What are some of the key differences between the Commission Model, and Mantle of the Expert?
The Commission Model may seem to be a logical development from Mantle of the Expert. After all, in Mantle, a fictional client is introduced, with a fictional commission. In the Commission Model, there is a real client, and a real commission. But there are many implications that follow from this change.
In Mantle, the teacher is free to invent the client and commission, to meet curriculum targets. In the Commission Model, there is less freedom: “the commission drives the learning.” The curriculum “map” emerges in response to the demands of the particular commission, “as we contemplate what we need to know, to research”.
Story and tension
There is also less freedom to invent tasks, or situations. To take one example: in our training, we worked with Luke Abbott, and prepared a session with a Year Four class at Woodrow School. Luke’s plan was to set up a fictional situation: the team members were in role as Environmental Officers, who needed help to deal with the problem of fly-tipping in their area. Luke took up a suggestion from the class, to set up a dramatic situation, which included an element of “tension”: the children chose to become a group of investigators, hiding in a park one morning, to spot illegal fly-tippers (represented by team members in role). In this situation, there was a “story” and a “tension.”
You can find out more about Luke’s session at Woodrow, here.
Luke’s idea was that, having undertaken a fictional “commission” like this, the children could later take on a real commission, to address environmental issues. In the case of a real commission, however, there would obviously be less freedom, to invent dramatic situations, or develop a “story.” This leads to the question: what will be the children’s investment in the commission?
In Luke’s session, arguably, the class became invested through the drama - the dramatic tension of how to monitor and identify the “fly-tippers.”
Woodrow School specialises in teaching through Mantle. Staff often talk about the “story” – and the children are accustomed to looking for “story” elements. (It may be that children do this naturally, anyway.)
This was apparent in another session at Woodrow School, during our training week, when the same class of children were investigating a mock-up of a “chemist’s shop” from the 1920s, which was created for them by the team. The children were looking for information about its owner, Mr. Doo. They spotted a bottle marked “poison” – and they became very interested in what Mr. Doo might have used it for, and began developing different possible scenarios or “stories.”
A teacher leading a Mantle project could choose to develop this idea, and take it in different directions.
But in the Commission Model, there would have to be this constraint: the children could not invent a storyline about Mr. Doo, but would have to “stick to the facts” about his life, and his work as a chemist. You can find out more about this session, here.
One major difference is that, in the Commission Model, the “safety” of fiction has been removed. Dorothy herself talked about drama as a “no penalty zone” where the participants do not have to live with the consequences of their choices and actions. But in the Commission Model, there is a real commission - and the work has real-life consequences.
As we began our Erasmus+ project, team members speculated that younger children (such as the classes at Woodrow) might be somewhat intimidated by the responsibility of taking on a real commission. They might also miss the “hook” or “appeal” of a “story.” Teachers might also be anxious that their children could experience failure.
At the same time, some older children and students might actually respond better to a real commission than to a fictional one, as they would see it as more serious, and would welcome the responsibility it gave them. This is shown in a quote from one of the young people who took part in the Hexham Garden commission: “This is the first time something I have done in school has been important to anyone.” (Source: Vision)
In Mantle, one of the basic principles is that the children never undertake any tasks which would expose their lack of real expertise. For example, they may be a team of “shoemakers.” They will undertake a range of tasks to do with shoemaking, such as designing, measuring, marketing, and so on. But they will never make actual shoes, because they do not have the expertise to do so – and they are not being trained or taught to make actual shoes.
But in the Commission Model, of course, there is a real commission and the work has real-life consequences. Does this mean that the children have to learn real-life skills to fulfil the demands of the commission?
The nature of the commission needs to be negotiated with the commissioning organisation to ensure that it is within the capacity of the children / students to achieve it. Dorothy stated: “As in the world outside school, a commission must have clearly defined parameters in order that it remains manageable.” (Source: Vision)
It is notable that in the Hexham Garden commission, the children did not produce the final plan for the garden. This was done by a professional garden designer. Rather, the team presented a report to the hospital committee, which included a series of issues which they felt had to be considered before the garden could reach the design stage, such as water supply and sunlight, and questions such as: “What should form the memorial element? A growing tree or an abstract form? How constructed and recorded upon?”; and “Should there be an area dedicated to children’s interests? If so, what form might it take?”
The report also included: a book of garden stories and poems written by the children; projections; models; demonstrations; drawings; displays; scenes enacted; short lectures, and written notes.
The Landscape Architect for Hexham Garden, John Goodfellow, stated that his design concept drew heavily on the children’s work. He observed: “This work sought to bring together the feelings likely to be experienced by the future users of the garden, and interestingly, of the garden itself. … I was struck by the poignancy of some of the verses produced by the pupils. From these sentiments I have the feeling that the garden should not be brash and modern, but appear worn, smooth, quiet and comforting. Above all, it should seem familiar . . . ” (Source: Vision)
Images on this page are from Dorothy Heathcote’s article on the Hexham Garden commission, ““A Vision Possible" in Drama, Winter 2003 (Vol. 11 No.1). This includes verse written by children who took part in the commission. (One image shows pages of notes made by a Y4 child from Woodrow School, during the session on Mr. Doo’s Chemists.)
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