#Take5 #34 The best way to write? The Hero’s Journey

This #Take5 post is a follow up to all the fruitful discussions recently held on the LDHEN list about the 12-steps of the narrative – and the different ways that they can help us to conceptualise writing – and how we might use that in our work with students.

This very practical and instantly useful blog has been written by Heather Dyer a consultant with the Royal Literary Fund who uses The Hero’s Journey in her writing workshops with dissertation students.

You’re a Hero on a Journey

We’re hardwired to see stories in everything: a relationship, a thesis, a life. Even a recipe has a narrative arc that shows how one thing leads to another. The desired outcome of a story is always discovery and growth – if we understand how and why things happen, we can shape outcomes in the future.

In academic writing workshops, I use the archetypal story structure ‘The Hero’s Journey’ to help participants reflect on – and reshape – their dissertations, research projects, academic career paths and personal challenges.

Hero's Journey

The Hero’s Journey

The Hero’s Journey is a universal story model outlined by Joseph Campbell in his book The Hero with a Thousand Faces. Campbell collected myths from all over the world, identified common elements or stages, and then put them together in a ‘monomyth’. Typically, the hero receives a call to adventure, ventures forth to face challenges and temptations, and ultimately sacrifices something in order to receive the gift of insight, which they bring home to benefit the world.

The hero can of-course be male or female, and the model is flexible rather than prescriptive – but the beauty of the monomyth is that it provides a pattern for the process of growth in any area.

Consider a few of these stages in relation to whatever you’re currently wrestling with:

The Hero’s Journey Your Journey Try This
The call to adventure. Can you remember what motivated you to begin? Why does this quest matter?


Without emotion, we lose our motivation and our ability to make decisions.

To rediscover what drives us, freewrite for five minutes (quickly, in full sentences, without pausing or editing) on what you really love about this subject.
The hero meets helpers and tricksters on the path. How did you get here? What has helped or hindered you? Draw a timeline going as far back as you like, and mark moments that were turning points in your journey (people you met, books, experiences, etc.) You may find events branching off as vertical mind-maps. Looking back, what sort of things worked best for you? What would you like to do more of, in future?
The hero faces the monster in the cave.  

Your biggest obstacle or challenge.


Write down your problem, or question. Now rephrase it in ten different ways. Reframing it can reveal nuances you may not have considered. Are you even asking the right question?


Interrogate a problem by asking, Why? repeatedly, to try and get to the bottom of it. In business, this is known as root cause analysis and is used to identify underlying issues. Five ‘why’s’ are usually required.

Death and rebirth. What’s holding you back? Do you have a mistaken belief or are you clinging onto something you need to let go of in order to proceed down a new route? Freewrite for 5 minutes on what the solution is not.

Freewrite for 5 minutes on what you would like the solution to be.

Does this reveal any biases? Any blocks? Might there be another way?

Return; the hero brings new knowledge back to the world.



What’s the impact of your discovery? How will it change things?




How will you really know when you have achieved your goal or resolved a situation? Sit quietly for a few minutes, and visualize how things will be.

Reflect on the contribution your research is making and ask yourself, Why now? Who is it for? How will it help? What next?

The Story of Your Research

Sketching a rough narrative around your research project can help you get perspective. On the Hero’s Journey story wheel below, complete as many of the sentences as you can. This can be helpful in crafting an abstract – or even provide a structure for an entire thesis. Sentences like, ‘Until now…’ might describe your literature review in a nutshell. ‘So, what I did …’ sums up your methodology. ‘What I realize now…’ would be your contribution, your point of growth.

The Story of Your Research

The Story of Your Research


Heather Dyer is a consultant with the Royal Literary Fund. Her doctorate explores the psychology of creativity, and she facilitates workshops in creative thinking and academic writing. She is also a writing tutor with the University of the Creative Arts and a former RLF writing fellow of Cardiff Metropolitan University, Worcester University and Aberystwyth University.

Take5 – Post7: It’s March – coming in like a lion: designing new assessments and classes!

What do you do when designing a new course or developing a new assessment or assignment?
How do you check that you are working with your own education philosophy rather than against it?
How do you prevent yourself from trotting down the same old path, not challenging either yourself or your students?
How do you offer students assessment choice?
As Howard Rheingold said on #ccourses (http://connectedcourses.net/) – if we aren’t falling off – then we’re not dancing on the edge! So, for this post I am mostly re-posting a blog from Jesse Stommel – on Twelve Steps for Creating a Digital Assignment – or a Hybrid Class. The whole post can be found here: http://www.jessestommel.com/blog/files/12-step-digital-assignment-hybrid-class.html – and it is well worth going straight to Jesse’s post itself – where you will find a useful PPT illuminating all the issues – and a video discussion on this topic – which is a whole 54 minutes long!

