4/17/2007

The Short Story Festival is over. Finally.

Reading around 70 students’ stories over the past few days has given me an interesting view of the future of fiction. In case there are any oldies (non-high school kids) out there reading this, perhaps you’ll be interested to know what kinds of paperbacks will be populating the shelves of the various nursing homes and transitional rehabilitation centers you’ll be inhabiting for the last decade or so of your lives.

First, I’m sorry to say that there’s going to be a lot of people eating people. Not all of the people-eaters will be crazed, or sub-human, or diseased. In fact, some of them will be pretty damned nice about it. Sometimes people will be forced to eat each other out of mercy and even romantic love! But, whatever their motivations, from the poetic to the culinary, tomorrow’s fiction will be about people who eat people. (And are thus the loneliest people…)

Also, the next generation will continue this generation’s literary gender stereotype wars. Musclebound, sandy-haired, deportively proficient young men will continue to be manipulative and controlling, while objectified young women will remain image-obsessed and passive. Most young ladies in tomorrow’s fiction will have no better option than suicide or drunken accidents, while young men will quickly get over it and move on (generally to the best friends of the recently departed). Occasionally, young men will die tragically and make ghostly visits to past lovers. These amorous specters will generally return from their private purgatories to visit their paramours in malls and other high-traffic retail locations. Love and and mental health and materialism are so deeply entwined in these stories. It turns out that the teenagers you see hanging out at the mall on Friday nights are actually going through most of their major, life-changing experiences right there in front of the Corn Dog Factory. Who knew?

Anyway. We had class. Today I introduced the next week’s worth of work, a small research assignment that will culminate in a presentation next Tuesday. 9th graders are examining the nature of evil, and examining the actions of an “evil” person they’ve had contact with. 10th graders are exploring the existence of ghosts, through academic research as well as personal interviews with witnesses to the paranormal. These topics tie in to the Shakespeare plays we’ll be reading, Othello and Hamlet. You can download the assignment packet below.

Today we undertook the first step of the process, which is to learn how to conduct a formal interview. An interview is different from a conversation, and these differences can be summed up by what I like to call The Three P’s of Interviews:

  • Purpose: An interviewer sees the interviewee as a brain full of knowledge and memories that may be useful. The interviewer’s purpose is to extract the knowledge and memories relating to some specific topic.
  • Plan: Unlike most conversations, interviewers should go into an interview with a solid plan, including several written questions, and possible follow-up questions and topics. Once the interview starts, the interviewer won’t know if something unique or interesting is being said unless they’ve thought about potential responses and topics beforehand.
  • Product: If no record of the interview exists, then it’s like the interview never happened. Interviewers are responsible for taking accurate and detailed notes. Many interviewers also like to create an audio or audiovisual record of the interview.

After talking about all this, we went through an interview trial-run in class, using the worksheet you can download at the end of this post. Students first spent a few minutes planning the interview by considering the topic themselves and developing a few questions. Then we conducted the interviews. While the interviews were going on, students took notes and wrote down follow-up questions to clarify any confusions that arose or to add interesting details. Many interviewers found that their subjects were reluctant to spill their guts about the practice topic (“What is love?”), which is precisely why I chose this topic. These interviewers had to come up with a lot of creative follow-ups to get their interviewees to open up.

If you weren’t here today, get the assignment packet and the interview practice worksheet below and get started.

MT

Downloads:

9th grade reasearch packet

10th grade research project

Interview practice worksheet

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