Hey, this is Hollywood. Everyone knows: a hero’s journey is fraught with peril. Treacherous challenges must be overcome, awesome foes vanquished, and with any luck, the requisite supernatural powers needed along the path to fulfilling one’s destiny can be borrowed or bought without selling your soul.
Here at Wildwood, our 7th and 8th grade humanities students encounter trials and tribulations of the intellectual, rather than physical or spiritual sort. The students’ task on this assignment: synthesize their growing knowledge of ancient mythology within the archetypal story format of the hero’s journey––to create and record versions of their own.
And just like heroes who need mentors to teach the adventurers and support their pursuits, our students’ mentors––their teachers––expertly design their learning quest.
“We purposely designed this project to push students’ abilities, as well as help them develop and practice the skills essential in humanities class,” says Alex Cussen, one of the middle school humanities teachers. Alex continues: “The content of world mythology and the hero’s journey is ideal preparation for our main unit this year––world religions.”
Students begin their work in September, listening to heroic myths from various cultures across Asia, The Americas, Europe, and Africa. Analyzing the stories together for various story elements––like structure, character, and setting––they picked up cultural hints about the peoples who created each myth.
Next, the students imagine and create their own heroes; an entity or individual that embodies admirable qualities and has a set of impressive supernatural powers. Then, envisioning a story for their hero to inhabit, each student builds a logical story arc with an opening scene, rising action, climax, and resolution.
Students wrote their stories and then revised them based on a guided peer editing session.
The final hurdle on this hero’s journey is to master what you might call the elevator pitch of the ancients. In other words, Alex says, “We also wanted students to be able to summarize their stories and distill them down to their essential elements, to master synthesizing the story.”
This was the most challenging part of the learning adventure for many: boiling down the story so that it could be told in 60 seconds or less. Some found a way using Adobe Voice, combining voice recording with slides, or through self-produced videos.
Click HERE to see 7th grader, Emily R.’s Adobe Voice story project. See 8th grader, Lucy B.’s video below.
“I looked for the parts of my story that someone would need for it to make sense,” Emily R. tells me, “and I wrote sentences around those.” Learning how to concisely summarize her work is a new skill Emily says she had to develop for this project, and it’s already had an effect on some of her own reading choices. “I’ve definitely started looking more closely at the summaries on the back covers of books I’m interested in reading,” Emily says, “because I know that they’ll give me a better idea of what the story’s about.”
Another parallel with the hero’s journey of Hollywood lore: for our students, sometimes the quest is paradoxically one of arrival and infinite quest. It’s like the Wildwood Way: continuous adventurous learning, across vast territories, disciplines, and spaces both interior and wide open.
~ By Steve Barrett, Director of Outreach