This post is part of a series that explores the Basics of Educational Storytelling. Largely taken from my master”™s thesis, The Value and Principles of Educational Storytelling (which can be read here), this I will lay the foundation for an educational storytelling model regardless of setting and medium. We look at the basic elements of storytelling, five guiding principles and educational stories, and practical tips.

Check out the rest of the series.

We are using the Hero’s Journey as a skeleton for our story. If you want a full breakdown of the Hero’s Journey, check out my this series. I have boiled this down to five pieces of the Journey, each with an important task. Last time we covered the first three. Today, the last two.

  1. The Hero and the Cast of Characters
  2. The Hero and the Ordinary World, Broken
  3. The Hero and the Journey
  4. The Hero and the Moment
  5. The Hero and the Repercussions

Don’t forget our first guiding principle: Hero Audience Bonding.

We create a hero the audience can learn through, vicariously. As the hero progresses through the story, learning and problem solving, the audience will learn the same lessons “” given they have bonded with the main character.

Learning Goals

As this is an educational story, there are objectives. We want the students to learn something. It is important to define what these objectives are. They can be identity oriented learning (morals) or process oriented learning (math) goals. And, there may be several goals. Perhaps along the road to learning the dangers of lying, the hero also learns the distributive property and bits of the scientific method? Whatever the case may be, establish theme to yourself early so you can keep on focus.

The Hero and the Moment

Heroes must make a multitude of decisions along the journey in order to be a willful character. She does not necessarily have to make these decisions alone. In fact allies are some of the most important aspects of a compelling story. These allies function as mentors, moral compasses, and even shape shifting enemies at times. However, there comes a time when the hero must make the final set of decisions alone. She must stand at the last threshold, face the final antagonistic force, and accept the consequences of those decisions.

It is in this last confrontation that the hero’s growth must be shown. She has toyed with changing, with overcoming his flaws, and growing into something more. Now, she must make the final leap. She becomes brave. She tells the truth. She works hard. It is not enough that the hero understands the value of the growth. She must act upon the growth in order to show that they have changed.

The climax of a story serves certain functions. Up till now, the hero’s life has been out of balance and they have been searching for the object of desire that will set the world in order again. They have been working toward filling their want/need and overcome incredible obstacles in order to make it to this last climax. (Read more about Want, Wound, and Need) Now, they win. It is not necessarily required that they achieve the want, but they must achieve the need in order for the audience to be satisfied. It isn’t even required for the hero to live through the experience, as long as they grew and achieved their need before they died. In the climax, the villain is defeated, the world is put back in place, and (in most cases) the hero sets off for home again.

The educational purpose of this moment is to give the reader the moment to integrate the desired learning into themselves via empathy. They see the value of the learning. If the story is satisfying, they will associate that learning with positive feelings and it will “stick” all the more. This may also serve as a mini-assessment of sorts, especially in process-oriented learning. In this case, the hero must solve the puzzle or do whatever the process being learned is. How well the student grasps this process can be seen here.

The Hero and the Repercussions

The hero now has what is needed to set her life back in order. They’ve grown from the experience and overcome the major flaw along the journey. Now, they re-enter their ordinary world to find they don’t quite fit anymore. She creates a new ordinary world melding the best from her experience and the world that surrounds her. Everything is in balance again.

There must be genuine sense that the hero is better for the growth she has undertaken. Their world is orderly and they understand the benefit of the change. The audience must also see that the hero is better for having undergone transformation. Here, it may be helpful to introduce other characters who have not undergone the same transformation or have made opposite choices. Show the consequences for actions, both good and bad, allowing the audience to get a good sense of repercussions.

The last image of a story is an important one. No hero is every totally complete, just as no person has ever “arrived.” There is always room to grow, capability for transformation, and flaws that have not been worked out yet. In order to keep the audience identifying with the character, allow some of those flaws to remain.

This is the basic skeleton for our educational story. From here, we will focus on the other guiding principles of educational storytelling and then wrap it all together into a simple model.

Next up, Emotion and Learning.

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Chris Michaels

Storyteller. Researcher. Coder. Innovator. I seek to push the boundaries of storytelling and education.
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