17th February 2018
By Jan Buley
In her keynote address on creativity for the London Borough of Redbridge in 1999, Heathcote compares the schools to beehives, “and the cells and types of workers which, are many and various”. She continues by elaborating on her concern over the uniformity that seems to prevail in many schools. Heathcote quotes Sir Edward Hall’s belief that “Education should be related with transformation rather than information only.” She laments, as many teachers do, the sheer quantity of a day in a typical classroom, with divided subject materials, divided thinking and divided human brains. In short, Heathcote’s approach to learning through drama education is blended curriculum in the extreme, with all participants as knowledge seekers and knowledge producers. The teacher is not longer the expert or the conduit for learning to happen. Jeffrey Wilhelm, in his article, “Drama is Imagining to learn: Inquiry, Ethics, and Integration through Drama” writes, “Through drama, students become a part of the learning process rather than mere observers or inactive receptacles of the rich experience of learning; in this way, their learning was deeper, more sustained, and infinitely more complex” At Ringsfield Hall for the Mantle of the Expert Intensive training, we didn’t act out the Pied Piper and the rat infestation, we lived it. The lived story consumed us. The complexities of the people tolerating the rats became evident to each one of us. We became the uprooted mill owners, we became the families who lived downstream, and we became the rat-catchers and the problem solvers. We wondered together, wrote together, designed strategies together, tested out hypotheses together and imagined together. At the conclusion of each day’s workshop, our thinking was transformed and we were propelled to think about our own teaching and learning through new perspectives. More importantly, we all recognized the learning opportunities for these powerful strategies in our classrooms.
Throughout this intensive course we were frequently reminded about the necessity to observe and notice deeply what is going on during the experience. Heathcote’s awareness of the aesthetics of teaching, as well as the semiotics in the teacher talk and teacher body language were also emphasized. We were equipped with questions to help us attend to what the learners might be doing in our midst. How are they attending? What specific details are they attending to? What are they not attending to? How might I, the teacher, guide them to new places of learning through this drama? There was and is much to think about. “Doing” mantle work is a lifetime learning journey. We had only touched the surface of learning through drama education. Asking “what’s in the curriculum, and what can I place into this learning inquiry?” is a good starting place. Through Mantle of the Expert drama experiences, participants of all ages are invited to walk in the shoes of others, find new places for their voices to be heard and work alongside teachers and peers to see where their learning will go. Teaching through this drama approach gives me hope.
Jan Buley is a professor of Literacies and Drama Education in the School of Education at Laurentian University