January 10, 2007

reading buddies

A heart-warming tale about a boy, a dog, a book, and one smart and caring teacher!

For a Boy Stumbling Over Words, a Dog Is the Ideal Reading Partner

Like many children, the little boy had learned to recognize common words from memory in kindergarten, and to sound out simple words — the first steps toward reading. [...] But at age 9, [...] he could not even read the short phrases in a picture book.

At the beginning of the school year, his teacher, Eileen Brennan, paired the children in his class and asked them to read aloud to one another. The boy would hesitate over the first unfamiliar words, Ms. Brennan said, and then take so long to read anything that he and the partner would both give up, or run out of time. He had been tested for vision, hearing and reading disabilities, but none had been identified. [...]

She [the teacher] developed a hunch about what was holding this child back. First, she said, he was not getting enough practice reading, and learning to read and practicing reading are intertwined. Second, because he was not practicing, he was not improving, and that was undermining his self-confidence. He was so worried about sounding stupid in front of other people, she decided, that he clammed up. He was a strong little boy, and when he shut down, there was not much she could do.

In early October, Ms. Brennan announced that each day the children would have half an hour to read alone. Choosing the place in the classroom to read soon became as important to the pupils as choosing the book. Each day they rushed to claim the best spots — under a desk or against the radiator just under the window that looked out on an internal quad. But the most popular place was near the teacher’s small terrier, Barnaby, who came to school with her every day. During lessons and during lunch, Barnaby was in his crate, but at reading time he was out.

In mid-November, Ms. Brennan realized that the boy had successfully avoided reading aloud for nine weeks. And so she suggested that he read near Barnaby, promising him first choice for that spot. She also suggested that rather than read just to himself, he read aloud to the dog. This proved to be the key.

Every day until mid-April, the child walked purposefully and calmly over to the bookshelf and selected “Go Dog Go” by P. D. Eastman, settled himself near Barnaby, and recited the book to the dog while pointing to the words and looking over the pictures. By June the boy was picking a wide range of picture books to read to Barnaby, popping out of his chair eagerly for read-aloud time. And he was willing to read, smoothly and fluently, to Ms. Brennan as well.

There's even a word for dogs like Barnaby: They're Reading Education Assistance Dogs (get the acronym?) and this is their website.

1 comment:

Onion said...

Great story, thanks for including it! I have a friend with learning difficulties and having me around apparently helps her focus and learn. We go and play ball in the park together and she learns how to train me and get me to do tricks, and it helps her concentrate. And I get lots of treats too, so we're all happy!