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5. Writing and researching

It's now week five and the formal commission is underway...

Miguel, can you describe how the class responded to the VOKI presentation? From what you told me, it sounds like it was a rich opportunity for aural language as they listened, inferred and questioned.

I also liked what you said about holding back from directing the children and instead asking "how do you think the information should be presented to the client?" I think you found the children came up with ideas similar to what you would have planned - plus some other 'angles' you hadn't thought of...? I'd love you to share some more on the temptations to lead and the benefits of walking alongside the learners - this sounds like a really important part of your experience...

Yes! After watching the video (I spoke about 'Voki' on the last blog, see images) I asked: " are we going to do this?". And then I went quiet, resisting the temptation to lead. We have time restraints as we are coming to the end of term and lots of Easter days off. Funnily enough, they had lots of ideas! I then told them that I had a good idea how to do it but I'd like to hear theirs. They almost EXACTLY came up with my idea! So good! In fact, they took it a little further and I had to reign them in due to time constraints. They wanted to make a full movie or a slide show but we decided on presenting a series of six FF's, each one telling a different chronological tale from the adze's history. I gave them huge compliments for their ideas and made sure that they understood that they were still in control of their presentation.

As of today, the class has divided into groups to research the stories of different chiefs in Taranaki history. Their aim is to create a story to show what the history of the adze might have been. "What has this adze seen? What stories could it tell?" Some are writing heaps and others are only writing a few sentences. Miguel, you remarked on how great it was that the children were still engaged even after so much writing. You said you were worried they might pull away from the writing task, especially your unwilling writers. Can you expand on this? For example,  how can you tell the children are engaged? What do you think is different about this writing experience? And how about getting the students' voice here - Is there an opportunity to ask the children and get their perspective on how the writing task is going...?

As things are going so swimmingly in the drama element, I started to fret that the kids who are reticent to write might pull away, as they can't express themselves as well on paper. Speaking to them 'one to one', I see they have ideas but not the wherewithal to express them. On the other hand, I have a group of super-engaged 'over-writers'(who are also the budding thespians in the class, this seems to go hand in hand) who came up with more than one story or a very detailed story. The difference with the writing experience here is the class-wide engagement and willingness to participate in their groups' contribution to the presentation. I have witnessed some of the kids get upset when they fear that their ideas won't be considered (for the final team presentation) because they haven't been written down in time. So they WANT to write but I could lose them if their ideas are only valued if their writing is up to scratch.

Will get some student voice this week :)

When we discussed planning for the next step, you made the comment that you 'don't have many conventions for this part'. That led us to a discussion about what to think about when you are planning on the hoof.

Rather than asking yourself 'what convention could I use here?' I suggested it can be useful to think about 'what world is it useful for us to foreground next?' For Mantle of the Expert involves a whole lot of different worlds nested inside one another: The real world beyond the classroom, the real world of the classroom, the imagined world of the company, the imagined world of the client and the imagined world of the content. Drama conventions can allow us to explore, build new understandings or reflect on learning in ANY of those worlds.

For example, if your participants have been writing and researching for some time as their imagined identity as museum curators, they've been operating in the world of the company (nested within the real world of the classroom and the real world beyond that). So, to keep things interesting and explore another perspective, it might be fruitful to get them to step into the world of the client - and see and comment on the task from that point of view. OR they could step into the content world and reflect on the writing from that perspective (what would the Adze's creator think if he could see all this attention being paid to his artwork?) Equally, they could step into the real world of the classroom and comment on how this experience is going for them as students. Does that make sense..? I guess what I am saying is that the choice of conventions may be less important than the choice of worlds... If the teacher considers first and foremost what WORLD might be visited next, this leads to a purposeful episode for which conventions can be selected.

You also mentioned your desire to keep things interesting and this led us to a brief chat about dramatic tension. This is another important consideration / tool when planning. Just like a soap opera on TV we can build intrigue and a desire to understand through introducing a pressure, issue or problem. This doesn't, of course, have to be a huge change of direction or a great big problem. Even the pressure of time and the desire to have good quality outcomes are tensions in this sense. We talked about some things you could try but eventually, we came back to the core question... What do the learners need?

