When I go into school on Monday, I will be entering a secret NASA base and be recorded there, receive a briefing from a high-ranking NASA officer, enter a state-of-the-at rocket, land in a distant galaxy, meet alien species who are concerned about the brutality of the human race and try to convince them through a series of tasks that Planet Earth can get along and contribute effectively to the wider universe society…then be home in time for dinner!
Of course, this is no extraterrestrial experience: the NASA secret base is our school office, the high-ranking NASA officer looks a lot like our Head in front of a green screen, the state-of-the-art rocket a lot of chairs in our two halls, the distant galaxy looks a lot like our school decorated very well, the alien species…well, guess who. 😉
Yes, it is Mantle of the Expert. Our Head introduced this to our school last year with great success – we visited Cretaceous Park and did tasks based on dinosaurs (all linking to Maths). In this week the staff are expected to be in role and deliver sessions based on curriculum content but themed around the experience for the week. The children take on the role of experts and complete the tasks.
In preparing for this event, there are clear benefits, but there are clear downsides to learning. Let’s start with the benefits:
1. Enthuse children about learning
Recently, there has been a lot of discussion on Twitter about a number of things. One of these is the supposed ‘wow’ factor of learning. A divisive concept, it is claimed that if children are ‘wowed’ or highly motivated in a lesson, they are more likely to learn. Is this true? I am not well researched enough to know, however there is no doubt that the children enjoy Mantle of the Expert. It is something which gets them excited to come into school and take part in learning activities. Do children need to be excited to learn? No. But it may well have an impact.
2. Teamwork and Mentoring Development
As part of this experience, children across the school are split into smaller groups of 20. These groups are formed from their Houses and are a mix of Year 1-6 children. As such, there is great opportunity not only for children who don’t usually interact with each other to work together, but also for older children to support younger and younger children to learn from the older ones. This was evident in our previous Mantle week where, in any session you entered, you could see children interacting with their peers from other year groups and for weeks afterwards they would look out for each other.
3. Provide an opportunity for wider learning
This is a pretty weak benefit in my view – however, Mantle of the Expert provides a great vehicle to cover a lot of objectives in the Foundation Subjects which teachers might have struggled to find time for in their crammed timetable. As the topic is constant across the school, it is much easier to move from one activity to the other and cover a lot of content in a relatively short amount of time.
Now, let’s think about the drawbacks to this kind of event:
1. Impact on learning
Being a teacher on Twitter, is it very easy to see a clear divisive debate raging. It was going on a year ago when I stopped going on Twitter for a time. It still goes on today. Progressive teaching versus Traditional teaching. Honestly, I still don’t have a complete opinion on this. I think both styles are required to make an effective teacher. It is clear that Initial Teacher Training institutions are very much focused on the progressive side (remember a lot of lectures on child-centred learning, focusing learning on children’s ideas, they even showed the picture of ‘that tree’ in a lecture, look familiar)…
…and on the other hand I personally think that it is bizarre to not recognise the teacher as the key figure of authority and knowledge in the classroom. A doctor does not expect a patient to come up with a discussion around their diagnosis, the professional doctor makes the authoritative decision.
I am probably wrong as I am still to gain a greater knowledge on this debate…but Mantle of the Expert seems quite a progressively-based concept rather than a traditional style of teaching. Some would then argue for or against for this – but this much I know. My Year 6 children will progress slower this week in their curriculum learning objectives than they would do in a ‘normal week’…
Honestly, I am struggling to think of another downside – however, considering that the point of the school is to develop learning the one downside is significant. Overall, I’m looking forward to this week! Mantle of the Expert proved exciting to be a part of last time and I’m sure it will be again. The question is are the benefits of the week worth potentially slowing the progress of key curriculum objectives for that short period of time?