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Reading to dogs boosts pupils' confidence, literacy

Thursday, Dec. 13, 2012 6:44 PM
Last updated Friday, Dec. 14, 2012 2:08 AM
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While Demarion Jarvis read aloud a book about a kitten named Mittens, a 3-year-old Shetland sheepdog named Dakota sat quietly at his feet.

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Amya Williams, a third-grader at Wheeless Road Elementary, shows Dakota, a Shetland sheepdog, the pictures as she reads during a program that aims to boost pupils' literacy.  EMILY ROSE BENNETT/STAFF
EMILY ROSE BENNETT/STAFF
Amya Williams, a third-grader at Wheeless Road Elementary, shows Dakota, a Shetland sheepdog, the pictures as she reads during a program that aims to boost pupils' literacy.

When he stumbled over a word, Dakota didn’t flinch – and, for a change, neither did Demarion.

“It feels different reading to the dogs than reading in class,” said Demarion, 8. “I feel comfortable.”

To help boost literacy and confidence, Wheeless Road Elementary School has launched a program in which pupils read aloud to therapy dogs, taking the pressure and judgment of classmates out of the process. Twice a month, four volunteers from Therapy Dogs Inc. take their dogs to a classroom for one-hour reading sessions.

Though research into the benefits of reading-assisted dogs is limited and mostly anecdotal, some recent scientific studies have shown that the animals can affect literacy.

In a 2010 study by the University of California Davis Veterinary Medicine Extension, third-grade pupils who read aloud to dogs once a week for 10 weeks improved reading fluency by 12 percent. The control group, which did not use the animals, showed no improvement.

The researchers also studied 11 home-schooled youths, who showed a 30 percent improvement in reading fluency.

“It’s the environment, really, that the kids are in,” said Dr. Martin Smith, a cooperative extension specialist at UC Davis. “It’s creating an environment where kids feel relaxed and are more comfortable.”

The reading program started at Wheeless Road in October, when kindergarten teacher Deborah Welcher met the therapy group.

Ten to 15 pupils from kindergarten to third grade participate in each session and take turns reading short books to the four dogs that regularly attend.

Welcher said she has already seen an influence on the pupils, including more confidence in the classroom after they leave the animals and improvements on their reading tests.

Teachers are keeping track of the pupils’ reading scores to see whether the program has an impact at the end of the year, Welcher said.

“Kids that have a fear of reading to adults just don’t have any kind of fear when it comes to reading to a pet,” Welcher said. “When they come in, the ones who are shy suddenly aren’t. Say, for example, they miss a word. The dog doesn’t mind.”

George Pace, who spent Thursday at school with his son, said he immediately saw a change in his kindergartner’s demeanor as he read to Big Boy, a 175-pound Great Dane.

While normally shy and reluctant, he was different when he sat next to Big Boy.

“The dog absolutely grabs his attention,” Pace said. “It’s easier for him to read to the dog than it is to read to us.”

Principal Valerie Mc­Gahee said the program is part of a larger effort to bring the community to the school this year. Administrators are working to implement GED and résumé-writing classes for adults and continuing-education classes and community meals.

“Our goal is to make this a community school,” said McGahee, who began leading Wheeless Road last year. More than 90 percent of the school’s pupils receive free or reduced-price lunch.

McGahee said the reading program is working twofold by helping pupils with literacy and giving them more exposure to innovative experiences.

It certainly tested the bravery of Tyki Golatt, 9, who read a book about the Atlanta Falcons to Big Boy.

“When you read to dogs, it’s easy. But it’s scary when you talk to the big ones,” Tyki said, glancing at the Great Dane.

Comments (7) Add comment
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OpenCurtain
10049
Points
OpenCurtain 12/13/12 - 11:44 pm
2
1
yet another

pop culture magic cure or solution thought up but some one playing a joke on society.

Any body swallowing this junk science?
Grab a flea collar.

Casting_Fool
1133
Points
Casting_Fool 12/14/12 - 07:25 am
2
1
I'm guessing that someone

I'm guessing that someone doesn't have a dog. :O)

If it works for the kids, who cares if it's "junk science"? If it works, it's not a stupid idea.

seenitB4
86952
Points
seenitB4 12/14/12 - 07:34 am
1
1
The calming affect of dogs...

If dogs can calm a childs mind so be it....my daughters went to Wheeless for years....no they didn't have dogs in class back then but we had dogs at home......the school didn't have 90 reduced or free lunches either......maybe we need to just give lunches to all kids in school....seems that way anyhow.....some say they can't pay for lunches but the parents can buy iphones & etc.......
I have always said reading is the best thing a child can do.......all year long......

InChristLove
22473
Points
InChristLove 12/14/12 - 07:34 am
1
1
I'm all for anything that

I'm all for anything that will get kids reading more. What better way to increase your knowledge that through reading.

Riverman1
83716
Points
Riverman1 12/14/12 - 08:38 am
4
0
I'd just find somebody pretty

I'd just find somebody pretty ugly, dog-like, to read to. I do that when I have to speak before people. I find the ugliest person in the audience and look at them. I feel more confident that way.

soapy_725
43676
Points
soapy_725 12/14/12 - 08:50 am
1
0
The dog will fill out a "peer review"
Unpublished

when the reading is over. More "junk science" to avoid a serious issue. The are proven tools to reading, writing and math. But they require discipline and hard work. These being the last resort of this generation.
Discipline and hard work are old "lost values". No wonder the world leads the USA in education. Reading to a computer was the answer, now its reading to animals.

soapy_725
43676
Points
soapy_725 12/14/12 - 08:52 am
1
0
We live in a world of fantasy......
Unpublished

that is about to become a real life horror show.

OpenCurtain
10049
Points
OpenCurtain 12/14/12 - 10:50 am
0
0
So that is why

you have been staring in my direction ;-)

InChristLove
22473
Points
InChristLove 12/14/12 - 10:55 am
0
0
I seem my TD buddy is alive

It seem my TD buddy is alive and kicking early this morning and he/she looks like it's rubbing off on others. Why in the heck would anyone (other than a depressing piece of you know what) give a thumbs down to my comment or some of the other encouraging comments on here. Guess someone wants to keep our kids dumb and illiterate.

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