The Point of Change
“Rolling Role” involves a team of teachers collaborating on a project. The work “rolls” from one class to another. There is a central, fictitious context, which (Dorothy Heathcote stated) must feature a community at a point of change. The work spans different curriculum domains - the arts, the sciences, the humanities.
You can see how this works in these charts.
The first is from an early Rolling Role project by Don Mcara and Sally Pearse. The point of change was a government plan to raise the water level of a lake; this threatened some ancient cave paintings.
In the second example, the point of change was a plan to build a canal museum and restore a disused canal. This led into the story of a tragic accident that occurred during the building of the canal.
The third chart shows the structure of a Rolling Role project. In each of the domains, there is a “tension point” in relation to the point of change.
In the final example, a Manor House is being turned into a hotel.
In each of these cases, a point of change in the present leads people to look back and uncover the stories of the past. In this way, there are always layers of time in a Rolling Role project.
Charts produced for a seminar with PGCE students at Birmingham Polytechnic, 1986.
In the "Wallbank Brewery" project, Dorothy included a “point of change”:
... we've chosen that the point of change that makes this important to be got into and lived with - because it becomes ours as we work on it - is that the Rising Sunne Inn … is starting a initiative to stop a feud that has lived in this village for 150 years, when there was a terrible disaster in the Brewery.
So the initiative to bring this whole thing to the curriculum, is that somebody’s got to stop [the] quarrelling round here; and so our innkeeper is really going to initiate all the changes, because the modern people are carrying all this history in their very souls.
Source: “Rolling Role: Applied in the Primary Classroom” video series, Tape 1 (University of Newcastle, 1994).
In the project, after Dorothy introduced the children to a map of the village, she showed them a large mock-up of a local newspaper, with a "Letter to the Editor," from the owners of the Rising Sunne inn.
Dorothy gave out copies of the letter to the children, and asked them to see what sense they made of it...
She then asked them to mark things that seemed important. She told them:
I’m marking all the things that seem to me very important. For example, this word “forgive” and this word “forget,” seems to me to have something to do with the trouble. What are they forgiving and forgetting? … Are there any other words you think should be – are really important, that we ought to understand properly?
The "Story" Element
In the "Wallbank Brewery" project, and in other Rolling Role projects, Dorothy placed a story at the centre of the work - a detailed narrative, with roots set in the past.
Here is one of her suggestions for a Rolling Role project:
There is an old mansion built in the C14 and lived in ever since by one family. Thus the immediate neighbourhood would have been integrated through time with the house and the family. Many generations will have found work in the house, provided services to the family needs, kept the house repaired and improved as time passes (such as installing central heating, and lifts) and changes to surrounding woodlands and gardens.
The point of change is that the last member of the family has died and so the great house is to be sold, along with the surrounding estate. What are the possible futures of the great house?
Beside the great house is an ancient church used by the family and the villagers. This church contains an ancient unusual fresco painted when it was first erected. This was created by the eldest son of the family in memory of his wife who died in childbirth in 1354. It represents the holy family painted in three parts. On the left of the triptych is Mary the mother of God, on the right is Joseph the husband of Mary, but in between is the Christ child with two heads. One faces his mother who holds his right hand, and the other is looking at his father while he holds on to Joseph’s staff. The fresco has become famous and many (women especially) have prayed before it when hoping for a child, or to survive childbirth. There is a small classic temple in the grounds. Built in the C18, in honour of his wife who loved to walk in the estate woods.
So the combination of possibilities here are:
a) an old house and family history;
b) a surrounding estate, farms and woodlands;
c) workers’ houses and servants’ quarters;
e) church and fresco; and small temple
f) surrounding village, shops, post office, medical centre, library, school.
Wherever a human situation is involved, the potential for all aspects of the microcosmic world to be explored is enormous. I'm assuming that teachers can apply their interests and imagination to see this amazing field of work. I hope so.
She's creating the “microcosmic” world, and placing human situations inside it to be explored.
She suggests how the project might be started by creating the gravestones in the churchyard: “From these ‘people’ will emerge, families, their history, lives, work, and so many episodes will develop.” She notes:
This may seem only a historical situation. In fact it hits right into how modern concerns, technology, communications are affecting all of us. Teachers have to learn to think in detail. To design tasks - because this is social learning based in highly focused “doing” to learn not merely learning about things of the world...
Wouldn’t it be nice if our schools could move into the 21st century instead of holding on to 19 century models?