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The "Crucible" Paradigm of Education

“I wish teachers would set aside what they know, and their desire to tell...,” Dorothy Heathcote said once. In her article “Signs (and Portents?)”, she stated:

Teachers are noted for their propensity to share their understanding, by a process of telling in one form or another. This often tends to look like one-way transmission.

In a 1982 interview, she told Tony Goode:

I strongly do believe in ... sounds like one of those cliches - but the best teaching comes when teachers avoid telling the knowledge that they want children to acquire. I really do believe in it. But that they enable children to get at the understanding they’d like to tell them. So they spend their energy enabling the children to stumble on the knowledge by avoiding telling them. Now this sounds like you're saying: don't teach anything - and of course I'm not talking about that but I think there's a big difference between the teacher who tells so that children know and the teacher who enables children to understand what they are knowing now and what they now need to know. (1)

On another occasion, she stated:

…you’ve got to deal first of all [in teaching] with how do you see the children that you’re going to teach, because according to how you see them, so you teach them. So if you see them as vessels to be filled up … you get the jug and start pouring it in.

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The problem in this case, as she saw, was: “They don’t learn because you tell them…” Dorothy favoured the paradigm of child as “crucible”:


and that means you create laboratories, where the children stir up their knowledge through what you do, and you have your knowledge which you can put in, but between you, you explain the world to each other, and you get it clear. And of course, until we get laboratory classrooms, we shall continue to have teacher-dependence.

… The second thing that applies in all the teaching we do:  you’ve got three systems you can use. … One of the ones is … transmit. Now as soon as you work on transmission, you become the judge of the children’s responses. As soon as you do that, the children have to present to you whatever they’ve got to show you. And finally, of course, they hand you their final draft. … In this way, the power stays with the teacher, and the child waits for the teacher to make the judgement. …

Then of course, you had this vein in the 60s, which sounds really great, because the inquiry method is that children inquire, you listen, you attend to their inquiries with an understanding between you. You share what you know, and you end up exploring. But exploring does not produce realisation of knowledge. There has to be a reflective process, and this to me is where the drama framework allows it; because the drama framework shifts time – because you can say, [there are] no students in this room. I am not your teacher; you are not my students. Get off that; and let’s take on a responsible role, from which we think and plan our work, and from which we view the world, and explain it to one another. And this is where the time change occurs.

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Now normally, what the kids do is they take off their real-world time when they come in and hang their coats up, and then they sit back, or stand back or run back, like praying mantises, and say, "Go on then – teach me." And if I’m really interested, obviously, I want to be taught. And if I’m not really interested, I’m very difficult to engage. But in the drama framework, you say, ‘Keep your life with you when you come into the classroom. Everything you know is going to be of value. It will be filtered through the context we who use the word drama can provide you with. Because by a contract, I can say [for example], "Would you agree that for today, you are all magistrates? And we’ll think like magistrates…"

Classroom as laboratory

Now in the drama framework, the teacher contributes and participates, the children co-operate with the participating teacher as well as they can, and they all end up explaining the world to one another. What you have then is, a classroom working as a laboratory. If, after exploring, we do not keep explaining to each other, we cannot really own our own knowledge. So if we explore, and then explain, we will automatically be drawing upon our final draft work, the best we can explain, in the best way, at this given time. This recognises that we may explain differently tomorrow because we shall perhaps participate differently tomorrow. This is the crucible paradigm, where we are stirring our knowledge, together. (2)

You give people the keys that allow their imagination to be freed, their power to influence, to operate, their understanding to have to come to it and make sense of it. We explain the world to each other in the laboratory. (3) 

From: Dorothy speaking at an NATD event at the University of Warwick, 9.2.07 (unpublished transcript); except (1) Heathcote at the National (NATD 1982) (2) The Fight for Drama – The Fight for Education (NATD 1990); (3) Rolling Role and the National Curriculum (Video series, University of Newcastle, tape 11). "Paradigms" chart from The Fight for Drama - The Fight for Education.

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