Primary Musings

thoughts of an every day teacher

A little taste of success

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My first taste of teaching “Mantle of the Expert-style” came while I was working with the hugely creative and talented Louise Clark and Clare Sleeman at Linton CE Infant School. I absolutely loved working in a cross-curricular way, engaging children with the power of an ongoing ‘back story’ where various characters needed our help in different ways. It was exciting and stimulating for me and the children alike, giving context, purpose and meaning to the learning.

Having moved to a new school and different year group over the past year, I’ve had to do some more thinking and research about how I could make this kind of learning work as well in Key Stage 2. I’ve been really inspired by @debrakidd ‘s ideas, (see here, for example) and, with a bit of a nudge from Tim Taylor (@imagineinquiry), went and spent the day with @rkieran and his team at Woodrow First School a couple of weeks ago. It was a fantastic day where I was reminded of lots of things I already knew, but had kind of forgotten, and was also challenged and stretched with lots of new thinking and fresh approaches too.

As ever, when I’m excited about something I want to start straight away! My SLT have been hugely supportive of me trying new things, so I dipped my toe into mantle-style learning with my class the very next week.

We had been working all week on The Enormous Crocodile, linking it to our work around teeth and food chains, and the children were really engaged with it. I wanted to do a court scene at the end of the week to decide whether the Enormous Crocodile should be sent to jail or not (not a new idea, I know!), but wasn’t sure how the children would respond. Luckily, the day before, one of my more challenging children had commented that he thought the crocodile wasn’t nasty, he was just trying to find some food. So what was intended to be a bit of a derailing comment ended up setting the scene for the next day perfectly! Incidentally, I think it is a major strength of this approach that even seemingly negative, or off-message comments can be incorporated and brought in as part of the work.

enormous croc

The big day came and everyone was up for the challenge. Remembering what I had learned from Woodrow about giving the children enough time to get into their roles and invest in the fiction, we spent the first half of the morning sorting out teams and preparing for the court case. We had lawyers for the defence, lawyers for the prosecution, all the characters from the story and several police witnesses. This was really successful because the children chose their own roles and there was something everyone could identify with. We started off by making simple hats to define our roles and then the teams created their evidence. Their creativity was amazing! They made all sort of things, including maps, footprints, witness statements, incident reports and questions for witnesses. The previously mentioned challenging child made an excellent lawyer for the defence, creating a map to demonstrate that the Crocodile had to pass each place in the story to get to where his family were waiting for him!

By break time, everyone was fully immersed into our work, and we left excited about the next session. (You know you’ve got the children hooked when they’re role playing what you’ve just done out in the playground!)

After break, court was in session. We rearranged the furniture to resemble a courtroom and I presided as judge to keep the proceedings moving along. What followed was absolutely incredible. The children listened carefully to each other, stayed engaged and responded in role throughout the whole hour and a half session, making careful arguments for their side. It was particularly moving to see children who are normally very quiet, take on roles and speak passionately about their thoughts. One of the highlights for me was seeing an autistic child respond to the questions he was asked in character, demonstrating a deep understanding of the story and an ability to infer a character’s motivations. I am also sure there are some future lawyers in my class who will do an excellent job!

In the end, the prosecution won and the Crocodile was carted off to jail by the police.

Throughout the whole process, we learned how to make and present arguments and observations, how to ask relevant questions and listen carefully to others, how to win and lose graciously, how to be patient and take turns, how to imagine and infer within the world of the text, how different people might have different points of view, how to make decisions based on evidence, and how learning doesn’t just have to be for some time in the future, but can be important and exciting right now.

It was an amazing experience that has really cemented our relationship as a class, and I can’t wait to do a ‘full on mantle’ next!

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