Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Reading aloud to dogs: What it does and what it doesn't do


Published in American Libraries, March/April 2015, vol 46 #3/4: 5-6

(submitted November, 2014)

Appeared with this title: Indirect (dog) therapy

I would like to suggest that reading aloud to dogs ("Dog Therapy, November/December, 2014) does not help children improve their reading ability directly, but it may have positive indirect benefits.

Research on reading consistently supports one conclusion: Children improve their reading ability by reading books that are comprehensible and interesting, when they understand and are interested in what is on the page.

There is no scientific evidence that children improve by reading aloud to dogs (or to humans). Reading aloud is rarely reading for meaning. Only reading for meaning, understanding the message on the page, promotes literacy development.

I suggest that reading to dogs helps young readers indirectly: As the article states in the first sentence, reading to animals may help children "get comfortable" with reading. The few studies done so far support this: they show that children who read to dogs regularly improve in "fluency," that is, reading speed. This is not the same as improving in the ability to understand texts. Increased comfort with reading, and associating reading with pleasure, however, could lead to more interest in books and more reading for meaning, which in turn means more literacy development.

Stephen Krashen, Ph.D.
Professor Emeritus, University of Southern California


Sources (not included in published letter).
Lane, H. B., & Zavada, S. D. W. (2013). When reading gets ruff: Canine-assisted reading programs. Reading Teacher 67, 87-95.
Paddock, C. 2010 Dogs helped kids improve reading fluency.  http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/186708.php
Smith, Corrione Serra 2008. An Analysis and Evaluation of Sit Stay Read: Is the Program Effective in Improving Student Engagement and Reading Outcomes? Doctoral dissertation, National Louis University.
Smith, M. and Meehan, C. Canine buddies help youth develop reading skills. No date. http://ucanr.edu/delivers/?impact=800&delivers=1


5 comments:

  1. Exactly! The dogs lower the students' affective filter making the experience pleasant. People like to repeat pleasant experiences. I believe I heard you, Dr. K, say once (in about 1997) that get better at reading by reading (whereas we get better at writing by writing AND thinking about it) so if the dogs help some students read more, it's a positive outcome! Some students might also "think aloud" to the dog, thus processing what they're reading. Plus, some students are helped to sit still when they're with a dog so they might read more. ; )

    Thank you, Dr. K, for sharing your deeper understanding!

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    Replies
    1. Oops! Typos! ...that *we* get better at reading...

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    2. But so far "There is no scientific evidence that children improve by reading aloud to dogs (or to humans)."

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    3. "There is no scientific evidence that children improve by reading aloud to dogs (or to humans). Reading aloud is rarely reading for meaning. Only reading for meaning, understanding the message on the page, promotes literacy development. "
      And there's a lot of anecdotal evidence that it interferes with comprehension and slows down reading rates. I for one have seen (and experienced) this over and over.

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