haven't thought about the potential risks. We started started blogging over seven years ago at school without any worries about having policies in place. Of course we had consent forms for photograph use, but no guidelines for actual blogging. I want to make sure that I don't do this with BYOD.

Roydon digital leaders
 The need for one has arisen because my digital leaders have wanted to bring their mobile devices into school for our digital leader sessions. This has made things so much easier for me and it enables them to carry on learning at home. The games that my digital leaders have made in their on time are amazing and they have set up their ipads/ipods to be able to blog from them. The first couple of times they brought them in, we just had verbal agreements with the pupils and parents. They understood the risks and rules, but this needed putting in writing.

Ruby's sketchnation game
So last week I searched the internet for exemplar policies. I found very little. Eventually I found a forum where  a policy written by Mount Erin College in Australia was praised. The wording was very clear, so as a starting point I have adapted this slightly and sent it home with digital leaders. As a school we can adapt our policy accordingly as we continue our BYOD journey.

I would love to hear from others about BYOD policy and practice, so that I can carry on learning!

Monday, October 8, 2012

Be prepared!

I have been asked the question more than once, 'How did you prepare for introducing ipads in school?' so will try to provide a few tips. 

1. Firstly, you need the ipads set up with quality apps that are going to be useful in class. That may seem obvious, but I have delivered staff meetings in other schools where the technicians (and in one case ex headteacher) hold the password for downloading apps and the ipads had few quality items on them. It is frustrating for me and frustrating for staff when they cannot play with the apps I am showing. To get them used quickly across the school I would recommend the following:

  • Primary games maths apps - great for M+O skills across the primary age range
  • Sumo maths - a fun free app with different levels for calculation skills
  • Book creator - create e-books quickly and easily 
  • Mr Thorne does phonics
  • Twinkl phonics - fun games up to phase 5
  • Collins Big Cat - for guided reading and story creating
  • Puppet pals - create fun animations easily
  • iMovie - create slick movies with ease
  • I can animate - quick and easy stop animations 
  • Smart office / Noteshelf / Notability
  • Blogger - because it's so easy to get blogging with it!

The apps that we rate most highly at Roydon are shown here with some useful teacher tools here. You can cover a range of ICT skills with the programming and gaming apps shown here too.  

2. Provide an ipad for each teacher, even if the expectation is that they are available for use in class each day. Let TAs take home ipads if they want to. We have a booking out system at Roydon.

3. Make sure that there are regular training (learning through play) sessions for your staff timetabled throughout the year. Don't assume that all staff will want to take the ipads home and play with them. New apps need to be introduced properly and staff given the chance to use them so that they can understand the value of them. I would advise that this should happen at least once every half term to start with.

4. Limit the amount of apps you add, or the people that are allowed to purchase them. Try a 'request' system. This will help avoid the problem of 400 apps on the ipad with only 200 quality ones! 

5. Manage your apps so that they are stored in folders for children to locate them easily. Let them synch through the cloud. It is much easier if your ipads are set up so that they all look the same. It is very frustrating if you give out the ipads, then realise that the app you want them to use is not on all ipads. Teaching children to use the search facility is helpful too. 

6. Delegate ipads to each class, but have a timetable where they can be requested for whole class work. Having 4 in my room at all times means that group work can happen throughout the day. 

7. Set your home screen up so that ipads can be returned to the right class when borrowed (mine all have badgers on them). Having a number helps to. If a child starts to create a book on Badger 1, they know where to return to find it. 

8. Employ digital leaders to help you inspire and innovate!

I am researching the use of ipads in our school, as are others that I know of, like Jenni from Frettenham Primary. I will share my findings through this blog regularly in the hope that it will help others. Simon Haughton is another ipad enthusiast who writes extremely helpful posts about his experiences with ipads in school. You can read them here. Learning from others this way will not only inspire, but hopefully enable you to learn from any problems we have had. I will try to explain in more detail about the synching issues in the next post.