Wolf Method

Author: Michael Papich

Whether it's music, theater, or film, sound is an important part of the arts. In ArtistCorps' Wolf Method program, UNCSA students use sound to help the next generation with reading and speaking skills.

The Wolf Method, developed by School of Drama faculty member Ann-Louise Wolf, guides pre-school children through the physical sounds of American English, providing a foundation for for future reading.

Wolf, a UNCSA alumnus and former ArtistCorps member, came up with the idea for the program during her own ArtistCorps service with bilingual students.

"I noticed consistent specific problems with two vowels being treated as one vowel. A lightbulb went off," Wolf said. "I spent the rest of the year with that class."

Wolf teaches voice and speech at UNCSA and incorporates that drama training into the program.

"We constantly remind the children that sounds are not the same as letters. Kids are learning letters at the same time, so you need to reinforce that," Wolf said. "When we get to the 'je' sounds, I always find someone whose name starts with a 'J' that doesn't make the 'je' sound."

The program also uses instruments to help make those different sounds clearer to the young students.

"Kids learn through music so bringing in instruments helps, using drums to mimic sounds of the vocal cords," said Grayson Moreno, a fourth-year sound design major and ArtistCorps member.

This is Moreno's first year with ArtistCorps, but he had previous experience working as a camp counselor for children with autism, where he said he learned skills such as body language communication. Being able to communicate non-verbally and practice patience, Moreno said, are very important for working with preschoolers in Wolf Method.

"With preschoolers, you have to be patient and explain ideas to them," Moreno said. "They're their own people with their own personalities. They learn differently, they act and react differently."

Part of Wolf Method is not only giving student auditory and physical linguistic tools, but general social-emotional skills they'll carry with them into school and beyond.

"We go over taking turns, body control, sharing, raising hands, cleaning up. Also, the order of things - what comes next, who goes first," Wolf said. "It's all baked in and interpersonal."

Feel, See and Hear

The Wolf Method uses both music and storytelling as ways to bring lessons about speech and sounds to life with the young students.

"Speech and music are overlapping parts of the brain, so we start with music and songs to prime that spot in the brain," Wolf said.

Bobby Mageau, a fourth-year film student serving in ArtistCorps, is the oldest brother in a large family, so being around kids has always come naturally to him. But he said he wanted to do ArtistCorps because it is community-oriented.

"Film is a lot about storytelling so getting in front of kids and taking them through stories feels good," Mageau said. "They're so refreshingly honest. They don't pretend to know if they don't, they don't pretend to like you if they don't. And they ask for help when they need it."

Bella Ward, a fourth-year music performance major and a second-year ArtistCorps member, said forming connections with students, and finding out what connects with them, is a large part of finding success in the program.

"There's a difference between resonating with someone and it's less about what you're saying than how you deliver it," Ward said.

She also said the program has improved her own music performance, both in learning to connect with an audience but also from thinking about the Wolf Method's own lessons.

"In my own playing I get feedback to be more articulate," Ward said. "Focusing on my speaking and being more intentional, helps with my playing."

Mageau said his time in Wolf Method has helped with his film work as he thinks about working in children's entertainment. But working in ArtistCorps itself has given him a new appreciation for teamwork.

We have to split up the room, it's like we're co-parenting. It's nice to do this in a tag team because when working in film, you're always part of such a large group," Mageau said.

Wolf Method is currently at Easton Elementary School, but Wolf wants to see it expanded to more schools.

"I want to have a format that can be scalable," she said. "I'd like to train teachers to do it as well, not only ArtistCorps members."

March 18, 2022