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Frame and Tasks

This is how Dorothy Heathcote explained the importance of “frame” or point-of-view in Rolling Role:

Every time we enter a social event, we come to it with a point of view. We can't help it. You've got an investment in it. And that point of view colours how you think from within the situation, and how you see yourself engaged within the situation.

Dylan Thomas has said it perfectly, when he says, “The undertaker measures with his eyes the passers-by for shrouds.” He carries his work with him. And that is exactly what “frame” is. If you walk into building - if we all walk into a building, we’ll probably notice quite different things, because of what we carry round with us...

So what we're saying, in this sort of work, is that, instead of saying, “Come to school as a student, and you'll be a pupil all day; and when school closes, you'll be you again, living your life” - what we're saying is: we can artificially shift the point of view from which they'll do some study. And it's done entirely by contract: “Would you agree that - I'm a librarian this morning, and I'm going to work like I'm a librarian. And would you agree to be librarians in my library” – “in our library,” it would be.

Now, that is an artificial contract for getting a shift. They may say yes, but they can't carry it out if you don't sustain it. So it's the kind of language, and the kind of way you sign the whole classroom area, that changes this from: calling it a school project, where they’re still students, and calling it Rolling Role [or Mantle, etc.], where they are constantly empowered to sustain a point of view. Now, this empowerment, we have to endow them with. And we can't just paint it on; it’s earned by our relationship with them. And it's earned by the way we signal the classroom is now, not a place for students and a teacher, but it’s an endeavour were engaged in.

Now the simplest way to do it, is to make the contract: “Would you agree with me, that if I unroll this scroll, we could be in a room where we've got to try and sort out what the heck it all means.” They’ll go along with it, because it would be interesting; but it is sustained by the way we constantly use our own voice, tongue, language, to equalise responsibility. Rigour, responsibility, are two of the important elements in this. Realisation comes when you feel they need to show themselves how clever they’ve with what they've done. “You realise what we've just done here?”

As Dorothy observed, it is “tricky” to master the use of frame, and the shift in language it requires; but

… it starts with just this simple-seeming thing of: “Okay, if I'm going to have a meeting of Historical Society, I'll write “Historical Society” [on a card] and put it on the table.” That’s the first venturing in: [speaking in role] “Good evening, we’ll start on time” - and so on, and so on. That's the beginning of creating this kind of resonance: from the frame of view of the Historical Society, we are examining something in the city, or the town, or the castle, or whatever it might be.

Source: “Rolling Role and the National Curriculum” video series (1993), Tape 12 (University of Newcastle)

"Frame of Power"

In this short video, Dorothy Heathcote discusses the importance of putting children in a position or “frame” of power:

Who shall they be, so that they have a stake in this work? They are not “pupils.”

She is talking to Claire Armstrong Mills about a drama for a primary class, set in a milliner’s shop (“Madame Lingard’s”).

Claire suggests the children could be specialists in accessories - unpicking trimmings, and changing the decorations. Dorothy comments:

So your "frame of power" is: the cleverness to see well, to make no mistakes, to use sharp tools. These are their “clevernesses”; this is their power: to be trusted with quite expensive clothes, and also to be highly selective in what they take off and what they put back, what they put on. …

Now, this frame of power, you see, is frequently seen as: “Oh, just tell them what they are - tell them who they are.” You hear this a lot. “Oh well, they’ll all be this [whatever the frame is].” But if you go into the detail of where their power lies, you don't fall for that glibness. And you build those powers because you know - passing your hand over them, saying “I dub thee good at unpicking” is nonsense.

"Planning tasks for precise purpose lies at the heart of Rolling Role, as it does in Mantle of the Expert...."

- Dorothy Heathcote, unpublished notes

Before beginning the first session in a new Rolling Role project, Dorothy Heathcote advised, the teacher has to consider:

How much do I have to prepare?

What will the task be for the children?

What will the skills be the children have to use? 

In Rolling Role, she said, “we have to begin with the tiniest little corner that begins to open the domain.” (You can see her discussing the planning process in this video.)

She used the example of a project led by Claire Armstrong Mills. A Y7 class (11-12 year olds) were going to be in the frame of librarians. The preparation for the first lesson was a shoe box, filled with index cards, with the titles of books on them.

The first task for the children was to classify what they thought the books would be about. (“So, ‘Away, the Red Devils’ - what do you put it under?”) The second task was to order them under different categories (such as “fairy tales”).

The skills included reading for implications, and categorising. As Dorothy observed: "And the whole of this project has started on a shoe box, and some cards..."

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