The Three ‘Voices’ of Teaching Mantle of the Expert
3rd May 2019
By Tim Taylor
Many people ask about the use of language in Mantle of the Expert, in particular the language used to move the students in and out of the fiction. This is one of the key ingredients of the approach and something I very well remember struggling with when I first started.
In general terms there are ‘three voices’ used in this approach – facilitator, teacher in role, and narrator. These voices are the mechanisms we can use to create the fiction, bring the students (and out), and develop activities for thinking and learning.
1.1 The facilitator’svoice is the voice used to support, encourage, and explain. It operates in the ‘real world’ of the classroom and is the closest to a traditional teacher voice. The facilitator’s voice uses the language of questioning, probing, and pondering. For example:
- Questioning – “Is there anything curious here… anything you don’t understand or know what it means?” [Looking at blue symbols on an Ordinance Survey map];
- Probing: “We’re going to need to take those things into account.” [Drafting plans for an old people’s retirement home].
- Pondering: “What might we come across over the wall?” [A brigade of Roman soldiers preparing to march into enemy territory beyond Hadrian’s Wall].
It is important not to ‘interrogate’ the students, by this I mean using questioning that puts them on the spot and makes them worried about getting the ‘wrong answer’. This will shut down debate and make some students reluctant to join in. Try to ask open ended questions you might not know the answer to. And, if you can, try to add some elements of narrative and tension. For example:
- “Is there any way of getting to the supply camp without encountering the enemy?”
- “As the monks faced death, I wonder what was going through their minds?”
- “How can we help Mr Sandy and Miss Snowy to meet?”
REF: For more information on questioning see the section on questioning in the Beginner’s Guide to Mantle of the Expert; and this article on the MoE website – https://www.mantleoftheexpert.com/blog-post/collaborative-questioning/
1.2 Another important aspect of the facilitator’s voice is to give encouragement and support without using insincere praise (such as: “well done; good answer; clever thinking; etc”). This might be counter-intuitive, since we are told praise is generally a good thing, but praise sets the wrong tone, it establishes the teacher as the one who knows and the one who judges. Inquiry is a collaborative approach, where the community are working on something together and all ideas are valuable.
REF: You can read more about the problem with praise here – https://www.mantleoftheexpert.com/blog-post/the-problem-with-praise/
1.3 A third element of the facilitator’s voice is to organise and lead. Not in the sense of a ‘boss’ telling the children what to do, but rather as a co-worker helping to get things done. For example:
- “You might want to work together and share ideas.” Rather than: “I want you to work in pairs.”
- “I thought it might be an idea for us to get together and see how things are going.” Rather than: “Tell me what you have been doing.”
- “Let’s see what these people might be doing.” Rather than: “You are these people, show me what they are doing.”
REF: There is more on this kind of language in this article – https://www.mantleoftheexpert.com/blog-post/mind-your-language-high-challenge-low-risk/
1.4 The last element of the facilitator’s voice is the use of what is called ‘inductive language’. Inductive language is the language of offering and suggesting that invites students into the fiction. For example:
- “If you were …” In contrast to: “You are going to be…”
- “Just for a moment let’s have a go at representing…” Instead of: “I want you to pretend…”
Inductive language is important because it protects the students from feeling ‘done to’. That is actors in the teacher’s play, rather than co-creators of a fiction they are working on and developing together.
2.1 The teacher in Role’sv oice operates inside the fictional world. It is there to give another point of view, to stimulate thinking, create tension, and generate engagement.
Generally speaking, there are three kinds of teacher in role, which can be classified in terms of status:
2.2 The first is low status, that is a role who needs help:
- “I’ve come here because I’ve heard you can help me.”
- “I don’t know what to do, everything is such a mess.”
- “I’ve got stuck and there doesn’t seem anyway out.”
Low status roles position the children as the ones who know. The ones (inside the fiction) who have the resources and the ideas to help.
This strategy is often called ‘man/woman in a mess’ – https://www.mantleoftheexpert.com/blog-post/dorothy-heathcote-four-models-for-teaching-learning/
2.3 The second is equal status, that is a role that is here to help – often a co-worker:
- “Where shall we start, there is a lot to do.”
- “I’ve got together these pictures, I thought they might help us with this job.”
- “If you need anything else just let me know.”
- “There is every chance she will be here in a minute, are we ready?”
- “I don’t suppose we will get there by nightfall, this place looks as good as any to pitch our tents.”
2.4 The third is high status, that is a role with authority and power within the fiction. They have to be used with caution (you don’t want a role bossing the students around), but are good at providing tension and the need for high standards:
- “On your knees! Where is the gold? We know you have gold, where is it?”
- “I’m looking for a team who knows what they’re doing and aren’t afraid to take a few risks.”
- “I don’t know what you’re doing here, this is my land and I don’t remember giving you permission to come on to it.”
The most important thing to remember (especially when using a high statue role) is that the students are ‘protected’ into the experience. By that I mean, they understand what is going on and that this is a ‘safe space’ where nothing nasty is really going to happen to them. The best way to do this is to negotiate them in and stop the fiction if necessary to check everything is alright. They must feel they have power over the situation (if not over the role):
- [Facilitator’s voice]: “What will the monks do when the Vikings break down the door?” (Students make suggestions, such as, falling to their knees, starting to pray, etc). “Okay, let’s try that. [Narrator’s voice]: “As the Vikings burst through the door the monks fell to their knees, some buried their heads in their hands and began to pray.” [Teacher in role (high status)]: “Where is the gold? We know you have gold, where is it?” [Narrator’s voice] “Shouted the largest of the Vikings, lifting his axe into the air.” [Facilitator’s voice] “What should the monks do, do you think? Have they any choice in the matter?”
3.1 The narrator’s voice is the voice that moves the story on and adds detail. It can be very helpful at keeping things going and for providing tension:
- “As the soldiers approached the wall they could see figures moving along its battlements. Dark clouds loomed ominously overhead and the sound of crows filled the air. Suddenly a voice shouted out, “Who goes there?”
- “The team turned the handle and hot air filled the balloon. There was a sudden tug and a bump, and they were in the air, soaring up towards the clouds.”
- “There was a noise outside of people talking, the door opened and in came the first of the visitors. The team smiled and went over to meet them.”
The narrator’s voice can also be used to set tasks and get ‘things moving’:
- “As their visitor left, the team took up their pens and began to write…”
- “Nothing they had encountered so far had been this difficult, before they took another step they would have to plan what to do next.”
- “Picking up their weapons the soldiers took position along the wall. Standing perfectly still they listened for any sound of the enemy approaching. Many of them had thoughts of home and the loved ones they might never see again.”
There is much more about the ‘three voices’ in the Beginner’s Guide.