1. Study suggests inherited IQ can increase in early childhood

    February 13, 2018 by Ashley

    From the Rutgers University press release:

    When it comes to intelligence, environment and education matter — more than we think.

    Those are the findings of Rutgers University psychologists Louis Matzel and Bruno Sauce, based on an integrative review of recent studies on the nature of human intelligence. Their study is published in the December issue of the Psychological Bulletin, a journal of the American Psychological Association.

    “Genetic influences don’t run the show, nor do environmental effects. It’s the genetic-environmental interplay that is the ringmaster,” said Matzel, a professor of psychology in the School of Arts and Sciences at Rutgers-New Brunswick. Sauce is a graduate student in Rutgers’ School of Graduate Studies.

    The study, the researchers say, has significant implications for the way we educate children, whose inherited IQ can increase, especially during early childhood, with the right kind of stimulation and attention.

    “We educate children the hard way in this country,” Matzel said. “We go to impoverished high schools and try to remediate kids, which is a perfectly good thing to do. But it’s often too late; the time to reach those kids is when they start school, while their intelligence is most malleable.”

    Scientists measure the heritability of traits on a scale of 0.0 to 1.0. Eye color has a heritability score of .99, meaning that it’s highly genetic. Intelligence typically rates at .8, Matzel and Sauce said, which means that it, too, is very heritable. However, Matzel and Sauce believe people often underestimate the role of environment.

    “Through interactions and correlations with the environment, genetic influences can be expressed in wildly different ways, and environmental influences are much more powerful than many scientists believe,” Sauce said.

    The researchers said the heritability of IQ can be as low as .3 in young children, which leaves plenty of room for changes in intelligence. But school systems often ignore this opportunity, they believe, focusing on increasing rote knowledge at the expense of critical thinking. Intervention programs then often fail to create lasting changes to children’s environment.

    Consider children who take part in Head Start, the federal program that provides low-income children with comprehensive early childhood education, nutrition and parent-involvement services. Matzel said those children’s IQ scores increase significantly while they’re part of the program, but frequently regress after they leave it — a common criticism of these programs. That, he said, is because the stimulation and encouragement received in Head Start is missing when the child returns to their more restrictive environment.

    Or consider identical twins separated at birth. If their IQs are nearly identical, and they have equal opportunities, they will be equally smart as adults. However, if one is deprived of opportunities, their cognitive abilities will diverge, Matzel said. This highlights the important role that environmental opportunity plays in the establishment of an individual’s intelligence.

    While twins may have the same basic mental equipment with which to face the world, the twin raised in the better environment can thrive while his sibling is thwarted. “The environment is the critical tool that allows our genetic equipment to prosper,” Matzel said.


  2. Study suggests robot learning can help improve student engagement

    December 20, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Michigan State University press release:

    The first-ever study of Michigan State University’s pioneering robot-learning course shows that online students who use the innovative robots feel more engaged and connected to the instructor and students in the classroom.

    Stationed around the class, each robot has a mounted video screen controlled by the remote user that lets the student pan around the room to see and talk with the instructor and fellow students participating in-person.

    The study, published in Online Learning, found that robot learning generally benefits remote students more than traditional videoconferencing, in which multiple students are displayed on a single screen.

    Christine Greenhow, MSU associate professor of educational psychology and educational technology, said that instead of looking at a screen full of faces as she does with traditional videoconferencing, she can look a robot-learner in the eye – at least digitally.

    “It was such a benefit to have people individually embodied in robot form – I can look right at you and talk to you,” Greenhow said.

    The technology, Greenhow added, also has implications for telecommuters working remotely and students with disabilities or who are ill.

    MSU’s College of Education started using robot learning in 2015. Greenhow and Benjamin Gleason, a former MSU doctoral student who is now a faculty member at Iowa State University, studied an educational technology doctoral course in which students participated in one of three ways: in-person, by robot and by traditional videoconferencing.

    Courses that combine face-to-face and online learning, called hybrid or blended learning, are widely considered the most promising approach for increasing access to higher education and students’ learning outcomes. The number of blended-learning classrooms has increased dramatically in the past decade and could eventually make up 80 percent or more of all university classes, the study notes.

    With traditional videoconferencing, Greenhow said, remote students generally can’t tell the instructor is looking at them and can get turned off from joining the discussion. “These students often feel like they’re interrupting, like they’re not fully participating in the class. And as an instructor, that’s like death – I can’t have that.”

    “The main takeaway here,” Greenhow added, “is that students participating with the robots felt much more engaged and interactive with the instructor and their classmates who were on campus.”

