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The goal of our Hero's Journey unit for English 9 was to get students to see that the idea of what a hero is and the Hero's Journey itself transcend time and place; the journey is cross-cultural and timeless, so to speak. Using the anchor text The Odyssey, we helped students identify qualities of a hero via Odysseus, the main character in the epic poem. Students were exposed to both the epic poem and the graphic novel. Students enjoyed the graphic novel more, but it was great to expose them to the original version first, have them analyze it for understanding, and then see it unfold in vivid pictures and more modern dialogue. It was differentiation at its finest. After exposing students to the epic poem, we then proceeded to make connections between the 2000 year old story and modern stories, movies, and graphic novels. The students easily made connections and could see that the Hero's Journey is a shared "theme" between old and new and that it defies cultural boundries.
My favorite was the last day of instruction, when we introduced them to the idea of the 'Hero's Return' (the final part of the three part journey). On this day, we had the students indirectly decipher the Return by working in small groups and brainstorming what the Hero "returns" with. Kids were encouraged to be creative and unique, and brought their ideas back to their main group/work group via a Jigsaw. After the students chatted, we had them create a Wordle. This was a really neat way to not only do a formative check, but to get the students to see that a Hero always "returns" with the same bounty/boon--it doesn't matter if the Hero is a boy or girl, from ancient or modern times, rich or poor, from Asia or Western Europe--all Hero's follow the same pattern and return in a pretty similar manner. The students loved this day because they didn't have to listen to us (the teachers) for too long, and they figured it out on their own via small group conversations and interactive technology.
After many years of teaching the Hero's Journey to my 9th graders, I really feel like this was my most successful year! My students easily saw how the Journey and the qualities of a Hero transcend time and place via creative, self-directed and self-chosen projects, and they worked really hard to "show what they know." Many of my school-dependent students, who often struggle to find success in their English classes, said things like, "Miss! This is the first time I've read a whole book!" or "Miss, this was a really cool project," and "Miss, can we do things like this again?!" With comments like these, I am most definitely re-teaching and re-fining this unit next year!
- Cara Luchies, English Language Arts
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