As a special educator, I am always looking for engaging and unique interventions to support my students’ academic and social-emotional growth. Luckily, I was approached by middle school educator Emily Wills, who is currently on sabbatical completing her Masters in Education, with the idea of having her dog Fozzie, who is training to become a therapy dog, work with some of my students. It seemed like a natural fit for students to participate in Read to A Dog activities and I was curious how reading to a dog would support their fluency and build self confidence.
There have been several studies in recent years that indicate that reading to a dog (or any pet) can increase reading skills. The University of California Davis Study from 2010 found that children’s reading fluency increased 12% after a 10 week intervention where the students read to a dog for 15 minutes. Another study, conducted by a doctoral student at National-Louis University in 2009, found that students who participated in the Sit Stay Read program increased their oral reading fluency by 20%.
Every week, since returning from February vacation and ending just before April vacation, students in my learning environment have had the opportunity to practice reading a book about dogs with Fozzie. Our first week of Read to A Dog students had a lot of questions about Fozzie as they read the book Hero Therapy Dogs. By week two, each student was now practicing their own book about a dog to read. On week three, each student’s prosody (expressive reading) began to grow as they read their stories to Fozzie.
With each week, the students’ confidence grew and their fluent reading became more natural. On the last week, their reading was far stronger than it had been when we started. At the end of our final Read to a Dog day, students shared that reading to Fozzie made them feel less nervous. They noted that Fozzie never laughed at them when they made a mistake. One student shared that she felt less anxious reading to Fozzie while another said that it was easy to read to Fozzie “since he’s super cute!”
It was a joy to observe the growth in these students as they participated in Read to a Dog. This experience has proven to me that reading to a pet is the best way to increase reading fluency and reading confidence. Please check out the Fairfax Library page to learn more about upcoming Read to a Dog opportunities.
Contributed by BFA Fairfax Middle School Special Educator, Marcy Perrotte