Dog Days at School
For the past few years, teachers have used therapy dogs as a non-judgmental audience to help young readers gain confidence.
But Laura Meyers, a Georgia State associate professor of early childhood education, is taking a new twist on the therapy dog in the classroom with her “Sullivan Project.”
With her Australian shepherd Sullivan in tow, Meyers visits K-5 schools in metro Atlanta, using him as the focus of creative lessons that blend math, social studies, science and literacy.
“The blending of the content areas makes for a stronger and more meaningful learning experience,” Meyers said. “And when you toss in a dog, there is more of a connection for students.”
Students are instantly more engaged when the lovable Sullivan is in the room, and Meyers uses his presence to full advantage.
For example, first-graders at Oak Knoll Elementary School in East Point, Ga., recently learned basic economics by determining what items Sullivan might want to play with or eat compared to those he needs to survive.
But the exercise also included literacy and math: Students read, practiced phonics, built their vocabulary, organized information using a diagram and drew a map of Sullivan’s backyard with specific dimensions and attributes.
Another lesson, this one for older students, teaches social studies, math and literacy. Meyers asks students to create an entire three-dimensional community for Sullivan and his friends, called “Sullivantown.” Students design and build houses, stores, roads and other infrastructure and determine how the town should be set up. Then they write stories about what happens in the town, which they later read to the attentive canine. Or they plan events, such as a party for Sullivan and his friends, for which they craft a budget.
Meyers tailors her lessons to what the classroom teacher wants to do with Sullivan and what standards he or she needs to cover. Bringing Sullivan into the classroom is an opportunity for educators to test a new technique in teaching, Meyers said.
“Sullivan makes things exciting and as long as they are excited they are ready to learn,” said Tracie Singletary, first grade teacher at Oak Knoll Elementary School.