Learning through dramatic experiences

23rd November 2018

By Luke Abbott

An account of a reworked Heathcotian experiment conducted in Birmingham in 1982.
A short paper by Luke Abbott for students in year 1 Qattan Drama Summer School 2015 Jaresh Jordan.

[Dear Colleagues,
In this paper I outline the structure we used for our experiments into process drama and the long term mantle of the expert plan deployed with you as year 1 students this summer. In doing so, I am attempting to tackle some of the misconceptions you raised regarding MoE and process drama practices in learning environments that span long term goals, as well as short term ones. In previous writings I have alluded to the matters brought to our attention by Dr. Heathcote in 2000-2011 regarding the orientation of the educator or practitioner regarding professional choices. In her work over the past decade, and before her death, it became increasingly clear that Mantle of the Expert was a curriculum incorporation choice, allowing divergence to be the uppermost advantage whilst at the same time, inviting convergence with the participants where appropriate. Dr. Heathcote did not dictate the choices to be made. She insisted that such choices were in the hands of the practitioner of course. (Please refer to the 3 circles of MoE/Inquiry and Drama as a rough guide to the thinking behind this matter.)
Furthermore, it became increasingly clear that knowledgeable drama practitioners could either take a short road to learning by using a predominance of process drama tools and strategies (including MoE as a short term structure) or take a longer road to learning through deploying either short term MoE strategies or a long term MoE curriculum explorations, using the MoE system. I hope some of the complexities of choice by teachers and practitioners is a little clearer so please read the last sentence through several times……]

Status quo

I first came across the People of the Mountains structure in an MEd seminar when I was a student of Dr. Heathcote in Newcastle upon Tyne University, in preparation for the NATD conference in Birmingham in 1982. The plan was to be taught with a motley selection of young people gathered in haste for public teaching to be lead by Dr. Heathcote. Apparently some children and selected older students attending were not able to get to the venue, so, at the last moment others were gathered from a range of places, though we had little idea where from.
Several hundred teachers and practitioners were present to observe the first steps and the controversy created is a part of the history of Heathcote’s working life. The problem for observers in 1982, lay in the misunderstandings of how a novel and highly innovative method was being deployed in front of their eyes, and so unfamiliar to most people in the drama field. This new method required a ‘casting’ of the drama frame for a long term learning investigation using inductive teaching methodology. (Please refer to my previous writings on this matter in NATD Journal. )
The experiment had the potential for engaging learners over a long period of time. But, in 1982, the craving to witness the great maester of drama weaving another of her spells over her class, was overwhelming. Many were there to be educationally entertained, not pedagogically challenged. The fact that immediate steps into process drama was not part of the teaching caused huge alarm, and disarray amongst perplexed, angry and very disappointed viewers.

In retrospect, the lesson for all of us now, in 2015, seems blindingly clear. The uppermost priority was the of laying out a deep foundation for learning, demanding the highest commitment from participants. In this new method, the drama would have to wait! What we witnessed in 1982, was a potent piece of post-modern teaching with the potential to travel great distances over dramatic experiences, learning inquiries and group creativity. Unfortunately, as with many great artists, Heathcote was teaching many years ahead of her time, leaving the cynics saying she had lost her way and was now (in 1982) a ‘has been’…………..

History of course has proved the skeptics wrong . However the controversy still rages on. Is MoE drama…… can you do drama with MoE…….. what has any of this to do with the educational paradigm we are in? Should drama teachers get into schooling philosophy or just get on with their job?

The challenge was on.

Aimed at the whole education system still relying on small pockets of 60 minute drama experiences with the chosen few or worse, 40 minutes carousel with classes of 11-14 year olds. In the 1982 conference experiment, we witnessed a great artist -teacher risk her credibility by a profound challenge, in the public domain, to the forces of modernist schooling. My goodness what a ruckus it caused then and still does to this day. Well it would in any case as not a lot has changed over 30 years in the landscape of schooling.

I am not sure if the 1982 events have been documented anywhere. A film was made documenting the whole affair-though where it is is a mystery….Perhaps many would rather it was forgotten as just an aberration in an otherwise glittering career? (After all, Picasso had a little go at ceramics and quickly stopped.)

So here is another piece of history in the development of MoE and drama and in my view, deserves a very full airing. It is a shame that many researchers in the field have predominantly concentrated on Heathcote’s writings and ignored her most potent agency-that of practical teaching. It just shows how hard it is to rid ourselves of the modernist stranglehold so prevalent at most of our dominant academic institutions across the globe so wedded to the symbolic (Bruner).

People of the Mountains
Pedagogy: The Oxford English Dictionary 2015

1. The method and practice of teaching, especially as an academic subject or theoretical concept.

2. The relationship between applied linguistics and language pedagogy.

3. The art, occupation, or practice of teaching.

4. The theory or principles of education, a method of teaching based on such a theory.
The plan:
As you will remember, mantle of the expert has a predicated set of givens?

