Animals are such agreeable friends -- they ask no questions, and they pass no criticisms.
Last summer, a friend told me about a program in which
therapy dogs are used to support struggling readers in libraries and
schools. The dogs are specially trained to work with
young students -- to be quiet, patient, still, and "follow along" with
the text as
the child reads aloud. The idea
intrigued me, and I thought it would be an interesting thing to pilot in
our school. So we reached out to a local organization of therapy dog
owners -- people who are willing to come into schools with
their dogs every week to read with students. One of our first grade
teachers, Mrs. McNeal, was eager to support the
idea, so we started with her classroom.
Since then, the gentle and loving Zuri has come to our
school with her owner every Wednesday afternoon to sit with first graders as
they read. The students love it.
They count the days in anticipation of their turn to read with her. When their time comes, they eagerly grab
their book baskets, brimming with texts they've selected and practiced
beforehand. They go to a quiet area
outside the classroom and sit on a snuggly blanket with Zuri at their
side. They read aloud to her for fifteen
minutes, never needing prompting or redirection.
The students visibly relax as they read with the dog. They love the feeling of reading to a pet
rather than a person. They enjoy "checking in" to make sure Zuri really is listening. They like the sweet, reassuring look she
gives back to them. They swear to Mrs. McNeal that when they read books
about dogs, Zuri puts her nose right into the book and gives it a big sniff.
Zuri has been such a success that I began to imagine how
wonderful it would be to have a dog at school full-time. I imagined that
would own the dog personally, keep him at home at night, and bring him
me to work each day. I'd have him hang
out in classrooms or in the library during school hours. I begged my
husband to consider it, but sadly, the conversation didn't go very
well. My husband simply doesn't want a
dog. Rats. Maybe someday I'll convince him?
In the meantime, we'll continue to welcome Zuri into our
school to work with our happy young readers. In her quiet way, she is helping us all to teach, learn, and grow.
This week we look at minilesson possibilities. Plus more as always -- enjoy!
Franki Sibberson's new online course Text Complexity in Grades 3-5: Minilessons, Nonfiction Text Sets, and Independent Readingruns April 2 - 13. The course includes three webcasts, personal
response from Franki, a DVD, Franki's book The Joy of Planning, and many print and
video resources. For details on registering, click on the link below: