I am sorry but I just don’t understand this concept of having young children read aloud to dogs as part of helping them learn to read.
Dogs can’t help a child by correcting any errors they may make, can they?
What benefit can this actually have?
(I refer to a program called R.E.A.D.—Reading Education Assistance Dogs)
I have been having some conversations with parents of children who learn to read in public and private schools (not homeschoolers). There seems to be a wide variance of what is recommended by the schools for the parents to do. Some friends tell me their children's teachers have never told them anything to do at home to help their children learn to read (these parents really like and want the teacher to tell them what to do). Another example is that some schools send the child home with a book and tell the child it is their homework to read that book, that night. The parents tell me that they are never told that they are to listen to the book being read. Some parents tell me they have the child read the book by themselves.
One parent was discussing her fifth grader’s reading problems with me. She was asking my advice. In trying to clarify the situation it came out that the girl does not read aloud like a person would speak. She does not use the proper tone as if speaking, she reads aloud in a monotone, robotic way. Additionally, she does not pause at commas or use the ending punctuation—meaning, a question sound for a question marked sentence or an exclamation mark sound or just pausing normally when a period is encountered. The mother said that the teachers have told her for years that it is not important to do those things and that the parent should NOT help the child learn to read in that way or to focus on those issues. The mother said that the school was harping on the child about her low reading comprehension quiz scores, which are done as prep work for standardized testing (no doubt as part of the No Child Left Behind Act compliance).
I have been asking parents how children learn to read in school. Three parents from two different towns have told me that the only time the actual TEACHER hears the child read is during an ‘assessment’ to chart their progress; in other words the actual real teacher of the class never helps the children with their reading. They say that parent volunteers come in to sit with small groups of children as the children take turns reading. Therefore the overall amount of minutes that a child in school reads aloud with an adult listening and monitoring and helping is very little, definitely under 15 minutes (in the classroom). To boot two parents told me in order to get quiet time sometimes they sit in the hall. Two other parents said it can be quite noisy in the classroom, with the most noisy of all being the adult teacher’s aid that is assigned to individual special needs children (who are doing entirely different work). Two other mothers said that additional classroom noise and distraction is caused by the school’s reading specialists that come inside the classroom to give help. They said that the children are no longer pulled OUT of the class for that special help as the parents complained it was a stigma to the children who were struggling. One parent asked if the child who is struggling is hindered by fear and shame of reading poorly in front of their peers on the small groups. Two parents answered that during their volunteer time they never saw a student make fun of a struggling learner. Lastly one parent whose child went to an expensive private school said that the teacher's aid told her the children never read aloud in class (in first grade) but they only did worksheets from the "Explode the Code" series.
My friend who is a reading specialist (in the state of NY) said that children should be practicing reading at home 20 minutes per day, 7 days a week, year round. She says this is not happening in most homes during the school year and most families don't do any reading over the vacation weeks or summer break.
Back to the dogs.
More and more in public libraries in my area are advertising special appointments for children to read to these 'speically trained' dogs. I was told by one library staffer that the dogs are specially trained to sit nicely and listen to books being read aloud. The librarian stated that children are less hindered to read aloud to dogs then to other humans, and that it helps the child by boosting their self-esteem about their ability to read.
I don’t know but it seems to me that reading to one’s own parent with the parent helping the child learn is what should be done, not using dogs, for the simple reason that the adult can read the book and can see if an error is made so they can (gently, hopefully) correct the child and also to give verbal praise. In this process good family bonding time would occur (at least it does with me and my own children).
If a family uses these appointments with the dogs, it is yet one more appointment in after-school time that the child would need to schedule and get to (another contributor to over-scheduling). Then again I guess if the parent is unwilling to do it then a dog is better than not reading for practice at all.
Am I the only one that thinks having a child read aloud to a dog is weird or inferior?
And do parents not feel insulted that a dog is a better after-school teacher of reading for their children than they themselves are?
(By the way I am not speaking about low income areas or places where parents are unable to read. I am speaking of wealthy towns with a median income of over $100K and where the US Census data says most parents are college educated and some with Master's Degrees or higher degrees!)
A certain friend of mine (and my husband) would tell me to follow the money to figure this out. I have not done this yet.
Update 12/24/08: I have seen more and more of these programs being offered in public libraries in my area. One librarian told me that children are not comfortable reading aloud to their parents so reading aloud to a dog is better than not practicing reading or not reading aloud at all. If kids are so disconnected from their parents that they don't feel comfortable reading aloud to them at home then that is a symptom of a larger societal problem if you ask me. If you are interested in that topic I refer you to "Ships Without a Shore" an excellent book by Anne Pierce PhD (read my book review here).
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