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Two on Tour of Taiwan for Tour Number Two

Published August 25, 2007

How's that for a tongue twisting title? It is easier than my recent efforts to try and learn the Chinese language. My friends in Taiwan will be pleased to know that I have learned to say," Thank you," in Chinese. I am grateful to East-West Book Company for sponsoring what was my second working tour of Taiwan and to B.K. Norton company for acting as my agent in the Asian territories.

My name is Dr. Mike Lockett. I am indeed a fortunate individual. My wife, Becky, and I just returned from two weeks of working with hard working educators in Taiwan. I told stories and taught teachers ways to use storytelling to promote reading, speaking and listening skills related to leaning the English language to pre-school and kindergarten teachers and elementary teachers. Working by day and visiting the beauties that Taiwan had to offer by day and by night, I can't imagine a better way to spend my time.

I had the pleasure of working for 33 years in American public school education with many of the most dedicated teachers in education before becoming a full-time professional storyteller. I have seen a lot of good work being done with students in our country despite the doom and gloom reports we read in the media. I will never put down the hard working and under compensated American educators. But, I do believe that we Americans have met our match after taking this second working tour to work with classroom teachers in Taiwan. They have an advantage that works for their benefit, one that starts in the home. While we have been blessed with free public education and many families that are wonderful about promoting learning for their children, there are too many families that do not press the importance of education on their children which leads to high drop out rates in many parts of the country.  

The streets of Taiwan show a colorful mix of the old and the new. The people are on the move, whether on foot, bicycles, cars and buses and many varieties of scooters. For 23 million people, there are over 12 million motor scooters. Yet despite the noise of the vehicles, the streets seem calm, and the people seem contented as the go about their daily routines. There are very few Americans to be seen on the streets, but yet we felt welcomed by everyone we met.

Becky and I discovered that in Taiwan most of the children go to school starting very young in pre-school for a full day five days a week studying traditional Chinese and all the subjects that go with it. At the end of the school day, many of the children go to what we were told was a "cram" school. They had English crammed into their heads with after school and Saturday lessons. True, many American children attend extended day and extended week programs, but theirs are more intense and for a good reason. Students take a series of high-stake tests at the end of middle school or junior high. Students are tested in proficiency of both Chinese subjects AND of English. If they fail to score high enough, they are not admitted to high school. From my limited understanding, this seriously limits their job choices and income level from that time on. Wow! That places a new value on acquiring a good education.

Further tests are given before students can get into the universities. Again, students are tested in traditional Chinese subjects and in English. This leaves little wonder why their test scores are rising and why Taiwan is becoming so competitive in the world market. It also explains why an American storyteller who wears a funny Panama Jack hat when telling tales was brought to Taiwan by East-West Book Company. Teachers have found in Taiwan what I have been professing in America during my entire educational career. Students who listen to good stories and who tell stories become better readers, listeners, and speakers of the language the stories are told in.

Becky and I stayed in a hotel near the old South Gate of Taipei (above left). The area was filled with old and new. The fronts of stores all looked like construction in any new and modern city. But down every alley and in open spaces, we saw that older buildings did exist (above center) and that old and new alike were filled with color, art work and the faces of a people who are oviously proud of the city in which they live.

I am the not the first storyteller to share the idea with Taiwanese teachers that storytelling helps students practice learning English in a fun and exciting manner. East-West Publishing Company has brought storytellers Mitch and Martha (Beauty and the Beast Storytellers), Kendall Haven and Margaret Read McDonald to Taiwan during the last several years to conduct storytelling workshops for Taiwanese teachers of English. I am honored to be included in such an excellent company of storytellers. During this tour, I was able to join their ranks with sharing and recording stories for teachers to share with their young learners.