    To engage the robot from home, students just need to download free software onto their computer.


  3. Study suggests genes behind higher education linked to lower risk of Alzheimer’s

    December 15, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Karolinska Institutet press release:

    Using genetic information, researchers at Karolinska Institutet in Sweden provide new evidence that higher educational attainment is strongly associated with a lower risk of Alzheimer’s disease.

    The causes of Alzheimer’s disease are largely unknown and treatment trials have been disappointing. This has led to increasing interest in the potential for reducing the disease by targeting modifiable risk factors. Many studies have found that education and vascular risk factors are associated with the risk of Alzheimer’s disease, but whether these factors actually cause Alzheimer’s has been difficult to disentangle.

    Mendelian randomisation is a method that uses genetic information to make causal inferences between potential risk factors and disease. If a gene with a specific impact on the risk factor is also associated with the disease, then this indicates that the risk factor is a cause of the disease.

    Susanna C. Larsson, associate professor at the Institute of Environmental Medicine at Karolinska Institutet, and colleagues in Cambridge and Munich, used the Mendelian randomisation approach to assess whether education and different lifestyle and vascular risk factors are associated with Alzheimer’s disease. The analysis included more than 900 genetic variants previously shown to be associated with the risk factors. Comparisons of these genetic variants among 17,000 patients with Alzheimer’s disease and 37,000 healthy controls revealed a strong association for genetic variants that predict education.

    “Our results provide the strongest evidence so far that higher educational attainment is associated with a lower risk of Alzheimer’s disease. Therefore, improving education may substantially decrease the number of people developing this devastating disease,” says Susanna C. Larsson.

    According to the researchers, one possible explanation for this link is ‘cognitive reserve‘, which refers to the ability to recruit and use alternative brain networks or structures not normally used in order to compensate for brain ageing.

    “Evidence suggests that education helps improve brain networks and thus could increase this reserve,” says Susanna C. Larsson.

    The study was financed by the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme and the Swedish Brain Foundation.


  4. Study looks at why students don’t always use learning strategies they know about

    October 7, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Frontiers press release:

    Many university students don’t use common learning strategies, despite knowing that they exist, finds a study in open-access journal Frontiers in Psychology. Specific training on how and when to use learning strategies could help more students to maximize their academic potential.

    The first year in university is a steep learning curve for many students. Living away from home, managing finances and balancing socializing with classwork are all new challenges. Another big change is planning and organizing their own learning, including dealing with various forms of academic assessment, from multiple-choice exams to essays.

    New students typically work out their own strategies for learning, often through trial and error. However, strategies to prepare for one type of test or assignment may not work for another. As a result, students may find themselves underprepared and struggling. Even post-graduate students can encounter new challenges, such as writing a Master’s thesis, that might require different learning techniques.

    Self-regulated learning (SRL) strategies are a very effective way for students to maximize their academic potential, and considered essential for academic success by educational researchers. “SRL refers to evaluating, planning, and executing your own learning,” says Nora Foerst of the University of Vienna. “SRL includes many different learning strategies, such as planning your approach, structuring your learning content, rewarding yourself after accomplishing a goal or making realistic demands to avoid frustration.”

    Previous studies found that many students know about common SRL strategies. However, researchers are less sure how often students actually use the techniques, whether they can use them effectively, and whether they know which techniques are most appropriate in specific learning situations.

    These unknowns inspired Foerst and her colleagues to survey students enrolled in Bachelor’s or Master’s programs in Psychology or Economics at the University of Vienna on their learning strategy knowledge and actions. The scientists asked students whether they knew about beneficial SRL strategies for specific learning situations. They also assessed whether the students put the techniques into practice, and if not, why not.

    As expected, most students could correctly identify many SRL strategies. However, fewer students actually applied them while studying. In some cases, as many as one-third of the students who correctly identified a technique as beneficial admitted that they didn’t use it in their own learning.

    Both Psychology and Economics students showed a similar discrepancy between knowledge and action. Psychology students were slightly better at identifying the strategies, likely because their curriculum included information about SRL techniques.

    The survey revealed a variety of reasons for not using self-regulated learning strategies. Many students felt they didn’t have enough time to use the strategies, or were unable to apply them effectively. Some failed to see the benefits of the strategies for specific tasks, or believed that using them would be too much work.

