Animals are such agreeable friends — they ask no questions, and they pass no criticisms.
Last summer, a friend told me about a program in which therapy dogs are used to support struggling readers in libraries and schools. The dogs are specially trained to work with young students — to be quiet, patient, still, and “follow along” with the text as the child reads aloud. The idea intrigued me, and I thought it would be an interesting thing to pilot in our school. So we reached out to a local organization of therapy dog owners — people who are willing to come into schools with their dogs every week to read with students. One of our first grade teachers, Mrs. McNeal, was eager to support the idea, so we started with her classroom.
Since then, the gentle and loving Zuri has come to our school with her owner every Wednesday afternoon to sit with first graders as they read. The students love it. They count the days in anticipation of their turn to read with her. When their time comes, they eagerly grab their book baskets, brimming with texts they’ve selected and practiced beforehand. They go to a quiet area outside the classroom and sit on a snuggly blanket with Zuri at their side. They read aloud to her for fifteen minutes, never needing prompting or redirection.
The students visibly relax as they read with the dog. They love the feeling of reading to a pet rather than a person. They enjoy “checking in” to make sure Zuri really is listening. They like the sweet, reassuring look she gives back to them. They swear to Mrs. McNeal that when they read books about dogs, Zuri puts her nose right into the book and gives it a big sniff.
Zuri has been such a success that I began to imagine how wonderful it would be to have a dog at school full-time. I imagined that I would own the dog personally, keep him at home at night, and bring him with me to work each day. I’d have him hang out in classrooms or in the library during school hours. I begged my husband to consider it, but sadly, the conversation didn’t go very well. My husband simply doesn’t want a dog. Rats. Maybe someday I’ll convince him?
In the meantime, we’ll continue to welcome Zuri into our school to work with our happy young readers. In her quiet way, she is helping us all to do the things that we have come here to do — to teach, learn, and grow.
This week we look at minilesson possibilities. Plus more as always — enjoy!
Contributor, Choice Literacy
Jennifer Schwanke is a principal in Dublin, Ohio. She also blogs about her personal pursuits at http://jengoingbig.blogspot.com/.
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Here are two features from the archives on designing minilessons.
Franki Sibberson presents 10 Principles for Planning Reading Minilessons:
The previous essay is an excerpt from Franki’s book The Joy of Planning, on designing short series or “cycles” of minilessons:
Shari Frost writes about the importance of Putting the Mini Back in Minilessons:
This video from Sarah Brown Wessling at the Teaching Channel shows the revision process when a lesson plan fails:
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Katharine Hale tries some flipped minilessons in her fifth-grade classroom and explains how technology is providing new opportunities for student learning:
In this week’s video, Deb Gaby uses a bridge metaphor in a comprehension minilesson for second graders:
Shirl McPhillips captures beautifully the “hard knuckle” of the end of winter and the slow turn to spring in a new poem and reflection:
New PD2Go: Sean Moore uses poetry for a short minilesson on fluency, and then follows the lesson with a partner share and vocabulary discussion:
This video and workshop guide fulfill Common Core State Standard ELA-Literacy RF.2.4b: Read grade-level text orally with accuracy, appropriate rate, and expression on successive readings.
That’s all for this week!