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FridayJanuary 2015

Twice a week on Wednesday and Friday mornings, classes of first through sixth grade students visit 826michigan (located inside Liberty Street Robot Supply and Repair) for a two-hour writing seminar field trip. The field trips range in topic from Choose Your Own Adventure-style stories, to mystery writing (and solving!), to board games where students must write poetry to earn points, to short stories for our somewhat (okay, very) cantankerous and peculiar editor Dr. Blotch. The writerly energy and enthusiasm (what some might call magic) that we generate on any given Wednesday and Friday morning is difficult to describe, but folks always want to know how we do it.

IMG_6804So, in order to provide the public with more information about the multiple mystifying elements of our field trip program, Dr. Blotch and our field trips intern Lucy Huber have conducted an interview with an important field trip stakeholder: one of our beloved teachers! Elsa Musko is a second grade teacher in South Lyon. Her students came to 826michigan for a Storytelling and Bookmaking field trip, where they worked furiously to produce a story with multiple endings in order to save the jobs of two well-meaning volunteers who forgot to submit a story to Dr. Blotch in time.

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Lucy: I’m so glad you were able to bring your class to 826michigan for a field trip this semester, I wanted to ask you a few questions about your experience. But um, when I told my boss Dr. Blotch about this interview he said he had a few questions for you himself, so um, he’s here too.

Dr. Blotch: Yes, I certainly do have some questions for you, Elsa. So, you willingly brought your class of human children to 826michigan for a field trip. Why would you bring children to 826? Were all the field trips to sewage treatment plants already booked?

Elsa: I brought my class to 826 because I knew first-hand how much fun (and learning) goes on upstairs at the LSRS&R! I was an In-School Residency intern during the 2011-2012 school year, and I had the chance to help out with a few field trips that year. I saw students so happily engaged in writing, and I knew I wanted to bring my own class if I ever had the chance.

Dr. Blotch: I remember your class. The children wrote lots of stories which I sold for thousands of dollars without their consent. So it did turn out well for me, but it was frustrating to hear all your students laughing and showing the unmistakable signs of joy and happiness while they did it.  Do your students actually “enjoy” writing, even though everyone knows the only reason to write is to make money? Why?

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Elsa: They do! My students truly enjoy writing, and many say it’s their favorite part of the day. They like being able to express themselves and build a sense of agency from it. The “rules” are more rigid in other academic areas, but in writing, there is a certain degree of freedom. They also love learning from other authors. We are in the middle of a unit studying Cynthia Rylant and her books. It is very exciting to hear students say, “I added this part because Cynthia Rylant did that in The Ticky Tacky Doll, and I thought it would fit in my story.” The “this part” could be repetitive dialogue, punctuation, contrasting images, etc.

Lucy:  That’s amazing! I love that they are learning to imitate writers they admire.

Elsa:  It’s been one of my favorite writing units I’ve taught!

Lucy:  So, it sounds like you do a lot of writing in the classroom. What was unique or different about the writing or writing process we did at the field trip compared with the classroom?

Elsa:  One big difference is that they were able to make up a fictional ending to a story! So far this year, students have only been writing personal narratives in order to build their skills with conventions, organization, and ideas. They were thrilled to have the chance to write something from their imaginations (this is coming up in school too, we just haven’t gotten there yet). Also, the pace of the writing process was much different. At school, students typically work on a story for anywhere from three days to three weeks. At 826, there was a hard and fast deadline. We HAD to get those stories done to save Lucy and Tom’s jobs! That context changed their writing process in a major way–it pushed students to write more than they thought they could in a short amount of time. I was certainly impressed by what they were able to do!

IMG_6816Lucy: Yeah, I’m always impressed by what the students come up with during field trips.

Dr. Blotch: All of this talk about children learning is making me feel ill. I’d like to change the subject entirely. You just mentioned, Elsa, you once worked at 826 as an intern. I remember this, I tried to fire you several times, as I do all my employees, but you not only continued to work at 826, you went on to have a career that centered around teaching children, which sounds smelly and sticky and terrible. This is not a question, I’d just like to say that I’m completely baffled by your life choices.

Lucy: I think Dr. Blotch is saying that you once worked at 826 as an intern and then went on to be a teacher who now brings her class to 826. How is it different being on the teaching side as opposed to being a volunteer at 826?

