Saturday, June 13, 2009

Vlad in Taipei: Afterword

This tale was written in collaboration with a class of young Chinese students in Taipei. The students were aged 12-14. They’d begun studying English around three years before work on the story began, and the story itself is the product of around nine months of classes.

Our class met once a week for two hours. My method was based on the chapter as a unit. Before work on each chapter began, I projected in my mind a vague idea of what might happen in the chapter. I had an idea of who the characters were and what kind of grammar and vocabulary of they'd be likely to use. I then spent perhaps two lessons teaching this grammar and vocabulary through activities and drilling that had no direct connection to the story we were writing. When I felt the students had a grasp of the new grammar, I presented them with the locale and the general situation of our story's next chapter, and told them it was up to them to decide what would happen.

The first chapter is a good example of this method. I initially taught and drilled the kind of phone conversations that occur when one wants to reserve a room at a hotel. When I felt the students were all capable of playing the roles of both desk person and guest, I introduced the words vampire, blood, coffin and bat. I told the students there was a vampire in Europe named Vlad. He was tired of Europe, and he noticed a travel brochure for Taiwan. He decided to come to Taiwan. He called the Taipei Hilton. It was then up to the students to write the dialogue that would occur between the vampire and the desk person. When I received the 12 or so homework books, I selected the best parts of the best dialogues, corrected the mistakes, then edited them together into what is now chapter I. And so on with chapter II.

The great advantage of this method is that I could hand the students their homework not merely corrected but integrated into a story they were writing themselves. The photocopied handouts, given to them and read together chapter by chapter, meant that their own work was becoming the English literature that the class was reading. As is to be expected, a handful of the best students took up the challenge and worked to write the most interesting possible homework, hoping that their version of what was to happen next would be typed up and read together by the class.

Some of the later chapters are written entirely by myself, and were read together by the class as reading exercises. What has been surprising to me is just how much narrative competence can be achieved by adolescent students who are less than fluent in English. And of course: the hilarity of it all was wonderful.

Class 411 was: Alice, Annie, Candy, David Wu, Felicia, Grace, Grace Wu, Judy, Karen, Kurt, Lon, Luke, and even "Gangster" Wilson. Two writers from class 418 were: Tom and Alice.

Eric Mader

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