Does Reading Aloud to a Dog Improve Children’s Reading Outcomes? An Academic Critique (2023)

Authors: Jenny Gu and Sarah Wright
Published: 2023
Publication: DECP Debate

Educators are increasingly seeking innovative interventions to improve children’s reading skills through enhancing their reading enjoyment, motivation, and frequency. One such approach is through canine-assisted reading interventions in schools, which involve children reading aloud to therapy dogs and their handlers. The popularity of this approach is growing, with the development and delivery of numerous programmes and organisations worldwide. Given increasing interest in canine-assisted reading programmes in schools, there is a need to subject these interventions to scientific scrutiny, to evaluate the extent to which they are grounded in psychological theory, determine their efficacy for improving reading outcomes, and inform their implementation. In this critique, an overview of the theoretical underpinnings of reading aloud to dogs is first presented. Intervention effects are explained in terms of attachment theory, attentional control theory, and self-determination theory. The current critique also includes the first systematic review examining the effects of school-based canine-assisted interventions, compared to control conditions, on children’s reading outcomes. Findings from nine controlled studies are discussed. Currently, there is mixed and limited evidence for the efficacy of school-based canine-assisted reading interventions, compared to control conditions, on children’s reading skills, attainment, and attitude. Implications for practice and intervention implementation are considered.

This is a pre-publication version of the following article:

Gu, J. & Wright, S. (2023) Does Reading Aloud to a Dog Improve Children’s Reading Outcomes? An Academic Critique DECP Debate, 185, 22-41. DOI: 10.53841/bpsdeb.2023.1.185.22

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Is there a relationship between Adverse Childhood Experiences and Reading Comprehension Difficulties mediated by Executive Function?

Assignment type: Essay
Author: Rosalind Keefe
Submitted: October 2020

Research has shown that children affected by adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) are more likely to have difficulties with executive function. Research has also highlighted that reading comprehension is a complex process that is supported by executive functions including working memory, inhibition, shifting, planning and metacognition. In this essay I propose that ACE exposure may increase reading comprehension difficulties mediated by poorer executive functioning. ACE exposure is known to predict poorer academic outcomes, including reading ability but, at present, limited research has attempted to investigate specific factors underpinning this relationship.

In this essay, I outline research that has explored the relationship between executive function and ACEs and also executive function and reading comprehension. I will then bring these topics together to consider what the evidence is to directly support the essay question.

Overall, there is a lack of research in this area and this prevents firm conclusions from being drawn, at present. However, I argue that despite this, the current research suggests this is an important area for future research. I highlight a number of challenges within this topic including; the challenges with defining and measuring executive function, a lack of research within the topic of ACEs, as a whole, and variation in developmental outcomes depending on the ACE. These are important considerations for future research in this topic. In the final section, I highlight some potential implications for educational psychologists and teachers.

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The advantages and disadvantages of digital books to children’s emergent literacy.

Assignment type: Essay
Author: Lawrence Taylor
Submitted: November 2019

The UK public and schools are spending millions of pounds on digital books every year. Touch screen devices and reading apps that host digital books might have been adopted by families without the parents necessarily considering the functional efficacy. This is potentially detrimental to children’s development of emergent literacy; especially considering that children who are in this stage are more vulnerable to possible negative features of digital books, compared to children who are proficient readers. Shared reading of digital books within parent-child dyads, has shown associations with: greater story content being recalled by children, increased operational and vocabulary-related discourse, but reduced dialogic reading when compared to print books. Some digital books now come with an array of multimedia and interactive features with varying effects on emergent literacy. The review of the literature highlighted that multimedia features that are congruent to the story carried additive benefits for children compared to digital books more broadly. Interactive features, however, are not currently associated with any benefits so should be excluded from digital books designed to foster emergent literacy. Due to the attention and engagement interactive features can afford, future research should aim to find beneficial interactive features.

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Print Concept Knowledge in Young Children with Autism: Why Should it be Impaired and What are the Implications for Intervention?

