The 30-second crib sheet: understanding what the 'Mantle of the Expert' is

31st March 2016 at 11:57
student wearing a cape
The latest instalment of our series examining teaching ideas and theories looks at the concept of the 'Mantle of the Expert'

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What is it?

Mantle of the Expert is a drama-led inquiry approach where children take on the role of an “expert” within a particular context.

Like the dress-up corner in reception class?

It’s more sophisticated than that. The technique was developed by Dorothy Heathcote in the 1980s. Its name derives from a traditional piece of Māori clothing − a korowai. This was a type of cloak that was bestowed on wise members of tribes to celebrate knowledge.

Heathcote used the term “mantle” because she felt that this approach allowed pupils to be wrapped up at the center of the knowledge process.

Sounds slightly wooly...

Not at all. It helps children to feel their schoolwork is meaningful within a real-world context. In their roles, they might be expected to debate decisions or collaborate to solve problems.

The teacher will generally act as a facilitator, guiding the children but not directing them. 

Wait − how is this different to role-play, again?

Think of it as a mix between project-based learning and hot-seating. Children are asked to think and behave like the expert, rather than just playing along with a theme.

A Mantle project might see the children becoming designers to think about creating a new area for the school or being “employed” by a business to produce a new product.

So, what do the children think of it?


Sure, a few of them might find this type of activity pretty scary. A shift away from teacher-led learning and questions with answers at the back of a book can be unnerving for some. But for others, Mantle is liberating; it allows them to really let their learning loose.

I am guessing this approach splits opinion, then? 

You're right, drama is a terrifying prospect for some teachers. Mantle could conjure up images of peeling cloaked children off the ceiling. Not to mention copybooks without a single piece of evidence for the upcoming book scrutiny…

It wouldn’t be wise to mention it on Twitter, then?

The anti-creativity brigade would be on this like a seagulls on French fries: “Where is the evidence? How can you expect an 8-year-old to know what they’re doing? You’re trusting them with their own learning?”

Give me your view then, yes or no? 

Absolutely do it.  Mantle brings learning to life, gives children a context and lets them use their imagination to make their learning matter.

Sarah Wright is a senior lecturer at Edge Hill University, in England. She tweets as @Sarah__wright1


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