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The effect of an animal-assisted reading program on the reading rate, accuracy and comprehension of grade 3 students: A randomized control study

Summary


Third grade students significantly improve reading comprehension and retention when reading with a dog in an animal-assisted reading program

The purpose of this study was to evaluate the impact of an animal-assisted reading program on the reading rate, accuracy and comprehension of third grade students. Because reading difficulties impact the learning experiences and emotional development of young students, researchers desired to investigate animal-assisted literacy programs as an emerging approach to help address the reading problems of primary students.

The authors conducted a 10-week reading program study involving 102 third graders in South Africa between the ages of 7 and 13 years of age. The students attended elementary school in a low socioeconomic community. All participating students completed a demographic questionnaire and were assessed for reading and spelling ability. The 102 third-grade students selected for the study scored as poor readers, with 75 percent of the students reading at a first grade reading level and 25 percent reading at a second grade reading level. Students were randomly assigned to either a control group or one of the three intervention groups which included: (a) students reading with a registered Pets as Therapy (PAT) therapy dog and adult volunteer, (b) students reading with an adult, and (c) students reading with a teddy bear and adult. The control group did not receive any intervention. Students in the three intervention groups were removed from their classrooms to meet on a weekly basis, 10 times total for a duration of 20 minutes each time. Researchers used a standardized test for reading ability as a pre-test prior to the study, post-test directly after the completion of the 10-week program, and follow-up test eight weeks after program completion.

Results from the study revealed that students who participated in the dog intervention group not only demonstrated significantly higher reading comprehension compared to students in the three other groups after the completion of the program, but they also retained their lead in reading comprehension eight weeks after program completion. Reading rate and accuracy score measures were non-significant in regards to comparing the impact of the dog intervention group with the other three groups.

The authors suggest that some of the factors contributing to the gains in comprehension may be associated with the calming effects of the dogs’ presence and the lack of judgement of the students’ skills from the dog, therefore reducing the students’ stress which contributed to their ability to focus on reading and learning.  Researchers emphasized that the purpose of the canine-assisted literacy program is to support teachers in developing student literacy skills by providing a unique way for students to moderate stress, feel accepted and more confident when reading and learning.

 

Citation

le Roux, M. C., Swartz, L., Swart, E., (2014). The effect of an animal-assisted reading program on the reading rate, accuracy and comprehension of grade 3 students: A randomized control study. Child & Youth Care Forum, 43(6), 655 - 673.

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