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(Photo by E.J. Greenblat)

UNMASKING THEIR TALENT: New Jersey teachers came together this past week to take part in a storytelling workshop for educators at Princeton University. Pictured are (back row, left): Shari Levanthal, Dot Kohrherr, Denise Nugent, Alvyn Haywood, Diane Jannuzzelli, Barbara Dickman, Eliza McFeely, (front row, left) Florrie O'Laughlin, and Burgess Ekman.
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Storytelling Workshops Offer Alternative Teaching Methods

Candace Braun

Reading stories in the classroom can be dull for both students and teachers if presented in the wrong manner. That's why Storytelling Arts, Inc. brings New Jersey educators together in a workshop that teaches them how to tell stories in an exciting way that will encourage literacy among their students.

The workshops, which started at Princeton University five years ago under the auspices of the Teacher Preparatory Program, are held during the summer for approximately 30 educators. The first of two workshops was held this past week, with teachers from various school districts in Newark, Trenton, South Brunswick, Rosedale, West Windsor, East Windsor, and the Princeton Friends School, along with The College of New Jersey, and Mercer County Community College.

The goal of Storytelling Arts is to cultivate a deep appreciation for learning and literature in poverty-stricken areas of New Jersey. The program looks to overcome learning barriers that some children may have, including low self-esteem or lack of motivation, by promoting learning through hearing, discussing, and telling stories.

Through these exercises children can learn to reflect on their own lives, and find ways to connect to others and express themselves in a creative manner, said Susan Danoff, founder and director of the program, which started in 1996.

In addition, children are able to learn story structure, vocabulary through context, and develop an interest in stories that will lead them to one day pick up a book and read on their own, she said.

Teacher Workshops

During the workshops, educators are asked to select a folktale, which they must be able to relay to others by memory at the end of the week. Throughout the workshop they are given suggestions and ideas on how to make the story more interesting for their audience, until they have mastered the skill of storytelling.

Towards the end of the week, as a break from instruction, the educators each create a mask that best exemplifies one of the characters in their story. Through this exercise they are better able to envision their character, and help their students envision the character they are portraying, said Ms. Danoff.

A Princeton resident, Ms. Danoff began storytelling 25 years ago, and has been teaching summer storytelling seminars since 1986. For five years she worked as an artist-in-residence with the New Jersey State Council on the Arts, and has taught storytelling at Princeton University, West Chester University, and for the Friends Council on Education.

Ms. Danoff also taught a writing course, "The Craft of Writing," at Princeton University for nine years.

Along with summer workshops, Storytelling Arts also works on long-term projects in urban school districts and daycare centers with low-income families, in areas such as Trenton, Paterson, Morristown, Roselle, and Keansburg.

The program also reaches out to teen mothers and young people in detention facilities, such as the Mercer County Youth Detention Center in Trenton, and the Transitional Youth Detention Center in Morristown. In these programs the stories focus more on moral and ethical values that students should take away with them.

The summer storytelling workshops in Princeton are funded by the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation. For more information on how to enroll in one of the programs, call (609) 430-1922, or visit www.storytellingarts.net.

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