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Grade 2 Children Experience a Classroom-based Animal-assisted Literacy Mentoring Program: An Interpretive Case Study Open Access


Other title
animal-assisted literacy
case study
animal-assisted therapy
Type of item
Degree grantor
University of Alberta
Author or creator
Friesen, Lori A
Supervisor and department
Joyce Bainbridge (Education)
Examining committee member and department
Carol Leroy (Education)
Christina Rinaldi (Education)
Fern Snart (Education)
Mary Jalongo (Education)
Department of Elementary Education

Date accepted
Graduation date
Doctor of Philosophy
Degree level
Despite the growing popularity of animal-assisted literacy programs in North America and abroad, little research has examined how children experience these programs or what their significance may be for participating children in the elementary classroom context. Designed as an interpretive case study into one Grade 2 classroom over 10 weeks, this study explored the questions: How do children experience literacy learning with a dog and an adult mentor? What significance do animal-assisted literacy learning experiences have for children? Drawing on contemporary, cross-disciplinary research exploring the human-animal-bond (HAB) with children in school and therapeutic settings and research examining school-based mentoring programs, this study explored the potential for unique forms of social, emotional, and academic support for children when they engaged in animal-assisted literacy learning sessions. Insights from this study suggest that animal-assisted literacy mentoring programs can offer children valuable forms of social, emotional, and academic support in the classroom context. Specifically, four main themes emerged inductively from the data: (1) Animal-assisted literacy sessions drew the consistent and enthusiastic participation of all of the children in the classroom and were viewed as anticipated escapes from typical school routines; (2) These sessions invited playful, imaginative literacy teaching and learning opportunities for group participants; (3) Novel and familial modes of interrelationship within these sessions transformed the network of relationships among group members, and finally; (4) The students' positive, transformative associations with literacy in the broader school context and in their home literacy lives collectively contributed to a carnivalesque climate of literacy support. This study suggests that while the adult and dog can be defined as 'literacy mentor teams' during animal-assisted literacy learning sessions, this term provides a necessary but insufficient description of the nature of the interactions among group members. Given these insights, future research is warranted to explore the experiences and significance of animal-assisted literacy learning for children in other grade levels and in other socio-cultural contexts.
Permission is hereby granted to the University of Alberta Libraries to reproduce single copies of this thesis and to lend or sell such copies for private, scholarly or scientific research purposes only. Where the thesis is converted to, or otherwise made available in digital form, the University of Alberta will advise potential users of the thesis of these terms. The author reserves all other publication and other rights in association with the copyright in the thesis and, except as herein before provided, neither the thesis nor any substantial portion thereof may be printed or otherwise reproduced in any material form whatsoever without the author's prior written permission.
Citation for previous publication
Friesen, L. (2012). Animal-assisted literacy learning as carnival: A Bakhtinian analysis. The International Journal of Learning, 18(3), 305-324.Friesen, L. (2010). Potential for the role of school-based animal-assisted literacy mentoring programs. Language & Literacy, 12(1), 21-37.Friesen, L. (2009). Exploring animal-assisted programs with children in school and therapeutic contexts. Early Childhood Education Journal, 37(4), 261-267.Friesen, L. (2009). Tango as teacher: Literacy learning with love. The Latham Letter, 30(4), 14-15.

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