Introduction to "Rolling Role"

There is not a lot written on this yet, and it's so radical that if it ever happens, our nation will change, our schooling will create a different thinking nation. You are on the cusp of change, it's true.

- Dorothy Heathcote, speaking in 1993, on her “Rolling Role” system (1) 

“Rolling Role” was originally designed by Dorothy Heathcote particularly for use in secondary schools, as a way of addressing the fragmentation of the school curriculum, breaking down the walls between subject areas, and help students to see that subjects have links with each other. In this system, a team of teachers together develop a common “context” for a programme of work. It is designed to meet their different curriculum areas and teaching targets. The programme of work can then “roll” from teacher to teacher; work produced by one class can be used as a resource by another class.

This guide to the system was produced as part of an Erasmus+ project, with partners in the UK, Italy, Spain and Poland. We are using the system, not only with subject teachers in the same school; we are also linking schools and organisations in different countries – even in different sectors – through the application of digital technologies.

Rolling Role generally involves a number of classes exploring different aspects of a community, and building a place with a history. The teaching team creates a common "context," and agree to the key features of the community. The students/children are then involved in building the community, often creating artefacts and texts which are "published" and shared with other classes/groups.

An example: "Morlock Village"


This is an example from Dorothy’s own work. The project was based on the fictional village of Morwick. A map was created of the village which was a “resource” used by all the classes working on the project. This was one of the "non-negotiable" or fixed elements that could not be changed, although it might be added to.

Each class that worked on the project took a different angle, depending on the teaching/curriculum aims and needs. One group looked at the shops in the village. Dorothy stated:

This [the map] is not negotiable. This is how Morwick Village is and these are going to be filled with shops. So there are shops provided, the choice for the children is in terms of time, where would a really old chemist shop first start to be, and how would it change its outward appearance. So eventually, this simple looking map is going to be visually growing through time and changing through time. 

Another "non-negotiable" element was a family tree of the (fictitious) Challenor family from Challenor Hall. Dorothy commented: 

Some of these people are going to be looking very closely at the history of Morwick and the family tree. Some of them are going to be history students looking very closely. This is not negotiable, this is a correct, feasible family tree. All the names are there, you can't change them, that was one of those seminal elements that could not be destroyed. … This is the history of Morwick Village, we can't change that. This is the Challenor family and how they dwelt in this village. By fixing that, we give them such a range of behaviours, family life, rebellion, all the sociological aspects of family can be explored. If it was a theatre course it explored all that, the psychology of it and the names are authentic.

For one class, the work was based on the idea that Challenor Hall was being redeveloped as a hotel.

For another class, the focus of the work was investigating the cemetery; it all began with a mysterious sign in the graveyard with its reference to bones being found “where no bones should be”. Dorothy recalled:

And then of course we have a mystery. We created a mystery for one group of difficult children and it was on their working out what this meant that much of the tension developed.

So our little devilish first years became detectives, finding out why those bones were where no bone should be. So we had to create a folly for the bones to be in. And the standard is absolutely central.

And that's how Rolling Role works - I wouldn’t want you to think that I invent the story and all the kids have to do is guess it, you plan to seminal elements and they fill it all out according to the way they see it.

Source: "Rolling Role" videotape series, Tape 4, except (1) Tape 16.

This Teaching Guide to Rolling Role has been created as part of our Erasmus Plus project on the Rolling Role system, with partners in Poland, Italy, Spain and the UK.

The Teaching Guide is under construction. Follow this link to find out about the "Rules" of Rolling Role.


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