Today’s blog post is about pawsitive reading. What is pawsitive reading? Pawsitive reading is what we aim to achieve by participating in R.E.A.D. (Reading Educational Assistant Dog) programs.
R.E.A.D. programs are aimed towards children who have difficulty reading. In R.E.A.D. programs, a child reads to a R.E.A.D. team member’s dog, who creates a non-judgmental calm atmosphere meant to facilitate and ease a child’s learning experience.
If you want to participate in, are already participating in or just want to learn about what to expect during a R.E.A.D. session, this post is for you.
Make your R.E.A.D. space comfortable. Bring something soft to sit on, like a quilt.
Children who have difficulty reading are most likely anxious about reading aloud. They may not even want to read aloud. Here’s where your dog comes in. Get your dog involved in helping the child feel more comfortable reading. Tell the child how much your dog is looking forward to listening to their story. Have your dog do some obedience drills or tricks for the child.
There are two components to reading improvement: Fluency and Comprehension. Fluency refers to how easy one reads. Comprehension refers to how well one understands what they’ve read.
To help a child become fluent, have them reread a familiar book with as little interruption as possible, until they can read the book with ease.
To help a child with comprehension there are several things you can do.
- Ask them what they know about the story first.
- Ask them to explain the meaning of words to your dog. A good way to go about this is to tell them that your dog doesn’t understand a word. If the child can’t explain it, you can all look it up in the dictionary together. Then ask the child to explain the word to the dog.
- Once you’ve read a paragraph or page, ask the child to summarize the story so far.
- It is good if you’ve taught your dog commands to put their paws on the page of a book or on someone’s lap. You can then use your dog’s commands to get your dog to put their paw on the page or their head on the child’s lap. This will help keep the child focused and interested on reading the story.
Let the child select books with subject matter that interests them while making sure that the book matches the child’s reading level.
Let the child decide when to turn a page or how long to look at an illustration. If they want to stop and talk, let them.
Use a collaborative approach to reading – a “we’re all in this together and we’re going to get this done” approach.
Pay attention to what the child is having difficulty with.
Help the child make sense of and understand what they are reading.
If the child is hesitant, let them know all the things they can learn by reading:
- they’ll have interesting things to talk about
- they will get information that is useful to them
- if they have a question, they will be able to find the answer themselves by looking it up
- once they’ve mastered reading, they will have the satisfaction of accomplishment.
When the child starts to read be patient!! Give the child 5 or 10 seconds to figure out a word or make a self-correction.
- Repeated correction is discouraging. It also creates dependence when what you want is to teach the child to be independent and figure it out for themselves.
- If the child cannot figure out the word, give a hint, but do not jump in and correct.
Be supportive! Here are some examples of supportive things to say and do to help the child learn during the session:
- Ask the child to tell <dog’s name> about what you just read in your own words.
- If the child lost their place or is struggling somewhere, put your dog’s paw where you want the child to begin reading and then tell the child to begin reading at that point.
- If a child is struggling with a word and a picture on the page illustrates the word tell the child that <dog’s name> is looking at the picture and then ask the child what word might complete the sentence they are struggling with.
- Alternatively you can tell the child that <dog’s name> thinks they know the word, it’s a like… and give an example, or ask what word they think would make sense in the statement.
- If a word rhymes with another word or is a compound word, tell the child what word <dog’s name> knows the word rhymes with or what two words make up the word.
- If you would like the child to read again, this time more slowly, tell them <dog’s name> would like to listen to you read again, but this time slower.
- If the child is having trouble, tell them to tell <dog’s name> where the part is where they are having trouble.
- If the child cannot figure out the word, tell them what <dog’s name> thinks the word might be and ask them if that makes sense to them.
- If a child is reading a book and does not know five or more words on any one page, suggest a different book. If the book is too difficult, it will be discouraging to the child, especially a child already having difficulty.
Make praise specific and encouraging. Better yet, offer encouragement and forget praise. Focus on what the child did rather than just saying something like “very good.” Here’s why.
Studies have shown that when adults overdo praise such as saying something like “very good” or “nice job” they are teaching children to be dependent on others for evaluation. Praise is judgement on quality and is fixated on results, it does not take the effort and progress made into account, which is much more important when someone is struggling to learn. Praise is also a public announcement that can be embarrassing and compares children to one another. Overcoming difficulties is not a contest with others, it is a contest with oneself. Encouragement on the other hand, is non-judgmental and includes the effort. Encouragement is private. Encouragement helps children to learn to evaluate their own efforts, rather than comparing themselves to others. And finally, encouragement is private and does not involve comparing one child to others.
Encouraging comments are easy. Some suggestions are:
- Ask the child which book they liked best and why. Engage them in a conversation.
- Say things like “was it fun reading to <dog’s name>” and “are you glad you tried to reading this book.”
- If they appear happy with their accomplishment, comment about how happy they look with their achievement.
- If you see the child looking for books by the same author or about the same subject, comment about that.
Last but not least, please remember to maintain confidentiality: Sometimes children talk about private matters. Do not discuss private matters told to you in confidence with others in your community.
That’s it! Now you are ready to create your own pawsitive R.E.A.D. session!!