A special part of the Taiwan trip was a wonderful morning performing for students at Cat's International School. It seems that Catherine studied in the U.S. and opened several special schools for teaching English in Taiwan. Every performer wants to believe how wonderful their programs are, including even the most humble storyteller. My first program at Cat's for the day allowed me to do just that. East-West cameramen filmed the performance to use as part of a storytelling DVD that will be produced by E-W. The children responded with every bit as much enthusiasm as any American school group I have performed for. The program was true joy from the perspective of a performer.

The second program, however, was a blow to my ego when I had a reality check. The group consisted of very young pre-school children on their first day at what was a new school to them. They were hearing stories in English for the first time was also a bit un-nerving for them. I knew the challenge I faced was when I scared a child with one of my fairly well known animal imitations and had the child turn his back on me for the remainder of the performance. Timing for the program presented another difficulty. This second program was right before lunch. The little ones were tired and hungry. I pulled out all stops and varied my program multiple times trying to get through the allotted time. Still part of the children clearly enjoyed the stories even with a language and hunger barrier in the way.

My first trip to Taiwan last January had been so much fun and had been successful. I wanted this trip to go even better. So, I contacted Mitch and Martha who had made several trips to work with the Taiwanese teachers and ask them for advice. "Everything will go well, they assured me, "Just get lots of rest before you go!" I found out why. The schedule was busy! But, my wife and I still took some time to play.

Becky loved shopping at the night markets and even found special ink to use in stamping her signature on her Chinese brush paintings back in the states. She bought the stamp on the first trip but forgot the special ink. We both were impressed with the extensive recycling that we saw. We also had to share a picture of the beautiful food that was served virtually everywhere. We were told that the people in Taipei don't cook at home very much and that they love to eat out.

Three days were spent in the recording studio. East-West owns the rights to a wonderful series of Easy-to-Read Books. Some of my storytelling counterparts had recorded level one and two readers during their trips. I had the delight of recording the oral version of the level three books. E-W encouraged my creativity during the recording process. This allowed me to add different voices for the characters in the books we recorded as well as sound effects. I also was able to add a few rhymic poems and singing ditties. I am anxious to hear the results when the published books with CDs come out later this year. East-West will release a DVD of The Normal Storyteller performing stories on DVD this fall as well. 

A special program for library volunteers and community educators was arranged by B.K. Nortons in collaboration with the Taipei Public library and the Taiwan Reading Association. I entered the library with the confidence that comes from giving over 1500 programs across the United States, including many libraries - then rapidly became a victim of stage fright when I saw the room I was to perform in. The magnificant library has a huge conference room that resembles the interior of the general assembly at the United Nations. Audience members sat at desks, each with their own microphones, in a room almost half a block in size. Confidence was restored quickly when I was met by Wendy Shyu, a Taiwan teacher and a consultant for Scholastic and for Bookman Company. (Bookman's was one of the sponsors for my first trip to Taiwan.) Wendy had agreed to act as the emcee for the program and to serve as an interpreter when needed. I could only understand my name during the introduction she gave in Chinese, but her tone and the applause of the welcoming audience pumped me up and gave me the courage to give one of my typically insane programs filled with stories and songs.

Two half-day sessions of the tour were dedicated to producing audio recordings of Puffin's Level 3 Easy-to-Read Readers for Taiwanese students to listen to. East-West owns the licensing to use the stories in Taiwan. Dr. Lockett used his vocal effects and special voices to record the level three readers for children's use. In addition to two audio CDs, the packaging by East-West Company includes a DVD of Dr. Lockett telling two of the stories at Cat's International Language School in Taipei, Taiwan. Dr. Lockett added music and rhythm and rhyme during his telling of the stories.

Dear site visitors. This article is in the process of being developed and is close to being completed. Please come back and re-visit my site at a later time.

My browser has problems when I cut and paste to my site. Everything needs to be hand entered, and this takes time. Further - if I fail to save information as I go - I stand to lose it all and have to start over. So please understand why it may take time to complete this important story. Best wishes, Dr. Mike Lockett