10th November 2006 at 00:00
When eccentric members of an English teachers' union suggested dogs would make good classroom assistants, the idea was met with giggles.

But there has been no such cynicism in Ontario, Canada, where schools are employing dogs as reading coaches. Canines taking part in the scheme include Chelsea, a 12-year-old registered therapy dog, who has been working with pupils at South Hull school near Ottawa.

The half-Spaniel, half-Sheltie sits patiently on the floor with pupils, resting her head on their lap as they read. Chelsea is accompanied by Chantel Moore, her handler and fellow reading coach.

"Reading to a dog might at first sound unusual," Ms Moore said. "But it gets children involved in reading because it takes pressure off the child and puts it onto the dog. The child believes that he or she is helping the dog understand the story. The child is motivated to find books they want to read, some even say they are looking for books the dog would like."

When pupils mispronounce words, Ms Moore asks the dog if she knows it.

Chelsea has never replied but this gives pupils a chance to try teaching the dog.

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