Multisensory Approaches to Teaching Decoding: What Does That Mean?
If you use an Internet search engine, such as Google, and type in the words "multisensory learning advantages" (without the quotes), you will find more than a million results. Multisensory learning helps us to learn things more quickly, more deeply, and in a longer lasting way. Many know this, and see it as rather obvious: the more sensory pathways that are used in learning something, the more it will "stick." This is not new news.
Albert Einstein certainly knew this. He once said "All true learning is experiencing. Everything else is just information." In Louis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland, the Dodo said "the best way to explain it is do it." And in 1451 BC, Confucius said "What I hear I forget, what I see I remember, what I do I understand."
Well, now there are neurological studies that show what many have known for thousands of years.
While extremely useful for all, it's especially helpful, even critical, for children having a difficult time acquiring literacy skills. In some cases, as we have seen first hand, it can mean the difference between failure and success.
When children are taught to read in a classroom, they are typically presented with graphemes (letters) and the sounds they make. However, when children are having a hard time acquiring literacy skills, it is common these days that remediation involves either increasing these stimuli or adding new ones. For example, tactile and kinesthetic stimuli may be utilized as well as visual and auditory ones to help a child make the connection between letters and sounds, and how we blend these sounds into words.
One commonly used approach, and one which we utilize, when appropriate, in conjunction with KidsVoyager Online and our Phonic Engine Reading Method, is the Orton-Gillingham Approach, which was was developed by Dr. Samuel Orton, a neurologist and psychiatrist, and Anna Gillingham, an educator and psychologist. Through repetition, children are taught to link the letter and the sound it makes. The teacher will hold up a letter card and say the name of the letter, a word with that sound, and then the sound alone. For example, the sequence might sound like "s –sun-sssss," and then the class, or the group, or the child repeats it.
Tactile and kinesthetic cues come into play when children write a word with crayon, with paper being placed on top of a plastic screen. The screen plus the crayon creates bumps on the paper, providing the child a tactile cue, and the writing of the letter provides a kinesthetic cue. They hear it, see it and feel it, as they move their fingers over the letters they have written. Additionally, when practicing spelling, children spell the word out loud as they 'write' it in the air. This provides auditory and visual stimuli paired with kinesthetic cues.
The children feel, through big movements in the air, what it feels like to write the target words. The children also write sight words multiple times, with the notion that the repetition of the written word will facilitate the memory of what the word looks like. In the Phonic Engine Method, tactile and kinesthetic cues come into play when children use mouse movements for a variety of activities, and when they think of and experience the lips, tongue and soft palate movements (by speaking it out loud or it to themselves) involved in the sounding out of the beginning and ending sounds that comprise the first step used to encode words.
The website, Dyslexia Online, has a wonderful example of multisensory teaching in order to help a child discriminate between the letters 'b' and 'd', a very commonly seen mistake:
"A teacher might give the child a tactile experience of the letter 'b' by getting the child to draw the letter really large on the carpet. This will involve the child using their arms, their sense of balance, their whole body. They will remember the day their teacher had them 'writing' on the carpet with their hand making this great big shape, and can use that memory the next time they come to write the letter. Some teachers purchase letters made out of sandpaper so that the children can run their fingers over the letter 'b', giving them a strong tactile memory."
A multisensory approach helps children who have visual processing deficits, auditory processing deficits or both, acquire the ability to decode words, recognize and spell sight words and develop a clear and consistent orthographic image of words for both reading and writing. We accomplish this in our reading sessions by using Phonic Engine Reading and Phonic Engine Spelling. Our students begin to develop clear and consistent word knowledge and phonemic awareness. They hear words while they see them and they have access to unlimited repetition whether reading or writing, so they can more readily learn to self-monitor their decoding and encoding abilities.