Heathcliff the Reading Dog helps pupils out at Nacton Primary School. Izzie reads to Heathcliff

Ipswich: A novel idea or just barking mad? Pupils hone their literacy skills – by reading to a dog!

Thursday, November 29, 2012
11.18 AM

WHEN children read to him, Heathcliff does not criticise or correct their pronunciation. Instead he occasionally pricks up his ear and lifts his paw in appreciation.

Seven-year-old pet pooch Heathcliff dons his school uniform to make a weekly visit to Nacton Village Primary School to enjoy story-time with pupils.

The Shih Tzu was brought into school in October after research revealed that children who read to a dog improve their reading age by more than a year in under eight months.

Selected pupils in years one and two are left on cloud ca-nine after reading a choice of fiction and non-fiction books to Heathcliff every Monday.

The youngsters also walk him on the field and play with him to develop their confidence and promote self-esteem.

Headteacher Jo Kidby, who joined the school in September, said: “The idea is that the child reads to the dog and an accompanying adult, and the child gains reading confidence because they are not told they are incorrect at any point.

“We have noticed an increase of children reading at home for enjoyment and children starting to self-correct their mistakes independently.

“The children also love the fact that a dog comes into schools and is there to help with the learning.

“It supports the idea that learning is an on-going experience, not just restricted to the classroom.”

According to Miss Kidby, Heathcliff sits and listens to the stories before putting his paw up when the children are finished and is rewarded with a pat on the head.

The idea is supported by the Kennel Club and is being trialled by around 100 primary schools in the UK after success in the US.

Miss Kidby, who owns Heathcliff, said the children’s progress would be assessed at the end of the term.

“I expect to see an improvement but it’s quite an experimental programme,” she added.

“We have had a huge amount of enthusiasm in school and children are keen to read outside of schools according to their parents, while teachers have noticed a difference in school.”

If the scheme is a success, Miss Kidby hopes to extend it.

She said: “It’s a bit of a brave step to be honest because I have only been in post since September but it seems to be paying off so far.

“I’m very happy to give anything a go if it helps improve children’s learning.

“I have had much interest from other headteachers who have asked to ‘borrow’ Heathcliff.”

n What do you think of the initiative? Write to Your Letters, Ipswich Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN or alternatively e-mail starnews@archant.co.uk