    So, how can universities increase the number of students that benefit from self-regulated learning strategies? “We want this study, and future studies, to encourage universities to provide more SRL training for their students,” says Foerst. “Specifically, it appears that students need hands-on training to learn how and when to apply SRL strategies for specific learning situations. In addition, they need help to understand that the techniques could save them time and enhance their learning outcomes.”


  5. Positive engagement in preschool key to developmental gains

    July 5, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Society for Research in Child Development press release:

    Many interventions and programs designed to improve low-income children’s lives focus on providing high-quality early-childhood education. Preschool classrooms that are emotionally supportive, well-organized, and cognitively stimulating can help boost children’s learning and development. Yet for the most part, focusing on the quality of early-childhood education has emphasized teachers, often missing the central role that children play in their own development. A new study has found that children’s individual engagement with teachers, peers, and tasks was important to the gains they made during the preschool year, even after taking into account differences in classroom quality.

    The study, conducted by researchers at Northwestern University, Montana State University Billings, and the University of Virginia, is published in the journal Child Development.

    “Children can have very different experiences in the same classroom and their individual engagement is associated with their learning gains above and beyond the average quality of classroom instruction,” explains Terri J. Sabol, assistant professor of human development and social policy at Northwestern University, who led the study. “It’s important to look beyond overall classroom quality and capture children’s individual experiences in classroom settings.”

    The study looked at 211 low-income, racially and ethnically diverse 4-year-olds in 49 classrooms in state and federally funded preschool programs. Researchers measured the children’s engagement in the classroom by observing their positive and negative interactions with teachers, peers, and tasks (e.g., their ability to communicate with teachers, sociability and assertiveness with peers, self-reliance in tasks, conflicts with teachers and peers).

    The quality of the classroom setting was also measured (e.g., the classroom climate, teachers’ sensitivity, emotional support, classroom organization), and children were assessed on measures of school readiness in the fall and the spring of their preschool year. Most previous research has examined either the effect of classroom interactions or the role of individual children’s engagement in the classroom on children’s outcomes; this study included both.

    “To truly understand and support individual children’s development, it is vital that we have observational tools that capture individual children’s engagement and the overall classroom context,” notes Natalie Bohlmann, associate professor of education at Montana State University Billings, who collaborated on the study.

    Children’s individual engagement was related to their developmental gains, even after accounting for emotional support, classroom organization, and instructional support at the classroom level, the study found. Specifically, children’s positive engagement with teachers was related to improved literacy skills and their positive engagement with peers was related to improved language and self-regulatory skills. In addition, their positive engagement with tasks related to closer relationships with teachers.

    Children who were negatively engaged in the classroom (e.g., those who got into conflicts with teachers or peers) were at a comparative disadvantage in terms of their school readiness, the study found. Children with higher levels of negative engagement performed at lower levels across nearly all of the academic, language, and social outcomes measured, including lower language, literacy, and self-regulatory skills.

    “Interventions designed to prepare children for school should include a focus on children’s individual behaviors in the classroom,” adds Jason Downer, associate professor of education at the University of Virginia, who was the lead investigator. “Observing children’s engagement can guide decisions about where, when, and how to intervene with at-risk children, and help educators enact more useful individualized strategies in the classroom.”


  6. Social emotional learning interventions show promise, warrant further study

    June 23, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Oregon State University press release:

    Developing a child’s social and emotional learning skills in early childhood is seen as a key to the child’s success in school, but researchers are still working to understand which interventions most effectively boost those skills.

    Providing training for early childhood education teachers, embedding direct instruction and practice of targeted skills into daily practice and engaging families in these efforts help to boost the success of these kinds of interventions, Oregon State University researchers suggest in a new paper.

    “We know these skills are essential for children, but there’s still a lot we don’t know about ways to enhance them,” said Megan McClelland, the Katherine E. Smith Healthy Children and Families Professor in Human Development and Family Sciences in OSU’s College of Public Health and Human Sciences. “The results to date have been mixed.”

    “We don’t yet know what the ‘key ingredients’ are here, ” added McClelland, the paper’s lead author, “but we do have enough evidence to know we need to keep doing this work.”

    The paper was published in a special issue of the journal Future of Children that is focused on social and emotional learning. McClelland is a nationally recognized expert in child development. Co-authors of the paper are Shauna Tominey, an assistant professor of practice at OSU, Sara Schmitt of Purdue University and Robert Duncan of University of California, Irvine.

    Much of McClelland’s research focuses on the important role of self-regulation skills — the social and emotional skills that help children pay attention, follow directions, stay on task, form healthy friendships and persist through difficulty.

