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Raising a Paw to The Burns By Your Side Scheme

Published: Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Literacy is a huge problem in the UK. One in 6 million children struggle to read and 12 million adults have the reading levels of an 11 year old. We want to change these alarming statistics.

In early 2015, we launched the Burns By Your Side reading dogs scheme as part of The Burns Pet Nutrition Foundation. The aim of the project is to instil confidence in schoolchildren and improve literacy skills with the aid of reading dogs and their companions. The project is currently active in 25 schools, colleges and libraries across West Wales and we are excited to announce that in June, we will launch a recruitment drive campaign for Swansea reading dog teams.

We're also thrilled to announce that over the past year, researchers at The University of Wales Trinity Saint David have conducted a study into the impact of bringing dogs into classrooms. Schools and children involved have reported favourably and teachers have noted that pupils respond positively to the presence of dogs, look forward to sessions and are motivated and enthusiastic about taking part.

Commenting on the scheme, Helen Lewis, Primary PGCE Programme Lead and UWTSD's Burns By Your Side co-ordinator, said: "The dog is a non-judgmental listener, whose very presence may calm and relax reluctant and anxious readers.

"With well-versed handlers acting to support the reading process, the act of reading to a dog can support children in making meaning of text and can encourage them to express personal responses in a safe environment.

"Dogs do not judge, glance at their watch if it is taking a long time to read a page, or sigh in frustration at mistakes - they are willing companions and their silence speaks volumes."

Following the success of the project, we will continue to work with UWTSD and a larger number of schools on a more rigorous body of research. Helen Lewis is heading up the research, which looks at the impact of reading with dogs on metacognition, attitudes to learning and reading levels in classrooms across South Wales.

For more information on the evaluation, email: h.e.lewis@uwtsd.ac.uk.

Schools in South Wales interested in becoming involved in a reading with dogs initiative can visit the Burns By Your Side website. Applications for Swansea reading dog teams will open in June. A more detailed review of the project will feature in the summer 2017 edition of UKLA’s ‘English 4-11’ magazine.

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