Well, what they needed was to be valued and to be able to share their work so I decided to introduce a 'mild' tension. I told them that Grace Smith was coming at 2.30pm (an hour's time) and that she wanted an update on our progress. I asked how many people had finished their stories and how many had not. Then I asked each team to assign a leader who would:

  • Help the others formulate and finish off their ideas
  • Take notes on each members' stories
  • Take a vote on which story they were going to FF
  • Present their progress to Grace Smith
This worked well as it created a flurry of work and energy in the room. Whilst some had not finished writing, they were able to verbalise their stories and, in turn, were able to share their stories too. This was still a struggle for some, but I scaffolded the leaders by giving them questions they could ask the uncertain writers and gave them agency to edit and adapt the stories into coherent ones, where they saw fit. 

We discussed as a class that these kind of impromptu meetings were real life affairs and that when somebody is paying for a service they have the right to check in on how their money is being spent.
We finished up by presenting a snippet of each story directly to Grace Smith (Via VOKI, who never said a word but they all said: "Good afternoon, Grace...").

NOTE: One thing that I thought was particularly valuable was taking a few moments to replay Grace giving us the commission ouline. This gave each team the opportunity to check that their FFs were in line with the company's requirements and wishes.

An important reminder, I think, that all our planning needs to come back to responding to the children's needs, particularly their engagement levels. If children are highly engaged in writing, want to get the job done and feel they don't have much time - then great! Why change a thing!? If one of the key principles of Mantle of the Expert is that children are given time to do high-quality work,  we need to give them this time and not rush to keep adding ingredients for their own sake.

At the same time - without disrupting the flow too much, it's nearly always possible to include episodes that include a pinch of tension and foreground the different worlds at play. For example, you mentioned that students are keen to share their work back and get feedback - so this could be framed as a professional task where each group's written stories are summarised and presented to the 'client' in a short presentation of work in progress.

The next step after this presentation was the actual creation of the FF's and the chat about the reception of the guests. We have decided to do it in the hall. I took them over there and we discussed the logistics of the event and the language we would use in order to convey our identity. They split into groups and we then shared their thoughts and formulated their script before voting on a representative for the History House.

At this point, I am very happy with their engagement and they are learning so much but I feel the topic of identity getting left behind and I will be asking Viv how we can bring this back in as the focus. This is, after all, the learning that is supposed to be happening.

Thanks for posting those photos Miguel! You are doing such a great job here...!



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3. The opening sequence

Viv says:

Last time we talked, we looked at a possible sequence for the opening few sessions. I'll share this outline here but I bet things changed in practice, right Miguel?

Yes they did :) We also had much shorter lessons than anticipated and fewer lessons due to school closures and meetings. That's ok though as I am enjoying the challenge of fitting in the MOTE whenever we can, and I have been excitedly saying things like "hopefully we will have time to do some drama later?" Yay!

Suggested sequence was:

1. A warm up on preparing to play / imagine through the "Scarf game" (kind of like the object transformation in this link)

This went swimmingly. The kids first co-constructed the requirements for a safe drama environment and then agreed to honour them for their classmates. They enjoyed the scarf game and they were pumped to get started.

2. A trading game activity on the question "what is identity?" (Trading game described here by Brian Edmiston)

10. Responses and Final Reflections.

Phew! All done, what a ride! I think it took us 7 weeks all in. Considering the amount of upheaval that we experienced, we did a great job. What I wanted to prove most of all was that YOU CAN DO THIS. In a very short time. I'm a 2nd-year teacher struggling to get my program together...but won't I always be? Yes, the cross-curricular work was not to the best standard but that was through my inexperience. I now see that I could EASILY have improved the standard of the work by either:

making the quality of the work PART of the Mantlehaving some forethought about my core subject teaching, and theming that work according to the topic and our focusMy MOTE was very separate from my core subjects. This needn't/shouldn't be the case. I did this because it was the first term and there was too much going on with assessment and class setup and what not. Next time I will integrate the MOTE story across the curriculum. It's easiest to do with art but making it part of literacy an…

2. Planning discussions

Viv says:

We began our journey with several planning conversations in January / February. Here's some of the background information we discussed in those meetings.

Who are the learners?

Intermediate age children in New Plymouth schoolVery 'willing' class who have already established strong relationships with each otherSchool wide inquiry topic for the term:  Identity Client, commission and responsible team selected: The class will be positioned as a team of museum curators commissioned by the local council to investigate a traditional greenstone Adze found by a builder digging in a local park. Note: Miguel made the very sensible and pragmatic decision to adapt an existing plan he'd experienced himself as a student at university. He could see how that resonated strongly with the required topic of 'identity'. 

Possible curriculum tasks emerging: Investigating the original purpose, meaning and manufacture of Adzes in Māori culture. Exploring why this Adze might have been …