    She has developed and tested social and emotional learning interventions focused on games such as “Red Light, Purple Light,” which is similar to “Red Light, Green Light.” A teacher uses construction-paper circles to represent stop and go. Children follow color cues, such as purple represents stop, orange signals go; then switch to the opposite, where purple means go and orange means stop.

    Additional rules are added later to increase the complexity of the game. The game requires children to listen and remember instructions, pay attention to the adult leading the game and resist natural inclinations to stop or go.

    In the new paper, McClelland and her co-authors reviewed the theory and science behind a number of social emotional learning interventions in early childhood and found that while several such interventions hold promise, more research is needed to understand variations in results among different groups of children, including why some children appear to benefit more than others and whether the programs are cost effective.

    There’s also a general lack of long-term studies that might give researchers a clearer picture of the programs’ effectiveness, McClelland said. Longer-term studies would also help explain “sleeper” effects, where short-term effects are small or not significant, but long-term effects, such as predictors of high school or college completion, are significant and substantive.

    “I look at the long term: Did the child complete college? Were they able to stay out of the criminal justice system?” McClelland said. “Those are some of the most important indicators of the social emotional learning.”

    Overall, studies in the field indicate that children from low-income families tend to show the most gains from social emotional learning interventions, but results for other groups of students are more mixed, although a number of studies show positive effects.

    The review also showed that the most successful interventions tend to be low cost, easily implemented, are fun for kids, including training for teachers, and can be built in to classroom lessons on literacy and math, McClelland said.

    “The bottom line here is that there’s a lot of subtlety to the findings of this work so far,” she said. “Fortunately, we do have some ideas about what’s working, and we have some ideas about where we need to go next in the field.”


  7. Factors that lead to greater college success

    June 6, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Rice University press release:

    Educational attainment is a national priority because it creates both economic and personal gains: higher incomes, better individual and family health and deeper civic engagement. U.S. college enrollments are increasing, suggesting greater educational attainment; however, national college completion rates are lagging behind other developed nations. Recent research suggests that U.S. college students could succeed if they are encouraged to develop a sense of belonging, a growth mindset and salient personal goals and values, according to a new national report co-authored by a Rice University psychology professor.

    “Supporting Students’ College Success: The Role of Assessment of Interpersonal and Intrapersonal Competencies” was released by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine and commissioned by the National Science Foundation. Fred Oswald, a professor of psychology at Rice, was a co-author of the report, which was based on a review of 49 articles targeting 61 experimental studies that examined interventions to improve educational attainment.

    Across these studies, three competencies most frequently showed evidence of supporting students’ college persistence and success, as measured by grades, retention and graduation:

    A sense of belonging, meaning that college students (particularly underrepresented minorities and first-generation college students) feel that they belong in college, fit in well and are socially integrated. Approximately 85 percent of the studies measuring students’ sense of belonging demonstrated a positive impact of belonging on students’ college GPAs.

    A growth mindset, referring to college students’ beliefs that their own intelligence is not a fixed entity, but rather a malleable quality that college can help improve. Seventy-five percent of the studies measuring students’ growth mindset showed this characteristic had a positive impact on students’ college GPAs.

    Personal goals and values that college students perceive to be directly linked to the achievement of a future, desired end. Approximately 83 percent of the studies measuring personal goals showed this characteristic as having a positive impact on students’ final course grades.

    Oswald noted that this recent research reported some remarkable findings based on low-cost, brief writing exercises for improving these intra- and interpersonal competencies. One required students to write about the relevance of course topics to their own life or to the life of a family member or close friend. Another intervention aimed to lessen psychological perceptions of threat on campus by framing social adversity as common and transient, and used subtle attitude-change strategies to lead participants to self-generate the framing in their writing.

    With these interventions, GPAs have been shown impressively to improve not only in the class where the intervention was given, but many semesters beyond, Oswald said. Furthermore, the interventions show the largest benefits accrue in student groups that are at greatest risk for academic failure. Oswald thus noted that these interventions have promise but deserve further intensive research to assure these interventions can impact student success in the future, in other college settings.

    Oswald said measures of intrapersonal and interpersonal competencies should be held to rigorous development procedures and statistical standards, just like the SAT, ACT, MCAT, LSAT and other standardized tests of cognitive competencies.

    “Many current assessments of these competencies fall short in providing solid statistical evidence supporting their reliability and validity,” Oswald said. “It is important to investigate these measures carefully, for example, because students can differ in how they interpret the meaning of rating scales, or sometimes they feel pressured to present themselves in the best light.”

