Guest Post: Reading the World through the (Epic, Tragic, & Anit-) Heroes’ Eyes

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While I am personally on a posting hiatus, I have asked for colleagues and friends to help with guest posts. The first of which comes from Glenn, who I introduced you all to in my last full post. Inside today’s post, Glenn will take us through the hero’s journey through the eyes of his students. Glenn documents his students’ epiphanies, and his own attempt to bring the journey we all endure to life, all the while preparing students to notice the epic, tragic, and anti-hero in themselves. I hope you enjoy reading through Glenn’s reflection as much as I did!

Hello world.  You might remember me from an earlier post on Mr. Jones’s blog.  

I’m his mentee?  Not ringing any bells?

I’m the guy with the giant beard, Glenn Chance.  And today, I’m going to talk to you about heroes.  Specifically, the Hero’s Journey – and how I used an actual journey to help my students to engage in learning the background they would need for a unit on different types of heroes.

First: I set my goals.

  1. Students will understand that there are different types of heroes, and each have their own archetypal journey.
  2. Students will develop this knowledge from undergoing their own journey.
  3. Students will learn about the other heroes from each other, almost like a jigsaw.

Originally, I was just going to have them work in groups and rotate around our classroom, possibly blending tech and guided exploration, perhaps a webquest.  The more I thought of it, I realized that if I was going to get them to better understand the metaphorical journey that their type of hero would walk, they would need to walk a physical journey to walk themselves.  This journey would need to take them out of the classroom.  This was getting me excited.

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I decided that I would focus on the Epic Hero, the Tragic Hero, and the Anti-Hero.  Each one provides a different glimpse into what it means to be heroic, which is well and good, but I also wanted them to contemplate a bit of their existence.  I felt that this was also part of being a hero.  I mean, Tragic Heroes don’t really exist for themselves, and Anti-Heroes don’t choose to be mistrusted by their communities.  We would have to go deep.

I started off by providing them simple directions about how to navigate my creation: students would follow color-coded duct tape that would lead them through six different steps.  I warned them that some of the heroes paths were strategically different than others, and would offer unique challenges as they tried to follow the arrows.  “This was on purpose, and I want you to consider why their path moves the way it does as part of your reflection”, I told them.

One student would later reflect, “…[an] Anti-Hero’s path is never straight forward…some Anti-Heroes transform and change through their experiences, struggle, and journey they have completed.”

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The other important piece of starting information was that heroes don’t get to choose their paths.  All heroes think that they are going to be epic heroes, and it isn’t until something happens in their journey’s when they realize that maybe they aren’t going to be Hercules after all.  

Their groups were split into threes and each student was assigned a different path to walk.  This way when they came back to the classroom, they would be in groups that consisted of different hero types.

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With a “gradual release”, I sent them out into the world as a hero type.  This way they wouldn’t clump, or at least they would be less likely to, and could really experience their path a bit on their own.  They were armed with a sheet that allowed them to take notes on each step, and a pencil.  Each step they encountered was a mixture of text, some of it flavor, some of it nuts and bolts, but all of it was written as if it was happening to them.  I also used images (and instructed my students to read them too), as a way of heightening their experience.

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When they returned to class, I had individual questions on the board for them to answer on the back of their charts.  This allowed them to reflect on their journey, but from a “behind the curtain” perspective it allowed students to complete their journeys at different times and still have something to engage with while they waited for the rest of their group to return and catch up.  I also used this time to engage with students individually to ask them about their journey, or to make sure that they noticed key elements.  For instance, some Tragic Heroes chose to ignore catharsis, an important element in their journey.  This is a hard concept to be sure, but I had provided a definition, and had pointed out its role in the fact that they were really only existing for the audience at that point, and that their death was important to restore order to both societies (on stage and in the real world).  Sometimes I would ask a student to go back and revisit a step – especially those that finished very quickly.

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Noel*, despite feeling a bit rushed, later wrote this about catharsis, “I honestly didn’t realize I was feeling higher than the character in the story when he was feeling down.”  I think many of them got it.

After everyone had returned, and completed their individual questions, we moved to small groups.  They each shared their responses, and contemplated together about the differences that existed between hero types.  Then as a class, we talked about their findings.

Allie had this to say about the hardest part of being an Anti-Hero:

The low or hardest part would be having an instigator who pushes you while you already have the whole world hate you.  Although the pushing can somewhat help…

Finally, I had them reflect metacognitively about their learning experience.  At last, they were students again, and I wanted to know how walking this journey had affected them.  Was it better than what would have happened had they just stayed in their seats?  Was this something that provided a unique and quality experience with which they were able to get more out of?  Beyond this selfish motivation, I wanted them to reflect for their own learning.  When students get the chance to think about what they have done, the journey (hah, see what I’m doing here) becomes more meaningful.

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Tyra learned about the nature of conflict for different hero types – she writes, “I learned that heroes always have struggles whether it is internal conflict or external conflict.”  

Analisa reached that meta level, and wrote, “yess [sic – added for emphasis] I loved it!  I like how it felt like I just lived my full life in 40 minutes.”

Maggie wrote, “I think that it was worth walking because it’s something different to do while learning.  It’s better than sitting down in a chair for the whole class.”

Danielle echoed these sentiments and reflected, “The Hero’s Journey wasn’t something I would have expected from public school, but it beats sitting in a desk and falling asleep.”

Dan made connections to his hobbies and passions: “The journey for me was worth it to me as a RPG player and a roleplayer, I enjoy thinking up back stories, and have never thought what kind of hero they were.”

Sometimes students are able to make connections to the struggle of a hero itself.  One student wrote, “This journey was worthwhile for me because it reflects on my life or it’s similar to my life.  In a Tragic Hero’s journey, they face difficult situations and in my life, I face similar situations.”

Cal wrote, “You are the hero of your own story.”  For this student, I think she was able to see that when she saw herself in what she was learning.

Personal Reflections

Two students had feedback for me that really struck a chord, and provided me some food for thought about changes for the future.

Angel reflected, “Walking the hero’s journey was kind of a review for me because it wasn’t surprising.”

For this student, it was overkill that we examined the Hero’s Journey ahead of time, watched videos, and took notes.

Olive wrote, “I feel like it was worth it because we got to get up and walk around instead of sitting in our seat.  I would have loved it if it was longer, and maybe more to think about.  This helped me understand the epic hero better because I got to walk his path and see what he saw in his journey.”

Additionally, when I do this again, I will find a way for students to have a mechanism to create their own questions.  I think that this would be more powerful for the student, and add a layer of meaning – especially since a goal was to get them to contemplate the nature and purpose of their existence.
*All real names have been replaced with pseudonyms

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