Saturday, February 18, 2017

Using Star Wars to study the Hero's Journey

It's been a long while since my last post, and I am now teaching 5th grade.  But today I am back and writing about Star Wars!

Last spring, after deciding to move from 3rd to 5th grade, a colleague asked if I might be interested in creating a literature unit surrounding Star Wars.  Of course, being a Star Wars fan, I immediately said yes!

But we weren't studying and watching Star Wars movies just for fun. (Although it has been lots of fun.) We used the Star Wars movies to teach our students about the narrative archetype of the Hero's Journey.  The movies helped us to understand the different stages of the journey. We would then be able to tie in the Hero's Journey to other literature.  There's even a website dedicated to using Star Wars in the Classroom. If you want to read about Star Wars and other sci-fi from the female fan perspective I highly recommend The Fangirl Blog.

The Hero's Journey is a narrative pattern that scholar, Joseph Campbell, identified in myths, storytelling and other dramas. In this monomyth, or hero's journey, the Hero goes on an adventure, faces many tests, wins a victory or achieves a goal and then returns home, changed.  You can read more about it in Joseph Campbell's book, The Hero with a Thousand Faces.  You might also like to watch this TED-ED video that explains the Hero's Journey archetype very nicely.

There are several different versions of the stages out there, but we decided to use the stages found at The Writer's Journey website.  You can view the Google slideshow that my colleague, Brian St. Pierre, created for us to teach our students about the Hero's Journey stages. We watched Episode IV, A New Hope first, and then we began learning about the stages. My students used this graphic organizer to take notes as we went through the stages.  You can complete the hero's journey for Luke Skywalker for just the first move, A New Hope, or you can study Luke's journey over the entire trilogy. With my class, I had my students analyze Luke's journey for the first movie.  Later, after we had viewed the entire trilogy we re-analyzed his journey.  After we finished the original trilogy we watched The Force Awakens and then were able to analyze Rey's heroine's journey.

After watching The Force Awakens students immediately started discussing the character, Rey.  Who was she?  We all had our theories and opinions. This led to an assignment that you can view here.

Then in December the new Star Wars movie, Rogue One, came out.  Many students went to see the movie.  So many students wanted to talk about it that Brian set up a Google Classroom just for kids to discuss the movie without spoiling it for others that hadn't seen it yet.

In case you are wondering, we watched the first movie, A New Hope, during class time.  Later, we showed the other 2 movies - The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi - during recesses.  Students were given the option, but I think all of them decided to stay in and watch.  We also discussed the unit as part of our Back to School Night.  We wanted our parents to be as excited as we were and also understand the connections to learning.  My parents were all very excited and supportive of the unit.  We did ask all of our parents to sign permission for viewing the movies.

Each class also began reading literature that followed the hero's journey narrative.  Brian's class read The Book of Three by Lloyd Alexander and my class read Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin.  Other books you could use are Harry Potter, The Hunger Games and Percy Jackson & the Olympians. There are some great picture books that you could use also, like Brave Irene and the wordless book Journey .  I've even see a post with someone using Last Stop on Market Street!

Once my class finished Where the Mountain Meets the Moon we began analyzing the main character, Minli, and her journey.  Often when the hero, or heroine in this case, is female their journey is slightly different. So we adjusted our stages as we went. My students created a Google Slideshow to share what they had learned.  You can view it here.  

Our entry into the world of Star Wars and the Hero's Journey was a great way to start our school year. It engaged my students and helped to create a classroom community.  We bonded over Star Wars.  If you were already a fan it was frosting on the cake and I am excited that we created new fans along the way. New Star Wars clothing seem to appear weekly, especially with the girls in the class.  One of my students has even tried out many different Star Wars inspired hairdos.  When we had to decorate our class door to celebrate an author's visit, my students decided to draw Star Wars characters reading the author's books. As any teacher knows, your classroom is like a little family. Star Wars has helped us to achieve academically, but it has also helped us bond as a group.

I was in high school when the original Star Wars movies came out and cannot remember how many times I have watched these movies.  Watching them with my own children was a great experience and now watching them through the eyes of my 5th graders is a real treat.  Luke and Rey's journeys continue to inspire conversations and students are always looking for ways to connect to the hero's journey during reading.  Just yesterday, during one of our book club groups, reading Elijah of Buxton, the students discussed Elijah and the hero's journey stages.

The entire 5th grade faculty dressed up as Star Wars characters for Halloween.  That's me as Princess Leia.