Elsa: Bringing my class to 826 was one of life’s wonderful full circle moments. I originally interned at 826 because I was pretty sure I wanted to be a teacher, but I wanted to be absolutely sure before I invested the time and money into a teacher education program. Through that year, I was able to go into several classrooms and see first-hand what teachers were doing each day. I was learning from them and learning from the students I supported. Now, with an intense two years of a masters/certification program and full-time teaching in between, it was such a joy to return to 826 on the other side. I was able to see my own students benefit from 826 and enjoy watching it unfold as their teacher. I always knew 826’s programs were meaningful, but I have a new view of it as a teacher. Having background knowledge of and relationships with my students made understanding their experience that much more important. I wasn’t the volunteer popping in and out; I was the person who’s always there seeing others step in and help my students.

Lucy:  That’s so great. I’m glad your students got so much out of it and that you were able to have both perspectives! I think Dr. Blotch has one more question.

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Dr. Blotch: Would you ever return to 826michigan for another field trip? If so, why? And if your answer is yes, let me know the date so I can make a note on my calendar and schedule my annual Yeti hunting trip to Siberia that day.

Elsa: I’m so happy you were able to fit us in your packed calendar! One of the best parts about being a teacher is seeing your students get excited about learning. My students were over-the-moon excited and engaged during our entire field trip. They still talk about it two months later and vividly remember you interrupting our writing process to pick on Fom and Fufu (Tom and Lucy). Moreover, they did some great writing. They experienced writing in a different way, under different circumstances than at school, and even my most reluctant writers walked away with something they were proud of. I would come back any day, and I know my students would, too! How does a year-long annual Yeti hunting trip sound?

Lucy:  Haha, we can only hope Dr. Blotch will leave for that long. Then maybe he’ll stop firing all our employees. So, that’s all I have. I think Dr. Blotch has retired to his mansion. Thanks so much!

Elsa:  You’re welcome! Tell everyone thanks again for squeezing my class in! They really did have an awesome time.

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Answers from students to interview questions from Dr. Blotch:

Dr. Blotch: Children, why on earth don’t you all grow up and get jobs already? I’m glad I got to sell your stories for so much money, but it seemed like you actually enjoyed writing them. Is this true? Do you actually enjoy writing? Why?

  • YES! Writing is fun!
  • It’s relaxing.
  • You can write about whatever you want.
  • I like to write about places, things, and people.
  • We can have fun. It’s really fun to get to say things about yourself.
  • It’s freedom! You can write about whatever you want.
  • It’s like sharing to your friends.
  • Sometimes we listen to music when we write.
  • It makes others read your stories and makes you feel good.
  • It makes you learn.

Dr. Blotch: Children, tell me the most fun thing that happened while you were at 826, so I make sure it never happens to any other class ever again.

  • Hearing you [Dr. Blotch] interrupt us.
  • Watching Dr. Blotch yell at Tom and Lucy (or Fom and Fufu).
  • When we got to act out what we wrote.
  • When Dr. Blotch read our stories.
  • The robots.
  • Everything!
  • When we got to write our own endings to the stories.
  • When you [Dr. Blotch] told Tom and Lucy that they had to write a story and they realized that they hadn’t done it yet.
  • When Dr. Blotch was so surprised that we could publish such good stories.
  • When you [Dr. Blotch] accepted all of our stories.

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Dr.Thaddeus Blotch is a graduate of the Transylvanian School of Dimly-Lit Caverns and Immeasurable Wealth Management. He is the CEO and founder of Blotch Publishing. His work with 826 mostly involves exploiting the creative talents of the staff, volunteers, and students to make money for his own personal use. His hobbies include firing employees, collecting particularly menacing 17th century gargoyles, and pulling the plug on children’s rock tumblers so they are left with only sharp, rough, unsightly stones.

Lucy Huber is the Field Trips intern at 826michigan for the 2014-2015 school year. She has an MFA in creative writing from the University of North Carolina Wilmington. Despite the occasional run-in with her less-than-pleasant boss, Dr. Blotch, running field trips are the best part of her week, followed closely by any time she gets to eat popcorn.

Elsa Musko is a second grade teacher in South Lyon, MI and former 826michigan In-school Residency intern. During her time at 826, she received the Mary Poppins Award for Enjoyment in Working with Children, which makes her smile to this day. Her students attended a Storytelling and Bookmaking field trip in Fall 2014 and still talk about Dr. Blotch and the 826 crew on a regular basis.

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