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Ways-in or Starting Points

“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.”  (Dorothy Heathcote)

So, you want to introduce the class to the enterprise you have chosen. You can’t simply say to the class, "Today we are going to be brain surgeons" or "Today we are going to be expert shoemakers." You need first to engage their interest in the enterprise, and the topic as a whole. You also want to give them a feeling from the start, that their ideas matter; and we are all working together on something.

So it’s a good idea to introduce materials that the class find intriguing – that they need to investigate a little, and speculate about. This is sometimes called a "lure." Here's an example. 


The curriculum area for a Y6 class in a UK school was: transitions in life (preparing them for the move from primary to secondary school). The chosen enterprise was Life Coaches.


Pupils began by examining objects which, they were told, belonged on someone’s desk where they worked. This included a telephone, some files, a notepad, a calendar and diary, etc. They were asked to arrange the items on a desk.

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Then they speculated about the kind of job the person did, who worked here. (They were a Life Coach, and the objects included letters from some of their clients.)


Materials you might use as a "lure" include a piece of film, a photo, a page from a diary, a story, a map, etc. The important thing is that it should not just get the class’s attention, but it should give them something to investigate. So torn pages from a diary with bits missing, is better (more intriguing) than simply complete pages for the class to read. This is a principle for ALL Mantle work: materials are there for the class to work on, to make sense of, to use.

Once their interest has been engaged, you will get to a point when you can say to them, "Do you think we could agree to think of ourselves as if we are people running a [National Trust property / museum / travel agency etc.]? We won’t be a real company of course – but we can agree to talk as if we are..."

The "Other"

One of Dorothy Heathcote’s first concerns, in working with a group, was to protect them from feeling stared at. In her article “Signs (and Portents?)”, she wrote:

The actor in the theatre, the TIE team and the teacher have all made a contract to allow people to stare at them, but the children have not made that contract. And teachers of drama who take it for granted the children have given them this permission, spend useless time in eroding the embarrassment which happens during drama lessons where children feel stared at. The obvious way of avoiding this is to give them something so attractive in the room that they feel they are staring at it. (1)

She called this an “other.” At a teacher training event, she gave an example of a drama which began with the unveiling of a “skeleton” which was under a sheet.

The piece of cloth was the first operant thing about not feeling stared at.

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“Do you think between us we could manage to lift this without disturbing what's underneath?” So there’s promises, there's a task, and there’s a cooperative task, because the fabric will show straight away if it's working, or not.


So: not feeling stared at. What the teacher’s actually doing ... The teacher is protecting individual privacy, always. This will operate no matter what you're doing. You're not asking for whole confessions in a public venue. The second thing is, in order to avoid feeling stared at, the participants can be involved in incremental tasks. ...


One of the ways of helping people not feel stared at is to develop minute, incremental tasks. ... These tasks must be sequential: one must seem logically to follow the other. If you’ve uncovered a skeleton, can you now do something with what you've uncovered? That's what I would call … sequential. They seem reasonable to the people having to do them. And they are true to the materials you're handling: a skeleton in 250 years would have moved because the ground would have shifted. So whatever develops, that would have been a reasonable thing to have done. It will not be found to have been a daft thing to have done, just so the teacher could get the lesson going. 

And it will foreshadow all the drama themes. Now in that sense, you see, you're operating as playwright; that, in the way that a playwright ... has to say: if this is the journey I want people to make when they watch this play, where is the beginning point? The very precise beginning point? In my case, I chose finding a skeleton as the beginning point for what would have been a year, could have been three year’s work if one were in a position to do it.

[From Video Series D: “Teacher intervention and strategies in the four levels of drama progression.” Dorothy Heathcote Archive, Birmingham City University; except (1) from “Signs (and Portents?)”, SYCPT Journal 9 (April 1982).]

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An example of a starting point

Dorothy once took a group of teachers through the start of a Mantle project: I'm going to show you a start - it isn't the start, it is a start. ... It has to be a task, and it has to keep everybody reasonably interested and occupied.


The example was the way that a teacher (actually Marianne, Dorothy’s own daughter) started a class of seven-year olds in a Mantle about running a monastery.

So she said ... “I've heard that there are people who used to do this kind of thing in churches like Durham Cathedral” (which she’d taken them to). So, she's got all these down [on card] ...

There were job titles on the cards, like Cellarer, Herbalist, Almoner, etc. 


Dorothy spoke now as the classroom teacher – her tone seemingly casual, unsure herself about the “right answers.”

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These are the things that I've heard people sort of do, that - that there’s people called “Psalmists” who do something, and “Kitcheners” who do something, and “Herbalists” who do something. Now, I don't know quite what they do, but I've been asking about – and somebody sent me these cards, but they didn't put them by who does what, you see.

These was a second set of cards with descriptions of tasks such as “shaving of heads”. So the task was to match the job titles to the jobs.

So I don't know which of these cards goes with those cards there. So if you think, you know, I mean, pick a card, you know - if you think you can see who might do that [job], of those [job titles]. I'll spread these out a bit, while you have a look and see whether - if there's any problem in reading my writing, you know, get some help or – anyway, work it out if you can, and I’ll just sort this. And if you’ve got a good guess from where you stand, shout it out, and we'll see what we think. I don't even know how to - somebody thinks “Kitcheners” are in charge of cooking, and I don't know whether - that sounds reasonable. This one. What's this one? … And we’ll read them out to one another, and we'll see if we all agree that that's what these people do in the monastery, okay? …

Brenda here is going to read out this one, and we'll see if we all agree; because we have to agree that we’ve got it sorted. OK? Right, Brenda.

“Brenda”: Chamberlains look after linen, bedding, hot water, fire, shoes, habits, and shaving of heads.

DH: Do it a bit slower. Shaving of headaches? Do it slowly, I'm trying to see in my mind. See if you can see them doing … Just try to see in your mind. Go on.

“Brenda”: Chamberlains look after linen.

DH: Hold on. I suppose that sheets, is it? I don't know if they had tablecloths. Did they have tablecloths? Right, go on, then.

“Brenda”: Bedding.

DH: Oh, bedding. We were right - sheets.

“Brenda”: Hot water, fire, shoes, habits, and shaving of heads.

DH: I don't understand what hot water has to do with shoes, do you?

The discussion continued.

DH: Are we agreed that that seems reasonable - that if you are called a Chamberlain, that's what you might do? ...

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There was more speculation about the other jobs, Then Dorothy explained the next step, after the cards were sorted:


And so it can go forward. Now from here you see, people sat with the card in their mind - because they could see them on the wall - and imagined themselves doing those jobs. Remember, they’re only seven. And when they thought there was a job they’d like doing in their mind, they went and put their name by it.

(From the unpublished transcript of training event for teachers at UCE, 1992.)

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