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Build the "Frame" through Tasks

Now at some stage, there has to be the "client" emerge so that you can begin the study work, the curriculum work you want. But first, under normal circumstances, I would establish the "adulthood" of the children – not by saying, "Let’s all be grown up" or anything daft like that; but I establish the merest business enterprise that will flourish eventually for the "client," into the curriculum the teacher wants. (Dorothy Heathcote, talk to teachers, 25 2.09)

"Frame" is a term used by Dorothy Heathcote. She preferred it to talking about children taking on a "role," which suggests they are "acting" in some way. "Frame" suggests taking on a particular point-of-view. In other words, the class agree to see things as if "through the eyes" of people doing a particular job – to talk as if they are people running an airline, or a shop, etc.

​Dorothy argued that you can’t simply call people "experts." So you can’t say to a class: "We are going to be expert shoemakers" (or whatever). You have to build a sense of what the job entails, so that by the end of the project, the class will be able to talk with authority about the different things a shoemaker does (or whatever the enterprise is). We call this "Building the Frame." As "shoemakers", for example, the group might deal with orders and customers; design new products; undertake market research, and so on.

Dorothy produced this chart to show the "stages of attraction" in a Mantle project:

Mantle of the Expert is based upon tasks, which carry all the learning. So think of all doing things together – teacher as manager of the workforce working for the “client” in collaboration.

Tasks begin very simply – no matter what the children actually know when they begin, the first task will start everyone off into the “enterprise” they will service.

Task 1 – attracts so must be built so all can “deal with it”

Task 2 – gains a bit of attention.

Task level 3 gains interest in working things out.

Level 4, begins engagement with “getting things moving”

Level 5. This then brings about bonding all together because we are getting attached to wanting us to be successful. We begin to be “really pleased with ourselves.”

Level 6. We begin to be invested in our enterprise and the existence of our client and our workplace.

Level 7. This starts concern so everything is working well.

Level 8. We become really committed to the work.

Level 9. We are now productively obsessed. This is when parents begin to notice how much their children are “full of it.”

And finally REFLECTION, the whole purpose!

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The rules of Mantle of the Expert: Variety of Tasks

Dorothy once spoke about the need for a “varied rich variety of learning tasks” in Mantle. She used the example of a Mantle she did, about people restoring a vineyard; in it, she “was able to vary every session in the way each task appeared very different - so they followed the vineyard line but did a huge range of thinking and doing tasks. It was like a kaleidoscope and shaking it up to make a different lens view.” (From a letter to David Allen, 13.2.08).

At a training event for teachers, she said:

The class always takes on a functional role. They’re always engaged in tasks. When the teacher is talking, in role, the tasks are important. So plenty of tasks to do are highly relevant in Mantle of the Expert. Now, if you look back through your classrooms – you know, when you get a minute and I stop dirtying your ears – how many tasks do your children engage in, in a week, in your classes?

Now, when I look at my daughter’s school life, she didn’t do many sorts of tasks. She listened a lot, she wrote a lot, she read a lot, she occasionally spoke, hardly ever argued. Occasionally looked something up. But she did an awful lot of silent churning things over in her own mind in the high school. She occasionally did an experiment in science. She would look at maps, and so on. But I’m talking about all that list of tasks I’ve given you … [See the image for an example of one of Dorothy’s “tasks” lists.] The millions of purposes in sorting. The variety of ways in which sorting, classifying, storing, filing, go on. And all that is going to be part of your Mantle of the Expert. The whole enterprise is based in task, not feeling. What starts to build is a feeling for the work; and you’ll never discuss it, it just starts to happen.

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"Tasks" chart

This is a chart which Dorothy produced, showing tasks which children might do in Mantle or other drama work, with examples:


1 Sorting - letters in the name “Atlantis” / also sets of things

2 Completing - filling in forms / gaps

3 Matching – “Raphael” - a thought goes with a picture.

4 Noting - archaeologists at their dig briefing .

5 Sketching - sketch map from a description.

6 Arranging – inventor’s desk [crossed out: Laura Ashley's desk]

7 Selecting - fabrics for hotel curtains.

8 Constructing - public map. - Earl's House tunnel.

9 Listing - kinds of - trees, animals, birds, cloth, thread, wood, glass.

10 Ordering - detective work - a series of incidents “which came first?” Process in production.

11 Numbering - tree inventory / location

12 Placing - trees in appropriate places on a map.

13 Unscrambling - gravestones mixed up. - puzzle.

14 Deciphering - messages (scripted / coded). A letter and its meaning.

The other is never an object but is that which engages them - thus involving some kind of process.


The rules of Mantle of the Expert:  Don't expose their lack of real "expertise"

Dorothy stated: 

The third one [rule of Mantle] is that the class, whatever enterprise they’re running, must never actually have to make what they’re making in the factory. So if you look at the "Teacher" series [for BBC] … we ran a shoe factory for a year; and the children never made a shoe, because if they’d have made a shoe, they’d have found they weren’t experts at making shoes, for goodness sake. So you never sit and make shoes. You do everything else but sit and make shoes. So you design shoes, you pack shoes, you scrutinise shoes, you study shoes in the markets and how people buy shoes for their kids. You look at how shoes are built. You fly shoes all over the world. You talk to Mrs Thatcher about how she wants things cut down a bit, and you've to decide whether you'll stop hand stitching and start glueing, and it's a serious question. You discuss the shoe museum you've got. And so on, and so on. But you never have to put a needle through a piece of leather, because you wouldn't be able to make it.

At the same time, she urged teacher to "push skills as far as you can":

The second thing [about tasks] is that these tasks will lead you, through beguilement of course, and feeling important, and “We run this joint”, gradually through to interest and very soon into the determined mastery of skills. So if you think of the Scriptorium [in a Mantle about a monastery], practising writing out of role to see if we could get the slope of the monks’ italic, as seen in these manuscripts, to try a bit of bordering and lettering, before we do it on our handmade paper. Out of role, we can do it on ordinary paper, in role we can only use handmade paper.

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So we must have the skills as well as we can. So that when our book is written, it is as good as we can make it; and it has stretched us. People have understood, in the first exercise, that things have to be arranged on pages; colour is part of the story, and a limitation of colour - because they were making their inks. So they had a strict limitation. How much ink can we make in three weeks, and use it? You know. And so on.

The rules of Mantle of the Expert: Real life demands

Dorothy said:

And the next one [rule]: the value systems of the group as they start working, begin to show. So you can see individuals at work; it all shows because they work as individuals within group enterprises. Sometimes they’re actually working in small groups, but whatever they're doing is correct as far as skills. You push it, as far as skills go, as much as you can. For example: when they had to enlarge the Scriptorium, they had to look at building science. You can't just throw two rocks up and say, “We're finished.”

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They had to look at buildings of the period, how they were glued together, the strength of different stones; and correct scale drawings, using all the tools of a person who does correct scale drawings. It meant they’d to go from a sketch that was drawn to scale, carefully; they had to deal with north, south, east and west. They had to do the science of light, because in a scriptorium, how the light falls matters. If a monk’s going to write for years, he doesn't want to lose his eyes. And they had to deal with how heat passes in a fireplace, to get round and keep people warm; and if it doesn't, what rules they have about, you know, time off to warm your hand, ‘cos it's gone cold again. So tracing the light of the seasons was one of the science things she [the teacher] could get in …

(Sources: Unless otherwise stated, quotes are from the unpublished transcript of training event for teachers at Eaton Hall, 1992.)

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