    He and his co-authors recommend further research in partnership with higher education institutions to build on the report’s findings and to find reliable ways to track these intra- and interpersonal characteristics that can lead to increased college completion.

    Report: http://www.nap.edu/catalog/24697/supporting-students-college-success-the-role-of-assessment-of-intrapersonal.


  8. Critical thinking can be taught

    June 5, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Norwegian Institute of Public Health press release:

    10-12-years-olds can be taught how to think critically at school, even with few teachers and limited resources. Parents can also be taught to assess claims about health effects.

    These findings come from two research articles published in The Lancet.

    In a randomised trial of 120 schools and over 10,000 children in Uganda, researchers evaluated the effects of a programme aimed to teach 10-12-year-old pupils how to critically assess health effect claims. In a parallel study, the effect of a podcast intended to teach over 500 parents was also evaluated.

    Educational programme gave significant results

    This study was the first of its kind to evaluate whether teaching primary school pupils how to critically assess health claims had any effect.

    “The educational programme led to nearly 50 per cent more children passing a test where they were asked to assess treatment claims. This is a significant effect. We did not register any negative consequences of the programme but the time spent (13 hours over a 3 month period) was necessarily at the expense of other school activities,” explains Atle Fretheim, head of the Centre for Informed Health Choices at the Norwegian Institute of Public Health.

    Podcast for parents

    This was also the first attempt to evaluate how podcasts can help adults who are not healthcare personnel to critically assess health claims.

    “Among those who listened to the podcast, 34 per cent more people passed the test that measured their ability to critically assess health claims. This group was compared with those who were asked to listen to a series of public health information announcements about similar topics,” continues Fretheim.

    May stop the spread of “fake news” and alternative facts

    “In a time of rapidly spreading fake news, it is more important than ever that people are able to distinguish the truth from “alternative facts.” In addition, we need to be able to assess what is a sensible interpretation of facts, particularly when facts are used to argue for or against implementing measures. This applies to claims about what causes better or worse health, says Fretheim.

    “Based on this and the results of our research, this type of education programme should be considered in other countries, including Norway,” he adds.

    It is uncertain how applicable the results are to other countries but the programme was pilot tested at a school in Norway. The school chose to continue using the programme after the testing ended.

    In poorer countries it is paramount that decisions and measures are knowledge-based, so that valuable resources are not wasted on ineffective measures, or even those with a negative effect.

    “Even though Norway has more resources than Uganda, resources are also wasted here. Studies have shown that children and adults in Norway struggle to assess health claims,” ??concludes Fretheim.

    The studies were funded by the Research Council of Norway’s GLOBVAC-programme.


  9. Study examines perception of the ‘ideal’ teacher

    June 3, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Concordia University press release:

    Two Concordia researchers are turning to Reddit for a more accurate picture of public perceptions of teachers and teaching.

    Their initial conclusions? That our understanding of the “best” and “worst” is predicated on personal educational values — and, possibly, our understanding of gender.

    “We tend to think in terms of good and bad teachers, but reality is less clear-cut,” says Sandra Chang-Kredl, assistant professor in the Department of Education. “The teacher who is good for me can be bad for someone else; it depends on the student’s values, needs and approaches to schooling.”

    But, as she explains, “the representation of teachers matters. Public perceptions affect teachers at every level of education — they reinforce policies and pay levels.”

    In a study recently published in Teaching and Teacher Education, Chang-Kredl and her colleague Daniela Colannino (MA 16, Child Studies) examined popular representations of teachers on the social media platform Reddit.

    The two researchers analyzed 600 entries from 2009 to 2015 in which commenters discussed their “best” and “worst” teachers.

    According to Chang-Kredl, Reddit encourages authentic responses from participants.

    “One of the unique features of Reddit, as opposed to websites such as Facebook and Twitter, is that its users can be completely anonymous,” she notes.

    “The anonymity of the forum allowed participants to say what they wanted without fear of repercussions. As a result, we were able to get an arguably more authentic and nuanced picture of the public perception of teachers.”

    Chang-Kredl and Colannino sorted through the most popular (i.e. upvoted) entries on the discussion threads and coded them according to the themes that emerged.

    They found that “best and worst” ratings of teachers fell into three broad categories: the teacher’s professional and personal qualities; the student’s learning outcomes; and the relationship between student and teacher.

    When it came to professional qualities, “best” teachers were praised for being intelligent, engaging, dedicated, easygoing and strict but fair; “worst” teachers were described as incompetent, lacking in judgement, lazy, unfair and biased.

