Multi-Sensory Learning

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Multisensory instruction utilizes the therapeutic application of touch and movement, together with the senses of sight and hearing, to convey information. Also known as tactile and kinesthetic elements, this approach promotes learning via multiple senses, which can help children better analyze a situation with better memory retention.

The multisensory approach doesn’t just rely on reading and listening. Instead, it tries to employ all senses to enhance learning. Not all sessions use all senses, but each generally utilizes multiple senses: smell, touch, sight, hearing, and movement.

The key concepts that multisensory instruction aims to leverage include:

For example, children may be given the opportunity to visually examine an item using their sense of touch, smell, and, when appropriate, taste. Allowing the children to learn about an item using multiple senses greatly improves initial interest and subsequent memory retention when compared with traditional learning methods such as reading or following along in lectures.

When learning about food items, the additional stimulation provided by the smell and taste of the item helps the children to stay focused and attentive when hearing more about how the food grows, is harvested, packaged, distributed, and sold.

"The senses, being explorers of the world, open the way to knowledge."

Research on Multisensory Education

The effect of education based on Fernald's multisensory approach on improving visual memory and fluency of students with learning disabilities
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Benefits of Multisensory Instruction

As mentioned, the multisensory approach can provide a learning method that engages the participants in a more immersive manner, which results in better memory retention. This technique can help enhance the learning ability of any child but is particularly useful for children who think and learn differently.

Multisensory instruction is often recommended for children who have difficulties with visual or auditory processing and thus have trouble learning through traditional reading, writing, and listening.

There are several advantages multisensory instruction can provide over traditional reading, writing, and listening. These include:

Different Multisensory Instruction Programs

There are several different curricula that employ a multisensory approach together with other learning components. Three popular approaches include:

Orton–Gillingham Approach

Perhaps best known are the pioneers of the method, the creators of the Orton-Gillingham approach, which uses sound, sight, touch, and movement to help kids build a connection between language and words.

Wilson Reading System

Another popular approach is the Wilson Reading System, which uses a “sound-tapping” concept to help children break down, learn, and remember words by tapping corresponding rhythms.

Barton Reading Program

A third, equally popular system is known as the Barton Reading Program. This approach utilizes materials such as color-coded letter tiles to help students connect sounds to letters.

Multi-Sensory Learning

Key Techniques Used in Multisensory Instruction

Throughout the different approaches to multisensory learning, many techniques are commonly used. These can include:

Air Writing

As it describes, air writing precisely involves tracing out the shape of letters in the air, which helps reinforce muscle memory and provides a way of deciphering between commonly confused letters such as b and d. Children are asked to sound out the letters and words as they write them. The visual stimulation of forming the letters in the air gives them an additional way to imagine, associate, and remember the letters and words.

Sandpaper Lettering

This exercise employs letters cut out of sandpaper. The rough texture provides tactile feedback for the children, which can help them better associate the sight and feel of letters with words and sounds. The letters can be arranged to form words, and they can be clearly seen and felt when the child is practicing reading, writing, or speaking.

Word Building

This is done using tiles or magnetic letters that are typically colored-coded in some way, often with vowels and constants bearing different colors. However, the colors can also be used to highlight any troublesome letters a child is having difficulty with. The child builds the letter and sounds the word once it is complete. They can also practice the word by writing it down afterward.

Read It, Build It, Write It

This technique is used to teach sight words. It requires children to each have a piece of paper with three boxes on it, each labeled “Read,” “Build,” and “Write.” They also have cards with sight words, magnetic letters (or tiles), and markers. The children then read the sight word in the “Read” box with you. Then, they use the letters to build the word in the “Build” box. This is followed by a practice round where they “Write” the word in the box.

Tapping Out Sounds

The system is primarily used by the Wilson Reading System. Tapping sounds are made that correspond to the syllables of a word. Attaching a rhythm to the words helps with memory retention

Story Sticks

Story sticks are designed to help children who struggle with visualizing what they’re reading. Different colored sticks outline certain elements of the story, such as “Who are the characters?” and “What is the setting?” When reading the story, the sticks can be presented, and any questions can be asked. Later, when discussing the story, the sticks can be presented once again, which in turn provides an additional visual reminder of the topic in question.

Shared Reading

Books with pictures and illustrations help children follow along better when you read aloud or they listen to an audio book. Encourage children to underline words they find difficult or require special attention to fully understand.

In Conclusion

The benefits of multisensory learning have been proven to have a positive affect on literacy, a claim verified by a 2018 study that found “children with the strongest literacy skills had more interactivity between different regions in their brain. And that this suggests that reading is a whole-brain skill and that future developments in literacy instruction should use a multisensory approach.”

With this in mind it’s easy to see how multisensory activities can greatly assist in teaching reading skills, can help engage students in your lessons, and can help them better associate new knowledge with other memories, so they can better retain the knowledge just gained.

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