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Lessons learned: A small scale, investigative case study exploring the impact of dogs on primary-aged children’s working memory, reading and attention

Janet Oostendorp Godfrey, Helen Lewis Orcid Logo

Animal Assisted Interventions: research meets practice

Swansea University Authors: Janet Oostendorp Godfrey, Helen Lewis Orcid Logo

Abstract

Biophilia theory (Kellert and Wilson, 1983), suggests animals can support the development of cognition (and therefore learning), although much research reports generalised group studies, tests, and scientific measurements removed from ‘real’ classroom contexts. Nevertheless, educators are reliant on...

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Published in: Animal Assisted Interventions: research meets practice
Published: 2021
URI: https://cronfa.swan.ac.uk/Record/cronfa57881
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Abstract: Biophilia theory (Kellert and Wilson, 1983), suggests animals can support the development of cognition (and therefore learning), although much research reports generalised group studies, tests, and scientific measurements removed from ‘real’ classroom contexts. Nevertheless, educators are reliant on these studies when considering whether to involve dogs in classroom practice.This mixed method project aimed to address this by investigating the impact of a dog’s presence on classroom learning skills (working memory and attention) in a practical context, using appropriate ‘teacher-friendly’ measures. (Ethical approval from the University.)Thirteen 7-year-old children took part from one UK Primary school over 12-week period. Seven were observed as case studies and undertook selected memory tests with and without the dog present. The 7 children were recorded reading to the dog on a rota basis. Reading test scores were compared before and after intervention. A handheld ‘pip’ was used for recording skin conductance. A control group XXXResults showed that the dog’s presence affected group attention span, visuo-spatial ability, verbal fluency, reading accuracy and rate. However, not all children enjoyed the experience with the dog and individual data were not consistent. Interaction with the dog was limited when reading. The findings question the vast generalisation of previous research results. Teachers may not find that dogs will improve motivation and attainment for all children in their class. Teachers should plan specific tasks involving dogs, in groups or as 1:1 activities but also ensure teaching of reading strategies still occurs, even when the dog is present. There are implications for school dogs’ working hours.Overall findings also show that practical research can be adapted, undertaken, and led by teacher researchers themselves. Accessible tests and equipment can be developed for classroom measurement, in collaboration with scientific researchers.
College: College of Arts and Humanities