Book review: A Beginner’s Guide to Mantle of the Expert, by Tim Taylor

Headteacher Mike Fairclough reviews a new book that explores the Mantle of the Expert technique

Mike Fairclough

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Title: A Beginner’s Guide to Mantle of the Expert
Author: Tim Taylor

Publisher: Singular Publishing​

Originally conceived by Dorothy Heathcote in the 1970s, Mantle of the Expert is a teaching strategy which uses drama and imagination as a means of engaging students with the curriculum.

In his new book, A Beginner’s Guide to Mantle of the Expert, Tim Taylor explores the concepts and techniques underpinning this approach, which uses the conventions of theatre to ignite curriculum subject matter and further students’ learning.

The idea of Mantle of the Expert is that students imagine that they are “experts” within a particular field, such as journalism, history or palaeontology. The technique encourages enquiry and empowers the team of student-experts to feel a sense of authority over the subject matter. Meanwhile, the teacher takes on the role of the “client”, who commissions the experts to investigate a particular area of study in an imaginative way, using role play.

Taylor invites teachers to “stop thinking like a teacher in the classroom and start thinking like a child”, turning the conventional teacher-student relationship on its head in a very refreshing way. It is a child-centred approach, which advocates giving more power to students in the hope that this will help them generate ideas and questions, while still being supported by the teacher.

Enter a different reality

In a very open and honest way, Taylor gives examples of using Mantle of the Expert within his own classroom. These include entertaining accounts of some of the pitfalls and problems he has encountered and how he has resolved them. The style of writing is witty, informative and inclusive, and I felt like I was on a shared journey with him as I read the book.

Taylor explains that drama is an excellent teaching and learning tool, describing how it allows students to step back from their normal lives and see subject matter from a variety of different perspectives. He also demonstrates how this approach creates wider opportunities for curriculum learning.

With Mantle of the Expert, students enter a different reality, which they are encouraged to look at in detail. Taylor gives the example of conducting an imaginary exploration of the Titanic. The teacher or “client” asks their students or “experts” to take a look around the deck of the ship and asks them: “What do you see? What is lying on the deck? Is it night or day?” Through this kind of questioning the students are invited into an altered reality where real learning and exploration can take place.

I particularly like Taylor’s ethos because it challenges teachers to give more autonomy and freedom to their students. It is a creative approach to the curriculum, which is particularly relevant at this time of restriction within education.

With the demands of Sats, Ofsted and the changing curriculum, Mantle of the Expert is a refreshing teaching and learning strategy that will stimulate students and teachers alike. But it is also as strategy that is compatible with the current system, because it is a technique that will ultimately deepen students’ learning.

Mike Fairclough is the headteacher of West Rise Junior School in East Sussex

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