The best field trip I experienced was when I took my first group of students to see Much Ado About Nothing at Chicago Shakespeare Theater over twenty years ago. The students, who had never seen live theater, were fascinated with the lighting, scenery, the physical comedy of the actors, and the entire sensory experience. The play jumped off the page and turned into something entirely different in the theater space.
AP students? Far from it. These were lower level students, some of the weakest readers in the building. Why did it work so well?
Create barriers, but not financial ones.
This is a privilege, a delightful treat, not a march. We built a barrier (study guide, quiz mastery, lunchtime discussion/preparation) that allowed students who were interested and intrigued to join us, but left behind those who were not yet ready.
We made a point to take students who came from disadvantaged backgrounds. Despite living thirty minutes from world-class museums, these students had never entered the doors of these institutions.
Anticipate where your students may struggle.
What will intimidate your students? When will they feel uncertain or uncomfortable? Directly teach behaviors. Before I took my lower level class to see Shakespeare, we talked about what to do if they found it boring, had to go to the bathroom, or got hungry. We discussed the difference between applause and yelling out. Students worry about getting lost, what to wear, and when they will get to eat. Openly address those fears.
Let students design the trip.
A few years ago, we were studying the novel Things Fall Apart, and a student wondered what some of the African cultural references actually looked like. A few weeks later, the students walked into the African Art wing at the Art Institute of Chicago and exploded with awe when they saw what was at the entrance – the towering dramatic costumes of the mysterious edwugwu. Suddenly, the students understood the power of these intimidating demi-gods.
Prepare yourself and prepare your hosts.
We use the education departments at these institutions. When my students went to the Art Institute in conjunction with our reading of Things Fall Apart, the volunteer docents took the time to read the novel themselves the week before our trip so they could be better prepared to help students find those cultural connections.