In the meantime, here’s what Jesse says:
Digital Pedagogy is a recursive process, a constant interplay between building and analyzing what we’ve built – between teaching and meta-level reflection on our own process. While step number 6 below explicitly suggests bringing students into the process, I would advocate bringing students into the conversation as early as possible, even from the outset – helping to build the syllabus, outline the objectives of the course, design activities and assessments, etc. I always start my planning for the semester or quarter at the end of the previous one by asking current students to help reconsider and redesign the course for the next term.
Questions I ask myself when creating a digital assignment or hybrid course:
1. What is my primary goal for students with this course / assignment?
2. What is my digital pedagogy? How does my goal for this assignment intersect with my broader teaching philosophy?
3. What tools that I already use (analog or digital) could help me achieve these goals? (It is often best to use the tools with which we are already familiar, rather than turning to the shiny and newfangled.)
4. In order for this activity / class to work, what gaps do I need to fill with other tools / strategies?
5. Is my idea simple enough? What can I do to streamline the activity?
6. What is my goal beyond this assignment / course? How will the activity (and my pedagogy) evolve? (In other words, don’t feel like you have to meet all your goals during the first attempt — think of the process, from the start, as iterative). Think also about how you can bring students (their feedback and the fruits of their work during the first iteration) into the continuing evolution of the activity / course.
7. Go back to step 1 and work through these steps (and likely several times).

The next steps are pointedly “below the fold” and outside the first recursive loop, because assessment should never drive our pedagogies. Rather, good assessment is driven by good pedagogy. Thus, I continue by asking myself:
8. Does this activity need to be assessed? Or does the activity have intrinsic value? We should never assess merely for the sake of assessing. As I’ve said before, teachers often grade in many more situations than grading is actually required, but we should avoid with a gusto any impulse that turns students into mere columns in a spreadsheet.
9. Is there a way to build the assessment into the assignment? For example, can I have students reflecting on their process inside the activity itself? Can my assessment arise organically from within, and as part of, the learning activity?
10. What additional assessment strategies should I use? (These might include peer-assessment, self-assessment, narrative feedback, peer review, points, a rubric, letter grade, or some combination.) External summative assessment should be a last resort, a necessary evil (in some cases). I firmly believe the goal of education should always be better learning and not better assessments.
11. What is my goal in assessing student work?
12. Go back to step 8.

Take5 #5: on critical pedagogy, MOOCMOOC & 19/01/15

In UKHE a significant aspect of the work of central Educational and Learning Developers is to help university staff develop their pedagogy and their curriculum practice. We work with staff to help them become educationalists – to teach and assess more effectively – and to develop their practice to tackle emerging changes in society, in educational policy – and in the aptitudes and attitudes that they encounter in the students before them.

Our work involves change: in our practices – of our resources – to our ways of thinking about teaching and learning. Change can provoke disquiet, unease and even resistance. Comfortable with the role as subject expert or academic researcher; the role of teacher or facilitator of learning can leave us exposed, vulnerable and in dangerous academic space. Becoming a ‘teacher’ rather than a lecturer moves us from positions of power to positions of danger and risk. Embracing our agency with respect to the successful university experiences of our students can leave us exposed to criticism from management and students alike – no more evident than in the constant big stick of NSS!

So – if you want to think about your practice in an exciting and stimulating online collegiate course – why don’t you think about joining Hybrid Pedagogies MOOCMOOC on Critical Pedagogy? Check out their curriculum and sign up for the MOOCMOOC from here:

Texts that will be covered and that you can discuss with other online participants include:
Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed, chapter 2
Emily Dickinson, “From all the Jails the Boys and Girls”
bell hooks, Teaching to Transgress, chapter 1
Henry Giroux, On Critical Pedagogy
Anarchist Pedagogies, chapter 7 “Spaces of Learning: The Anarchist Free Skool”
Thoreau, Civil Disobedience
Henry Giroux, “Rethinking Education as the Practice of Freedom: Paulo Freire and the Promise of Critical Pedagogy”
Ivan Illich, Deschooling Society, Ch. 1: “Why We Must Disestablish School”
John Dewey, “Creative Democracy—The Task Before Us”
Ricky Lee Allen, “Whiteness and Critical Pedagogy”

I hope some of you join in with this MOOCMOOC – and Good luck!!

Take5#4: Tackling Academic Reading

So – there we were W7 – and there they were, 63 first years, giving Poster Presentations to an audience of 70+ people. They had explored ‘learning spaces’ and constructed great arguments that referenced the reading (Thornburg and Giroux) and dazzled us with their Posters, their Prezis and their animations… It was thrilling

How did we reach this lofty pinnacle of academic practice?

