Fiction, Uncategorized, Writing
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Reading F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Stories with Sandee Woodside

This month I signed up an interesting small tutor-led class, “The Great Gatsby and New York,” on a new Taipei English course shopping website called MDT. It was the most interesting classes on the list, and it was the only class that was about F. Scott Fitzgerald’s works. I’m a big fan of F. Scott Fitzgerald and so my thoughts are completely biased. When I saw the course description, I liked it immediately and was excited about the class. I wonder what it might be like to chat about Fitzgerald’s stories with real people in real life.

“The Great Gatsby and New York” class that I attended was held every Wednesday night in the month of June (3 lessons in total) after work from 7:30pm to 9pm in a small meeting room inside an old office building nearby Guting MRT station in Taipei city. The location was great for all of us and was close to National Taiwan University and National Taiwan Normal University. The class was led by Ms. Sandee Woodside, a thirty year old writer, poet, and teacher from New York. I’m glad that Sandee taught the class. She was an amazing teacher and she loved writing poetry.

Sandee, currently based in Taipei, is working on her MA in Literary Linguistics through the University of Nottingham while teaching English as a second language to children and adult in Taipei. In our Thursday night Great Gatsby class, she was adept at making us feel comfortable in her classroom and was really good at engaging students in meaningful discussions. She took the time to make well-designed, content-rich, pedagogically-sound Prezi presentations for the class. Some of the interesting and important questions were being asked, thus sparking lively discussions in class. It requires forethought and advance preparation to make the classes flow, and she succeeded.

Here are the three beautiful presentation slides that were used in Sandee’s “The Great Gatsby and New York” Thursday night class.

Some of the discussion questions that we had gone through:

  • What do you think Americans’ attitudes are toward wealth and poverty?
    What is Taiwan’s attitude toward wealth and poverty? What is you personal attitude?
  • Is Nick Carraway necessary? If we got the story through a third person
    omniscient (all knowing) narrator, what would we lose? Gain?
  • What is Fitzgerald’s view of women as set out in this story? Evaluate the two main female characters, Daisy and Jordan. (Note: the 2013 film version excludes the fact Jordan and Nick had a romantic relationship in the story; her character is otherwise similar, but minimalized).
  • Weather is very symbolic in the story. What are some examples or weather or weather terminology? What are some other symbols or motifs (themes) that you noticed?

Sandee’s lessons have shed new light on Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. Many people enjoy watching the films without knowing much of the background nor the themes, motifs, symbols, significance of the novel. Sandee’s lessons have the capacity to provide that and ultimately make you love the story all the more. Reading Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby was already an enormous pleasure, but with Sandee’s introduction and guidance, we were able to see the story in a new light.

Two of the students were extremely articulate in class discussions. They had high-level of communication skills and without a doubt, excellent command of English. I was impressed. In addition, I liked all of the ideas, perspectives, and opinions that the class had expressed. Some were very informative, very knowledgable, and some were incredibly interesting. The only part that I thought would be great to consider to improve is that it was not required to read chapters of the book. I think it would be great if the class instructor could go ahead and assign reading lists to students. To me, it would be lovely if all literature teachers make their students read. Yes, force them read a great deal of good essays and poetry and short stories and fictions and speeches and letters and memoirs.

My college professor from the U.S., Prof. Thomas Price once told me the only way to develop my language skills is to read. He said that the problem with Taiwan’s English literature and language education is that very few professors are teaching in English. “They teach ‘about’ English literature,” he said. It was teaching about American novels in Mandarin Chinese, and many Taiwanese English literature majors had to read Chinese translations of great American novels in order to get the gist of the books.

I believe Prof. Price had a point. It is not hard to notice that many Taiwanese English professors no longer have the ability to teach about American literature in English after obtaining their Ph. D. degrees. Many of them have left the U.S. for too long and have forgotten what it was like to teach in English to college students. If the professors themselves were reluctant to discuss literary works in English during class discussions, what can we expect our Taiwanese English college graduates to have abilities to read and write good English?

I’m still buying Prof. Price’s thinking after all these years. I got out of college with a B.A. degree from National Dong Hwa University, a third-tier college in Hualien county (East part of Taiwan) in June 2012 and I became a voracious reader. I just finished a peculiar little British fiction book called,” The Sense of an Ending,” by Julian Barnes, using all my commute time and lunch breaks to read in the past four days! (I admired Mr. Barnes’ prose greatly, but was confused about the ending of The Sense of an Ending. I didn’t get it and had to do a little internet search to get the revelation of the plot.)

Lastly, back to the Thursday class feedback! Though Sandee didn’t say much about her own creative writing adventures, I sensed that she had a passion and instinct, and a deep pasion for writing. A dedicated, talented native American teacher like Sandee is hard to find not just in Taipei, but in the overall second language teaching market. I’m certain that everyone (all five of us!) had a great time and would love to be back for more stories.

 

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