1. There is always a responsible team.
2. The team are driven by a fictional client of some sort who commissions them to take some sort of task needing completion.
3. The job needing to be done (or the commission) is depicted by using the 3 forms of representation-ICONIC, EXPRESSIVE OR SYMBOLIC (as in language/writing)

In the dramatic structure there is always a responsible team (or as Heathcote likened it to, an enterprise of some sort). The teaching of responsibility is at the heart of any teaching of course so a fundamental corner stone of practice is already in place through the pedagogy required to enable the work to commence and grow. In this way, it could be said that the applied pedagogy is the planning.

My teaching goals for the 4 days we were, firstly, the use of the ingredients of drama-

• People make it happen together to investigate what it means to be human.
• The people concerned agree to create a make believe world which is created by the people generating the as if mode of behaviours.
• The events happen in the now of time (the present tense behaviour)
• People experiment with their fiction by taking different points of view (as if we are someone else)
• The main driver is the exploitation of tensions facing the people involved in the fiction i.e. a tension that is not easy to resolve , which also drives the narrative and the invented dramatic action.
• At any time the fiction can be suspended so that reflections can take place-either in the fictional mode using dramatic strategy or in the non fictional world when the dramatic narrative ceases.

Secondly, to teach how MoE in the long term can capture the participants involved in an elaborate invention of a world above the Plains and a modern civilization below. The Mountain People would hold deeply routed traditions and know how which meant holding responsibility for a natural habitat of vast proportions and therefore custodians of the world rather than consumers.

Thirdly to introduce our class to a mode of planning for MoE developed by Heathcote in the form of Tasks. It must be said that the understanding we gained from using the Task tool within the MoE community of practice, over the years to date, has been enormous as we trialed the thinking and pedagogic processes required.

You will remember the schemata:

a. TASK:

So, in the seeding of such a context, the huge arena of curriculum possibilities from geographical terminology, mathematical calculations, environmental issues and the sources of our planet were able to be harnessed as needed if time could be invested into the creation of the landscape in a way that opened up divergent possibilities.

Heathcote’s modeling on the sequences required are very precise and in my experience of trialing them over the past decade, I have learned each step is critical to the one before and the one after!
In a region currently extremely remote and mountainous, attention has been focused by many people of the people dwelling in the lower region on water sources, water retention and recycling. The plains communities are expanding due to new arrivals as well as a rising birth rate. Consequently, civil engineers from the plains region have been tasked to investigate the possible harnessing of water sources from the mountainous region where it is said, large quantities exist. Currently the exact location of the water sources are unclear though many know of particular lakes and rivers that abound in the region.

If we move to an MoE structure, the responsible team could be seen as the Mountain People who hold responsibility for the mountain region and the resultant resources management.

One client would be the lowland people whose agent, the chief Civil Engineer, would speak on their behalf.

The commission? To liaise with the Mountain People to investigate the possibilities of harnessing the water sources and supplies for the benefit of the whole country to include the mountains and the plains.

In this structure resonances to many a plight facing people throughout the world are touched upon. A coming occupation perhaps, a civil community of great skill and acumen with business and commerce rubbing shoulders with a community based on ancient life styles and traditions as well as one that nurtures natural habitats. The ingredients of a long term drama of mythic proportions.

Many of you asked for the sequenced steps to be recorded in the order of the teaching workshop so I have noted them down here roughly based on the Heathcote model from 1982 but with my own additions and inventions. You will recognize that we had a few steps to experience that we did not tackle as we had other Mountain People issues to deal with as we invented them and as they arose-notably the possible advantages and disadvantages for the erection of a series of telephone signal towers invented by one of our group.

As an exercise you might like to tackle the full list of the task schema above for each task listed below and either write them up or bring them next summer for us to analyze. In any case, the exercise might help in clarifying MoE as a system perhaps?

The tasks in a sequenced order (not all completed at the Summer School)

1. We, as teachers, collect and collate as many words associated with the geographical term ‘Mountain’ as we can. In the event we created 43 items placed on A5 cards which we used for the next 4 days in a range of ways.
2. We sign together, using black marker pens, charcoal and other drawing materials a mountain scape of huge proportions. In the space you will remember the hall scale is enormous and needed 3 strips of paper a meter wide and 15 meters in length.
3. As teachers, we define together and make a list of the possibilities of curriculum based learning with learners, using such a strategy and context.
4. We then create the green resources on the mountain scape using green pens and art materials.
5. We then add the water sources using blue pens and other art resources using the implications from the addition of the green areas..
6. We create the names the plains people people call the mountain range by imagining we are taking their position looking up at the mountain range from the city.
7. We name the features the MP call those that can be seen by adding name cards together.
8. We invent the places the mountain people tell their children to avoid by stories handed down just before the children go to sleep.
9. We invent the ways the mountain people live by a physical exercise interpreted as contexts on the mountain.
10. We invent the names of the mountain range in the language of the Mountain People.
11. We name the features that are currently invisible on the mountain scape through the use of dramatic depictions and other drawings.
12. We invent the roadways and travel routes across the mountains as well as up and down the range.
13. We invent our flag.
14. We invent our behaviours when meeting visitors from the plains.

Finally, it was clear that the development of the dramatic imagination by the deployment of a variety of strategies helped build the significance of the people we created and laid a deep foundation for long term explorations using dramatic methods.



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