Thursday, 21 January 2016 07:12

Literacy stimulated amongst young students using a ‘vine’

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Instructor Sherry Woittel along with her education students Shelby Cook (Major, Sask.)and Jelena Warberg (Dunmore) practised used a stimulating way of using objects relating to a story to get children interested in reading during a practicum within Medicine Hat. Instructor Sherry Woittel along with her education students Shelby Cook (Major, Sask.)and Jelena Warberg (Dunmore) practised used a stimulating way of using objects relating to a story to get children interested in reading during a practicum within Medicine Hat. Ryan Dahlman

Sherry Woitte wants youngsters to be interested in reading and in doing so has a different idea for teachers to help.


Woitte, currently an education instructor at Medicine Hat College and formerly of the University of Alberta, is teaching a unique technique of stimulating interest in reading amongst young students.
Storyvine, a teaching method which was derived and developed from a native African method of storytelling by Marlene Mckay, a former colleague of Woitte’s at the University of Alberta, has teachers take pieces of rope or crocheted “vines” and with props or visual aides connected to these vines tell the story to the students. The aim is to help with the comprehension of the story’s events. For the teacher, they have to have an understanding and be more of a story teller as opposed to memorizing the book or just reading directly from the book. It’s a visual representation of the story where the listener can check the picture and then as the story progresses the teacher can always go back to pointing to it to add context.
“It harkens back to old African storytelling methods,” explains Woitte. “They would go from village to village with (props) and have notches in vines to hold pieces to help tell them stories.”
Using this Storyvine method, Woitte had her education students, who were on practicums in November, try it out on some of their classes.
According to senior education students Jelena Warberg and Shelby Cook, the storyvine seemed to go over well as the students ranging from grades 1-6 were paying full attention and were engaged.
“They were fully grasping the stories,” explains Cook. “It’s all laid out there with the visual reminders. I know visual cues would’ve helped me when I was younger.”
“You want to make them interested in the stories and this did that,” notes Warberg.
While this method will never replace learning the alphabet and the intricacies of spelling, the hope is if the student likes the story, they will be more open to learning the basics and perhaps help them remember the spelling of certain words later on.
“We all like stories ... when we hear that word (the vine pieces) just add to it. The good thing too, is that there are a repertoire of stories to draw from,” explains Woitte. “People, no matter what age, love to listen to stories because of that added human touch.”
Woitte adds this method works when the teachers are able to add their personalities to the story.
Without the use of reading a book, both Cook and Warberg demonstrated stories they had to do. They start from the top of the vine and along the way, finger point to a laminated picture of a subject within a story or perhaps a toy, a prop or anything that can help visually demonstrate the story. Watching it, one is compelled to listen to the story that much closer and this makes a person more interested in it.
While some may say it doesn’t stimulate imagination to actually look at something, the visual cues for the viewer can actually help fill in the blanks. Cook did a polished version of author Robert Munsch’s first story he made into a book called Mud Puddle and Warberg did Keiko Kasza’s The Wolf’s Chicken Stew.
With both Cook and Warberg’s storytelling, the Storyvine method could easily help young students in their interest in stories and subsequently reading and literacy.
For the exercise, the two students found their visual equipment at dollar and thrift stores. The pieces can be attached with pins, but they find velcro patches work well because then the pieces easily can be moved around.
The timing is important too as the importance of literacy is emphasized with Jan. 27 being Family Literacy Day in Canada.
Parents are asked to take 15 minutes out of their day to read to their children.
In 1999, ABC Life Literacy Canada wanted to raise awareness about the importance of literacy.
Woitte says this is a method in order to help stimulate children’s imaginations in reading and books while keeping youngsters interested. The key is that when children are interested, they are motivated to want to learn the story and hence about reading in general. 
Woitte will share Storyvine with her education peers. She is scheduled to make a presentation about Storyvine to the Alberta Southeastern Alberta Teachers Convention Feb. 18-19.

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Ryan Dahlman

Managing Editor