A group of students from Wayland Academy Norfolk have increased their reading confidence thanks, in large part, to their unusual reading companion – Dora, a 4 year old cocker spaniel, who visits us each week as part of the Read2Dogs programme run by the charity Pets As Therapy.
The scheme has been running at the academy since September 2014 and to date has involved 8 students from years 7 and 8. A particular challenge for these students was having the confidence to read out loud, whether in class or one-to-one with a teacher.
This is where Dora comes in. The therapy dog and her owner/handler, Mrs Kay – who also works part-time as a PE teacher at Wymondham College – hold regular reading sessions with each student for a term, within a quiet area of the academy’s Special Educational Needs department.
The students themselves, teachers in the academy, and parents, have all noticed the gains in reading confidence that have resulted, putting in place a key foundation for the students’ progress in all subjects.
There are a number of factors at work in the success of the scheme. Most of the students visibly relax the moment they come into contact with Dora, before both student and dog settle themselves and get comfortable on beanbags ready for the reading session to begin.
Where once there might have been an element of stigma about being chosen to do extra reading, there is now a feeling of excitement and privilege about getting to read with Dora.
Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, is the fact that reading to Dora brings a high degree of safety and security for the students because they know they will not be criticized or embarrassed if they make a mistake. Dora listens to the readers without judgement, whilst Mrs Kay gently provides help with any difficult words as needed.
One of those who has benefitted from the scheme is Year 9 student Emily Thomas-Lewin, who spent a term reading with Dora last year. Emily said:
“It’s easier reading to Dora because you know she’s listening to you and you don’t have to worry about being picked up on too many different things. I know my reading’s improved because I can read books that I wouldn’t have picked up before.”
Reflecting on the success of the scheme Debbie Blundell, Assistant to Special Educational Needs Co-Ordinator, Wayland Academy Norfolk, said:
“It’s all about boosting students’ confidence so that they are happy and confident to read aloud if asked, and the programme has absolutely achieved that. Where before some pupils might just have clammed up if asked to read in class, now teachers are reporting that these pupils have actually offered to read in class. It definitely makes a difference. It’s a fantastic scheme.”
Sue Kay, Pets As Therapy volunteer, added:
“Dogs, and animals generally, are known to have very therapeutic qualities. That whole process of petting an animal just calms you and you are able to give your best then. It’s incredibly rewarding once you see the pupils start to develop and you can draw them out. It’s been amazing.”
In recognition of the positive difference that the Read2Dogs programme has made, students and staff at Wayland Academy Norfolk have held coffee mornings and other fundraising events, to raise £300 for Pets As Therapy.
Pets As Therapy is keen to encourage more dog owners to become volunteers for the Read2Dogs programme. For more information, please contact the Pets As Therapy Placement Officer on 020 8589 9258 or email DDibley@petsastherapy.org.