The sounds of laughter filled the gym at Elmbank JMA Tuesday morning as 350 little storytellers weaved wondrous tales of Beautiful Blue Jays, Billy Goats Gruff and Magic Drums at the school's first ever Storytelling Festival.
One by one, classes of students from 10 different local schools - North Kipling, Claireville, West Humber, Rivercrest, Albion Heights, Elmlea, Beaumonde Heights, Calico, West Glen, and host Elmbank - took to the stage to sing, act out and rhyme the stories they've learned through the From 3 To 3: Developing Literacy Through Story program.
Program founder Dr. Mary Thelander said From 3 To 3, which is geared towards children aged three through to Grade 3, is a program developed specifically to help kids develop their language skills - vocabulary, sentence structure and grammar - social reasoning skills, and narrative skills.
"Narrative is storytelling, and the reason why that's so important is because narrative is where language and social reasoning meet," she said. "If you're going to tell a story, you have to be all the characters in that story - you have to be the villain, you have to be the hero, you have to be the bystander, and if you can do that, then you can understand what everybody's viewpoint is, and if you can understand everyone's viewpoint, then you can understand where the story's going."
The From 3 To 3 program began in 2005, and has since raised the literacy levels of schools in 14 communities across Toronto. Awarded the Program Excellence Award for Student Achievement by the Toronto District School Board in 2010, the program is currently being practiced in 39 TDSB schools - 15 of them in the Northwest 1 family of schools.
Results from pilot testing completed last June showed that Grade 3 students who received From 3 To 3 instruction scored significantly higher than their peers in the Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test (PPVT) and on oral and reading social reasoning comprehension tests. Additionally, students in From 3 To 3 also obtained higher EQAO results than students not in the program.
Not only are those results apparent in such testing, they're also evident in the classroom, said Jayshree Vyas, who teaches a Grade 1/2 split class at Beaumonde Heights.
"It's been amazing for my Grade 1s. When they first come to me, they don't have a lot of writing skills, but with From 3 To 3, they hear the stories, visualize them, then retell them in their own words," she said.
Elmbank Principal Aldona Volunge concurred: "From 3 To 3 has had a huge impact on the vocabulary of our kids...the oral vocabulary of our kids has just developed like you wouldn't believe," she said, noting her school has carried the program for two years now. "The teachers were amazed the first year we did this because all of a sudden the kids were writing sentences when nobody taught them how to write a sentence. It was from all that exposure to language, to sounds - to knowing the words and making the connections.
"It's really impacting their achievement in an area where we have a huge issue with drop-outs at the high school level."
For more information, go to www.from3to3.com