    The personal qualities of “best” teachers can be categorized as unique, humorous, down to earth and physically attractive, while “worst” teachers were also described as unique, but negatively so, as well as bad-tempered, condescending and unattractive.

    When they analyzed the Reddit data, Chang-Kredl and Colannino were surprised by trends that emerged. For instance, roughly equal numbers of teachers were praised for seemingly opposing characteristics, such as “dedicated” and “easygoing.”

    “Best” and “worst” teachers were also variously lauded and criticized for displaying virtually identical behaviours — for example, “being lenient” or “chill” versus “putting in no effort.”

    This finding, the researchers say, suggests that the participants’ educational values were central to their judgement of teaching style.

    According to Chang-Kredl, it also challenges popular beliefs about the ideal teacher and a one-size-fits-all approach to education.

    “The finding demonstrates that students have different learning styles and personalities, and respond differently to teachers based on their own needs and perspectives,” she explains.

    Furthermore, the study determined that more men were described as “best” teachers, and more women as “worst” teachers.

    This may in part reflect the demographic of redditors but, Chang-Kredl observes, it suggests that gender in education is a subject ripe for further investigation.

    Ultimately, she hopes that the study’s conclusions will generate further research and discussion on representations of teachers in social media.

    “Social media can provide an intersection between cultural representations and personal experiences, and by studying it we can arrive at more nuanced findings.”


  10. Reading to therapy dogs improves literacy attitudes in second-grade students

    June 1, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Tufts University press release:

    Second-grade students who read aloud to dogs in an afterschool program demonstrated improved attitudes about reading, according to researchers at Tufts Institute for Human-Animal Interaction at Tufts University. Their research appears online in advance of print in the Early Childhood Education Journal.

    Reading skills are often associated with improved academic performance and positive attitudes about school in children. Researchers wanted to learn if animal-assisted intervention in the form of reading aloud to dogs in a classroom setting could contribute to improved skills and attitudes.

    “Previous studies have evaluated the impact of therapy dogs in children’s literacy programs outside of the academic setting, including our previous research evaluating children reading to dogs in a library program,” said the study’s corresponding author Deborah Linder, D.V.M., research assistant professor at Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University and associate director of Tufts Institute for Human-Animal Interaction. “However, little has been done to assess the effects of this type of reading program in schools, where children may experience greater stress, challenging social situations and fear of negative feedback.”

    For this pilot study, participating second-grade public school students were divided into two groups. To be eligible to participate, children had to meet the guidelines for average second grade literacy skills, as measured by Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills (DIBELS), a tool used by the school to assess reading skills. For six weeks, one group read to a therapy dog for 30 minutes once a week; a control group followed a standard classroom curriculum. Children’s reading skills were assessed biweekly and attitudes about reading were assessed pre- and post-intervention. Proper training and health requirements were put in place to ensure the health and safety of the animals, their handlers and the children involved.

    As part of the DIBELS assessment of reading skills, the study participants read passages aloud for one minute while teachers assessed their ability to read and comprehend the passage. Reading attitudes were assessed using the Elementary Reading Attitude Survey (ERAS), which asks 10 questions about attitudes to recreational reading and 10 about academic reading. Children select pictorial responses that offer expressions ranging from “very upset” to “very happy.”

    Scores assessing academic reading attitudes increased significantly among the children who read aloud to dogs. Reading skill scores did not change significantly in either group, nor did attitudes about recreational reading outside of school.

    It is possible that reading skills did not improve for the control or intervention group because participants had average reading skills; evaluating children reading below grade level may demonstrate a larger impact, suggest the researchers. Other influencing factors that warrant further study include frequency of the read-aloud sessions and duration of the interventions; longer or more frequent programs may show a greater difference between the control and treatment groups.

    One of the most important aspects of facilitating reading skill development is motivating a child to engage in reading,” said the study’s senior author Lisa Freeman, D.V.M, Ph.D., professor at Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine and director of Tufts Institute for Human-Animal Interaction.

    “Our results suggest that reading to dogs in an academic setting has the potential to provide motivation, which will help inform future research into this animal-assisted intervention,” Linder added.

    Linder has already received a Tufts Collaborates seed grant from Tufts University to research how reading to dogs can lower anxiety and improve reading skills for children aged 7 to 11 years who are enrolled in a summer reading program and require remedial literacy instruction. The team’s objectives include evaluating pre- and post-program anxiety, engagement and reading skills of underperforming readers randomly assigned to read to a therapy dog or read aloud to peers.