"Storytelling & Bookmaking", our most popular field trip, attracts classes from elementary and middle schools all over. With the help of a storyteller, typist, and illustrator, a class works together to create characters, setting, and a plot for their own original story. The story is projected onto a wall as the typist inputs the students’ ideas and a professional artist illustrates it on a large easel. All of this is punctuated by frequent outbursts from one of our ill-tempered, never-seen, completely fictional publisher, a volunteer who remains hidden and barks commands to the thrilled student (our fictional publishers include: Mr./Mrs. Blue in San Francisco, Mr./Mrs. Mildew in NYC, Mr./Mrs. Barnacle in LA, Mr./Mrs. Blotch in Michigan and Admiral Moody in Chicago). As pages are completed, they are printed out and handed off to the mysterious Hand of Doom. The action of the story builds to an exciting cliffhanger, and then we break so students can write their own conclusion with help from volunteer tutors who circulate the room. The whole thing is then printed and bound in-house. Students even write an “About the Author” section and paste their digital photo to the back cover. Finally, the books are shown to Mr. Blue, who shouts down glowing approval of each student’s story by name.
For older students, we adapt this field trip by writing screenplays. Instead of a Mr. Blue or Mrs. Barnacle, the students are visited by a hot shot agent—a volunteer in costume—who juggles cell phone calls while soliciting movie pitches from the class. The screenplay is written collaboratively while a professional artist storyboards the action. Ending on a cliffhanger, we break so students can write their own conclusions, which are printed and bound as real scripts. As a finale, the script is acted out on the spot, sometimes by our professional-actor volunteers, sometimes by the students themselves, to much applause.
Like all our instruction at 826, field trips are based on the proven pedagogy of project-based learning. Students work both cooperatively and independently, receive one-on-one support from a trained adult, and, at the end of a class, leave our writing lab with something tangible, such as a completed screenplay, a personalized bound book, or a solid-gold college application essay. By focusing on projects, students have a chance to practically apply skills that often seem abstract: grammar, usage, narrative construction, and figurative language. Also, when students know their work will be presented in a well-designed final project, they strive to make their work its best. We take great pride in the work created at 826, and our students do too.
The primary goals of our field trip program are:
- To provide public school students with valuable mentorship and personalized interactions with literary arts professionals from their community.
- To strengthen each student’s ability to express ideas effectively, creatively, confidently, and in his or her individual voice.
- To support public school teachers and complement the work they are doing in their classrooms.
- To punctuate the learning process with a tangible, authentic end-product that students are proud of.
- To demonstrate that academic learning and working hard can be fun!
826 provides services that help students better understand, engage in, and therefore benefit more from their regular schooling. In our field trips, the joys of writing are made vivid to our students in a welcoming, engaging environment. They leave a field trip having written a self-published book or screenplay, having engaged in lively discussion and debate with a local author, or having done one-on-one, intensive creative writing work with highly trained tutors; most remarkably, they leave confident and buoyed by the fun of creative writing. To extend the learning process after the field trip has ended, we provide teachers with a handout filled with possible follow-up activities that they can implement back in their classrooms.
Good writing skills are essential for future success, and we have witnessed that our field trips help students to develop their writing skills, express themselves creatively and confidently, and interact with local mentors outside the walls of their regular school environment. Our field trips function as a gateway: students who come to a field trip are encouraged to return to 826 on their own (for drop-in tutoring or workshops) to further their writing skills outside the classroom. And, through our thriving in-schools program, volunteers sometimes visit the same teachers and students back in their classroom to assist on other writing projects.