by Emily Dimitosh, PLA Team Leader
At learning strategies, we have a thing for amphibian/reptilian metaphors. First, it was eat a frog for breakfast. Now, ladies and gentlemen, I am pleased to announce our new catchphrase, “SLAY your Dragon.”
Now, although I’ve never had the opportunity to battle the mythical beast in person, observations from Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, and other fantasy world thrillers have taught me quite a bit, and it was the lack of sleep I had while studying for my last midterm that put two and two together.
STEP 1: SURVEY the beast
No hero ever starts attacking the dragon right away. Hercules, Harry Potter, and the little guys from Lord of the Rings all started by circling the beast and observing its behaviour. Ultimately, I believe they were trying to understand the beast so that they could better pinpoint its weaknesses, and the best place to attack first. This is like an exam or an assignment: you need to read through the whole thing first to understand what it’s all about. You need to understand how it moves, how it behaves. Where the fangs are, where the venom lies, so that you don’t get bitten before you’ve even begun.
STEP 2: LAY out your strategy
Once the hero/heroine has surveyed the beast, the camera undoubtedly does a close-up of their face, and a voiceover comes on so that you can hear what the person is thinking. Or, there’s no voiceover, and you get such big shot of their eyes in front of you that you can’t help but think, what ARE they thinking! Generally, the heroine is finalizing her strategy and giving herself a mental pep-talk before going forward. This ensures she has a strategic way of attacking, and doesn’t waste time or energy slaying the dragon the wrong way. She also gives herself a confidence boost before going in to ensure she has the attitude necessary to succeed.
Similarly, after you’ve surveyed that beast of an essay, sit back and ask yourself what the best way to attack it is. Are you going to take out the head right off the bat? Cause some internal bleeding with blunt force trauma to the arm? Take out the claws? Make sure you know how you are going to kill it before you raise a pencil – otherwise you’ll waste your energy going after its toenails when you should’ve been tackling the venom-filled tail. Once you are happy with your plan, give yourself a pep-talk so that you have the confidence needed to go forward.
STEP 3: ATTACK with your strengths
The hero rarely wastes time on moves or weapons that they aren’t good at using. They play to their strengths – and fast! Harry grabs his broom and wand, the Lord of the Ring guys grab their bows and arrows, and everyone’s off to the races. You don’t see Harry pulling out his karate skills when he has better tools at his disposal. You also don’t see him wasting any time trying to strike hard and fast on his enemies.
Likewise, use YOUR own strengths to hit the assignment hard and fast. Don’t waste time trying to tackle parts of it that you aren’t quite sure of. If you don’t know how to write the conclusion yet, don’t waste time stressing about it – you’ll likely put yourself into a negative state of mind and delay the rest of the project and any other progress you could have made. Instead, focus on your areas of strength – perhaps you are really good at introductions and can start with that instead. Either way, don’t waste time where you are not good at. Use your strengths and don’t try to kill the dragon with your (non-existent) kung-fu prowess.
STEP 4: YES – it’s actually dead
This is the problem with monsters in horror movies: the heroes/heroines haven’t figured out the kill shot. They do battle with the beast, think they’ve won, and just walk away. They don’t question whether they’ve actually killed the beast or not and undoubtedly, they haven’t. In the next scene, it comes bursting back to life ready to wreak havoc on its attempted assassins.
Likewise, before you walk away from your monster project, do a 360 degree walk around to make sure you’ve done as much damage as possible and have ACTUALLY left it for dead. This is your chance to check for final details, and make any additional cuts. A spelling error, missed citation, poorly structured transition sentence, or missed deliverable are like the extra heads on a hydra – you may have chopped one off but the beast is still alive and well, ready to bite you in the butt!
After all that effort, all that surveying, laying out a strategy, attacking – do you really want that to go to waste because you forgot to look behind you and make sure it was dead?
Didn’t think so.