The Hero's Journey: An Inquiry-Research Model

By Holmes, Thomas | Teacher Librarian, June 2007 | Go to article overview

The Hero's Journey: An Inquiry-Research Model


Holmes, Thomas, Teacher Librarian


SINCE THE PUBLICATION OF THE FIRST INFORMATION LITERACY MODEL BY STRIPLING AND PITTS IN 1988, WHICH WAS FOLLOWED SHORTLY BY EISENBERG AND BERKOWITZ'S BIG SIX MODEL (1990), TEACHER-LIBRARIANS HAVE BEEN TEACHING THE RESEARCH PROCESS BUILT ON THE PARADIGM OF THE SCIENTIFIC METHOD. THIS DISPASSIONATE METHOD REQUIRES THE BUILDING OF A QUESTION, THE COLLECTION OF DATA, THE ANALYSIS OF THAT DATA, THE DRAWING OF CONCLUSIONS, AND THE PRESENTATION OF THE RESULTS.

Although I do not suggest that the scientific method is outdated in any way, I do suggest that teacher-librarians can adopt other models that satisfy the rigors of a legitimate research project and that they can also motivate students to get excited about learning. There is another paradigm already familiar to children and adolescents that can bring passion and motivation into the research process: the hero's journey.

The hero's journey is a narrative structure identified by Joseph Campbell as an archetypal map of the human spiritual quest. Drawn from the realm of myth and religion, the hero's journey was first presented in Campbell's book The Hero With a Thousand Faces (1956). The concept reached mass audiences through Bill Moyers's interviews with Joseph Campbell in the 1988 PBS series The Power of Myth. Since that time, the hero's journey has been adapted as a key to understanding narratives in books and movies and as a structure for writing narratives such as screenplays. The hero's journey structure was a major influence on George Lucas (1977) as he created Star Wars, and it has also been incorporated into a number of movies, novels, and computer games. People are hungry for this story form because it captures so much of what it means to be human.

Reg Harris, a secondary school teacher, and Susan Thompson, a teacher-librarian, have developed a curriculum guide to the hero's journey, based on years of working with students in their literature classes. Their book The Hero's Journey: A Guide to Literature and Life (2003) is recommended for anyone wishing to explore curriculum uses for the hero's journey. Reg Harris also maintains a web site, www.yourheroic journey.com, that offers a wealth of resources along with information on the curriculum.

There are several merits to approaching research as a hero's journey. When taken seriously, as it should be, the research process is a journey of transformation in which the researcher leaves behind the comfortable world that he or she knows, gains new knowledge, and then returns--changed in some way by his or her learning. But for many students, the research process is not seen as a dynamic and exciting journey. In fact, most students look at research as an arbitrarily imposed assignment in which they have little--if any--say and which will yield them nothing more than frustration and tedious work.

Connecting students to the hero's journey before doing research engages them on a deep and personal level, enabling them to explore how their education is a part of their larger life journey. Ultimately, they see how everything they do is connected to that process. When teachers and teacher-librarians become mentors and the research process becomes student centered, students become imaginatively engaged in learning and in life, even as they research a project for school. And in this way, teachers see students as world-class learners prepared to compete in a flat world.

THE GOAL OF THE INFORMATION LITERACY PROCESS

If our highest goal is to create independent lifelong learners who feel passionately connected to their education, then we need to think about how to present the information literacy process so that it supports that goal. We want our students to have a transformational experience with their learning. We want them to see that what they are doing in school is connected to their lives outside of school in a real and immediate way. We want them to think of learning as an enjoyable endeavor rather than as drudgery.

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