Reading attitudes, but not skills, rise with canine companionship

by Gayle Simidian

On Board Online • July 24, 2017

By Gayle Simidian
Research Analyst

If you are looking to improve primary school students' enthusiasm for reading, consider bringing a dog into the classroom. But don't expect big changes in reading ability, according to a recent study by the Tufts Institute for Human-Animal Interaction at Tufts University.

They wanted to measure how reading aloud to dogs in school affected reading competencies and attitudes about reading in a controlled study.

In a study published in Early Childhood Education Journal and the online journal, veterinarian Deborah E. Linder and four co-authors examined second-grade students' reading abilities and views on reading in a school setting.

Second-graders who tested as average on reading skills based on a reading ability measurement called the Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills (DIBELS) were put into two groups. One group read aloud to a dog for 30 minutes per week for six weeks. The other group didn't read to dogs, but attended regular class instruction.

Teachers evaluated students' reading skills periodically throughout the program using DIBELS. Teachers also evaluated students' attitudes about reading via an instrument called the Elementary Reading Attitude Survey (ERAS) both before and after the program.

The researchers didn't find gains in reading skills in either group. But students in the group that read to a dog gave more positive answers to 10 questions that measured their attitudes toward reading. The children selected depictions of facial expressions from a range of "frowny" and "smiley" faces.

Improving students' enthusiasm for reading is worthwhile, and could justify using dogs as reading partners, according to the researchers. "One of the most important aspects of facilitating reading skill development is motivating a child to engage in reading," said Dr. Lisa Freeman, the study's principal investigator, who teaches at the school of veterinary medicine at Tufts.

In a prior study, the researchers found that reading to dogs over the summer could help second-graders retain their reading skills and avoid the so-called "summer reading loss."

To view the study, go to .

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