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Looking at Dorothy Heathcote notes on Rolling Role, I'm struck by how much she places story at the centre of the work.

I knew that it was always based on a community, but I now see how much she created a detailed narrative base, like a playwright or fiction writer.

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 [essential to Rolling Role] 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;

d) stables;

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?

These are notes by Dorothy Heathcote on Rolling Role. She says that she created the system

to provide high CONTEXT for students to work within – and specific content for curriculum study.

She outlines basic elements of the system; and then offers the following example:

A small ornate temple “folly” was designed among the Victorian woods close to a big house

Involving [the] class in

- technical drawings

- construct and from

- materials and purpose

+ artist impression

a shrine to the young wife of the heir

under the marble floor she was secretly buried to avoid the gloomy mausoleum she was supposed to have been laid in (Romeo and Juliet!)

Rolling forward

a century later workmen engaged in repairing the temple (Now N[ational] Trust) discovered bones under the cracked marble floor.

A police enquiry was launched with all witnesses questioned and the coroner pronounced the outcome.

Formal language.

Later: this enquiry became a newspaper [article].

I am reminded again of the “soap opera” element in Rolling Role and the need for a central “narrative” element.

(Cards from my collection. Image of DH from Rolling Role and the National Curriculum, video 12, University of Newcastle 1993.)

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