Sunday, March 21, 2004

German Shepherd helps teach speech, literacy class

By Cindy Kranz
The Cincinnati Enquirer

LINCOLN HEIGHTS - Principal Tyrone Olverson's willingness to try new teaching techniques is best illustrated by the unconventional - and furry - teacher's aide at Lincoln Heights Elementary.

Twins Edward, left and Edmond Leslie, 8, read with Baron, a German Shepherd therapy dog.
(Craig Ruttle photo)
Earlier this school year, the school's speech/language pathologist, Maryln Adams, received a $500 grant from the Hamilton County Educational Service Center for "Language to Literacy through Digital Technology and Animal Assisted Therapy."

Adams brings her six-year-old German shepherd, Baron, to school once a week to encourage literacy and speech development. Eleven second- and third-graders with cognitive disabilities read to the trained therapy dog, talk to him and stroke his back while others are reading.

"Baron is a completely unbiased listener, and the children are more relaxed in reading and storytelling with him," Adams said. "His presence brings a calmness to the environment, and children that lack focus or are verbally aggressive to other children show overall improvement in attention and social skills."

Adams was interested in teaching children narrative language skills or storytelling. These skills help the child understand main ideas, character development settings and problems of a story, she said.

The grant helped buy a digital camera and printer, used to make books of the children re-telling stories and doing puppet shows.

"What my objective is, is to re-tell the story," Adams said. "If you can't re-tell a narrative in sequence, you can't comprehend it."

Many Lincoln Heights students enter school lagging in literacy skills, she said, because their homes lack reading materials and adult models who read for pleasure and information.

The Black English dialect is their primary means of communication, so they are further challenged to learn to code switch between school talk (Standard English) and home talk (Black English), she said. The problem is compounded for special needs students.

"Our students learn best with hands-on interactive activities that promote a multi-sensory learning style, and styles that have a personal connection to the student," Adams said.

Baron is one of those personal connections.



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