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The Four Contexts of Active Learning

Dorothy outlined four “contexts” or “models” for active learning, using drama-based methods. Here, she gives examples of four different ways of working, with different age groups – including Mantle, Rolling Role, and Commission Model.

All the work is based around the idea of a Royal residence.


SMALL CHILDREN: “We are preparing the old Royal Castle for the arrival of the Prince and Princess.” (There's an emphasis on social health, the need to play, and sustaining a point of view.)

KEY STAGE 2 (8-11 YEAR OLDS): “We run Ella's [i.e., Cinderella’s] night refuge and soup kitchen.” (Emphasis on working in a context, through Mantle of the Expert.)

SECONDARY SCHOOL: Team-teaching across different subjects, using Rolling Role.

SECONDARY SCHOOL - THEATRE STUDIES COURSES. A possible Commission Model: “The National Trust wish a particular event which has occurred in the late C16 [16th century] to be part of the experience for visitors to Raby castle in County Durham. They want a theatre experience to be designed to actors can perform it at weekends throughout the season.”

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Another option is “Chamber Theatre” which “uses literary not theatre texts. Permits freedom from acting skill and ‘talent’ - involves widening presentation forms. Protects participants from feeling ‘stared at’."



This chart outlines the bases for drama work. Dorothy states:


At the centre of all learning situations lies how the leader empowers students to become interested and engaged in the work.


Dramatic work requires social learning - it is a social art.


Learning through drama engagement employs the central elements of theatre - sign - the messages in an event which are selected to be read and interpreted. This is just like real life experiences - we interpret the world from our own point of view and the information we bring with us in every moment of our existence. Mostly we are largely unaware of this ‘reading’ process.


Drama for learning involves awareness of sign.

The leader is responsible for

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1. defining the learning outcomes;

2. selecting the tasks students will engage in, in order to enter the learning "field" (many & various!)

3. preparing the means for the tasks to be accomplished;

4. what part drama elements will play during the session. These are: changing point of view from being student / learner to working in collaboration with the leader.

Bringing their own experience to bear on the matters in hand.

Avoiding the leader using the transmission model "I know, I tell you, You listen, You learn."

Time changes when these things emerge - Monochronic time - the time of clocks, regimes - must in purposeful learning give way to the time we usually exist in, Diachronic time - many facets, multi tasked, involves us in using all our knowledge & experience for resolving the circumstances of the session. This is fundamental to effective and affective learning.

Here are more notes on the four different models:

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Model 1: Drama used to explore people, circumstances and events - also called "The Drama Study"


Material is that of exploring matters affecting humans, past present or future projections, using people as the means of expression in active collaboration. Productive tension and theatre laws are the basis of forming the product. ...

The model here is the circle: "Drama as a self-fulfilling activity."

Model II: Mantle of the Expert


The whole class become involved in running an establishment. The whole enterprise begins with key central tasks related to the work, and gradually as responsibility for quality work and the (imaginary) client in the head occurs they function as a microcosm of society. ... The main function of the teacher in relating to the class, is that of co-worker constantly challenging in a supportive way more and more depth and wider fields of study. The full range of drama activity is available during M of E work. 


The model is like a seedhead or snowflake, each episode seeding many more learning chances.

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Model III: Rolling Role

Teachers work in teams of any number. Each being responsible for their subject area and timetabling of contact classes. The team cooperates in planning a shared context and prepare the mandatory materials

which "anchor" the context ... All the range of dramatic activity can be used - and indeed other arts (and sciences) according to the team skills and interests. 

The model here is the circular linked list - which has no fixed end point, but can keep circling, or "rolling"...

Model IV: Commission Model

Teachers can invent "commissions" especially for younger children (as they invent enterprises in Mantle of the Expert) or they can invite commissions from those outside the school related with curriculum areas they are concerned about. ... All such commissions will be diagnostic and reveal needs and talents of the participants.

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