Assignment type: Essay
Author: Sophie Smith
Submitted: November 2018

Emergent literacy skills are developmental precursors to formal literacy. They are predictive of later reading and writing ability. Identifying children with poor emergent literacy can increase the likelihood of timely intervention. Children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) are a group at risk of poor reading comprehension. However, there is relatively little research into their emergent literacy. It is often cited that they show a pattern of strong code-related and poor meaning-focused skills. There is a problem with using these composites, as children with ASD show strengths and weaknesses within the code-related domain, where letter naming is good, but print concept knowledge (PCK) is impaired. PCK relates to knowledge of print function and conventions and the organisation of books. In this essay, reasons for this discrepancy are explored. It is argued that weak central coherence in children with ASD can account for their ability to process local features such as letters but not global book features such as the front cover. This is exacerbated by adults who may find it challenging to engage these children in literacy activities, and therefore show an instructional bias towards the skills they already show aptitude and interest in. Based on this explanation, possible interventions are considered. These include systematic, explicit instructional techniques such as print referencing and task analysis, as well as interest development strategies to encourage motivation for looking at books. It is concluded that educational psychologists (EPs) should play a role in evaluating and promoting these strategies to improve PCK in children with ASD.

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Reading Schemes and Real Books: Implications for Skill Development and Motivation

Assignment type: Essay
Author: Francesca Nagle
Submitted: December 2012

Reading schemes have been widely accepted as providing the most appropriate opportunities for the application of early reading skills. However the evidence informing this position has been largely based on research examining the cognitive abilities of proficient readers. Recent perspectives from instructional psychology have shifted the focus from an understanding of individual differences in cognitive development to examining the properties of the texts themselves, in order to determine which materials most effectively support the development of reading skills. This essay examines the finding that real books offer greater opportunities for children to develop phonic skills and sight vocabulary than books drawn from a reading scheme, and the implications of this for selecting appropriate materials for reading instruction. In addition, the impact of reading scheme texts on children’s attitudes towards reading and perceptions of the reading process are considered. The essay concludes that reading schemes, when used in isolation, do not provide greater opportunities for children to apply their reading skills than real books, and may even discourage some children from wider reading, through a negative impact on motivation. It is therefore argued that reading instruction is most effective where teaching makes use of a wide range of literature, and is supported by direct instruction and support for autonomy. Potential implications for Educational Psychologists (EPs) in relation to supporting reading development are highlighted.

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Encouraging Reading for Pleasure: Widening the support could narrow the gap.

Assignment type: Essay
Author: Samantha Beasley
Submitted: December 2011

While phonics instruction is proven to improve certain elements of reading, it is not clear how this contributes to reading comprehension; a key skill found in children who read for pleasure.  Reading for pleasure is in decline despite its benefits to sociability, academic knowledge and reading achievement.  Children need to be motivated to read for pleasure, and parents play a vital role in this.  Interventions which involve parents such as Paired Reading can cause gains in reading achievement and strengthen the relationship between carer and child, but need to be properly implemented so that interactions use a dialogic style and create a positive climate around reading.  Some families already practice more promote positive reading behaviours than others, so recommending a parent-child reading intervention may continue to exclude those families who tend not to access such practices for reasons such as language and culture barriers, reading difficulties and negative attitude toward reading.  Parents could therefore benefit from literacy support too, developing their own skills alongside their children whilst learning how best to support their child, in the form of a family literacy programme.  The potential contribution of an Educational Psychologist (EP) is considered throughout.

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What Impact do Boys’ Goal Orientations have on their Reading Achievement?

Assignment type: Essay
Author: Rebecca Murphy
Submitted: December 2010

Underachievement in boys’ reading attainment remains a concern in schools in England, despite numerous interventions. Many factors have been considered as influencing boys’ reading activity and subsequent academic achievement. These factors have included motivation. Recent motivational research has focused on goal orientations. This essay examines the evidence regarding boys’ goal orientations and considers their impact on reading achievement.  Mastery goals are considered beneficial to the reading process. Performance goals are debated as adaptive or maladaptive. A multi-goal theory is considered with the resulting argument that performance goals are detrimental for reading development. The essay argues that boys are more performance-orientated than girls. The development of performance related goals is examined and found to initiate from an early stage, even pre-school. A conclusion is reached that goal orientations do impact significantly on boys’ reading achievement with an acknowledgement of an important impact from environmental factors. A joint influence of personal and contextual goals is the resulting conclusion. Alternative factors impacting on reading achievement are considered. These include peers, home environment, and attitudes to reading. The implications for Educational Psychologists are outlined.

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