Well – a couple of weeks before the Poster Presentations we prepared text-scrolls of just two key articles with which we wanted the students to engage:

Giroux’s article on lessons to be learned from Freire:


And Thornburg on metaphors of learning spaces:


We chose these to seed thinking about the pedagogical and physical spaces necessary for University teaching and learning – and as a prequel to the students’ own participant observations of the University’s formal and informal learning spaces.

Did you say Textmapping? Huh?
Textmapping (http://www.textmapping.org/index.html ) is an active reading strategy that involves using a text that has been turned into an A3 scroll. As a group, readers collectively mark up the text to show structure, content & relevance to their assignment. The fear of academic reading is broken down in the collective action on an enlarged text (yes – the big-ness is part of it) – and the point of reading is perceived when the texts are obviously relevant to an activity.

Seeding Poster presentations

Once our students had marked up their scrolls – we had them illustrate them – bringing the ideas alive with pictures and cuttings from newspapers and magazines. Thus, each group turned their reading notes into a poster-like collage – and subsequently presented their collage to the class.

That was W4; W5 they roamed the University in investigative groups… W6 we looked at presentation techniques and W7 – those wonderful Poster Presentations… and the surprising joy of hearing the seed articles used brilliantly to make sense of their mini-research projects.

If you are wrestling with Academic Reading, this textmapping really works – students start to see the point of reading – they lose their fear of reading – and they become successful at reading – what more could we want? 

Here’s what the Take5 website has on Promoting reading:

We know that academic reading is part of being a University student and that students must read. However, typically students resist and even fear academic reading. Do support academic reading with in-class activities – and possibly by setting ‘reading’ assignments: make some class time for students to learn how to read ‘academically’. 
See Study Hub:

reading: http://learning.londonmet.ac.uk/epacks/studyhub/reading.html

referencing: http://learning.londonmet.ac.uk/epacks/studyhub/referencing.html

Here are some activities that have worked with us:


Textmapping article on Formative Feedback

Compile annotated bibliographies

Real reading

Visual reading

Reading Dossier

Subject Dictionary

1: Textmapping:

Introduce students to the concept of active notemaking and reading (do use the Study Hub – and/or ask CELT for PPT sessions to teach from).

In groups: ask students to annotate A3 scrolls that you have prepared from articles that are interesting and challenging but quite short.

After they have been annotating for about seven minutes – feed in an assignment question that they should answer using the article. Tell them they have X-minutes to prepare a three-minute presentation. The notemaking should change quite dramatically – for now they are focussed and have a clear and urgent reason for the reading.

Each group presents – there is discussion.

Meta-reflection: How did the notemaking change when the assignment topic was introduced? What does this tell us about successful academic reading…?

2: Textmapping of Academic Writing article: Set students to read, annotate, engage with: Wilkinson S (08) ‘Optimising teaching and learning through the use of feedback on written assignments in History’ in Investigations Vol 5 (1) pp30-35

In groups: Produce 50-word essays on Either: Successful University writing Or Successful University reading.

Peer review essays, revise – post to own blogs… Reflect on the session… 

3: Compile online annotated bibliographies using Social bookmarking sites like Diigo or by using FaceBook as a Reading Journal.

4: Real reading: set students the task of finding a fresh, relevant journal article pertinent to your subject. After justifying their choice – each student has to produce a formal, short review of the article – pithy and well-written enough for publication. Publish the reviews in a class website.

5: Visual reading: set students the task of turning a relevant article into a comic book: for other students; for non-initiates; or for their auntie… (See https://www.google.co.uk/search?q=Notes+as+comic+books&espv=2&biw=1152&bih=755&tbm=isch&tbo=u&source=univ&sa=X&ei=dUgQVI-rI9Lb7Aa3mICADg&ved=0CDEQsAQ )

6: Reading Dossier: set students the task of compiling a Reading Dossier or Journal wherein they make brief notes on ALL the reading they do for your course. Items recorded must be pertinent, adequately recorded for future referencing – and should be pithy (key words – not sentences); made memorable in some way (highlighting, mnemonics, illustrations); and hopefully should be tied to your assignments. Tip: Award prizes for the best Journal/Dossier.

7: Subject Dictionary: Especially suitable for first year students – in one specific module – or across a suite of modules – require students to produce their own Subject Dictionary for the people, theories, concepts that they are learning in your subject. As with a Reading Dossier, items recorded must be pertinent, adequately recorded for future referencing – and should be pithy (key words – not sentences); made memorable in some way (highlighting, mnemonics, illustrations); and hopefully should be tied to your assignments. Tip: Award prizes for the best Subject Dictionary.