Using a multisensory approach when teaching reading and spelling can transform your lessons—for both you and your child.
Multisensory teaching doesn’t have to be difficult, as you will discover in this article. First watch this video and then read on to discover exactly what the multisensory approach is and how you can apply it in your lessons.
And don’t miss the free printable activities at the end of this post. You’ll see right away how reading and spelling can be taught with a multisensory approach!
When teaching reading and spelling, the three main senses we can involve are sight, hearing, and touch.
It’s not as practical to involve the other two main senses (taste and smell), so for the purposes of teaching reading and spelling, we’ll just focus on these three.
But how do you that? Aren’t reading and spelling visual skills? You look at the word and read it, right?
It is true that with most curriculum spelling and reading are taught primarily through the visual pathway, ignoring the other major pathways to the brain. And if your child is a certain type of visual learner, that will probably work out well for him. Some intuitive learners can just “figure out” the logic of English on their own, but if your child is an auditory or kinesthetic (hands-on) learner, ordinary lessons may not be going quite as well.
The good news is that when you teach reading and spelling, it is not only possible to activate the auditory and kinesthetic pathways to the brain, doing so is extremely beneficial for most learners.
Think of your eyes, ears, and hands as information receptors for your brain.
Your senses gather information and send it to your brain for processing. Then your brain decides whether to pay attention to the information. If it does, the information is stored in your short-term memory for further processing. The more information receptors you involve, the better the chance that the information will be retained by the brain.
Most people have one pathway to the brain that is stronger than the others. You may be a strong visual learner, or maybe you learn best through hearing or doing. It makes sense to learn through the strongest pathway to your brain, because that helps your brain pay more attention and retain more information.
With young children, it isn’t always clear which pathway is the strongest. Kids mature and experiment, and some children don’t display a prominent preference. It might be apparent that one child is a hands-on learner, while the learning preference of another child may not be obvious at all. This can be especially true when a child’s strengths are split between two pathways—auditory and visual, for example. That may seem like a problem, but it’s not. And here’s why.
When you use multisensory teaching, it isn’t necessary to figure out what your child’s learning style is. That’s because we aren’t talking about teaching to your child’s preferred learning style; we are talking about involving multiple pathways to the brain, no matter what your child’s preferred learning style.
Why is that?
Because when children are taught using all three pathways to the brain—the visual, the auditory, and the kinesthetic—they learn even more than when they are taught only through their strongest pathway (Farkus, 2003). The more senses we involve, the more learning occurs. So even if your child is an auditory learner, it is still important to teach through all three pathways. By doing so, not only will you be sure to teach to your child’s strongest pathway, but you will also enable maximum long-term retention of the information by engaging the other pathways.
And here’s something else to be aware of …
Multisensory teaching is a big improvement over teaching through one pathway to the brain, but the real power comes when you combine all three pathways at the same time. This is called Simultaneous Multisensory Instruction—the SMI method.
SMI is a special subset of multisensory teaching. Instead of involving one pathway at a time, SMI activates two or three pathways to the brain at the same time.
SMI is powerful because, as neuroscientists say, “brain neurons that fire together, wire together” (Sousa, 2006). When we teach using multiple senses simultaneously, the neurons in the respective parts of the brain fire at the same time and wire together to create neural networks. These neural networks allow the brain to store and retrieve information much more effectively and efficiently.
And it’s exactly highly-effective SMI approach that we mean when we say that All About Reading and All About Spelling are multisensory programs.
For a graphic representation of this, check out this section in the video above.
For even more information on how SMI helps improve learning and memory, be sure to download my free Help Your Child’s Memory report.
Here’s something to be aware of: when you teach, you may be ignoring one or more learning pathways because of your own personal preference. For example, if you are an auditory learner, you may tend to present your lessons using auditory methods. You may choose curriculum based on your own learning preferences, or you may overlook parts of the lessons that you personally don’t care for, but that may be perfect for your child.
You may not even realize that you are doing it. But if your child is highly visual, and you teach using your own personal preference, then your focus on auditory instruction will miss the boat for your visual child. He may need to see demonstrations of the reading or spelling concepts, so be sure not to skip those types of visual activities in favor of auditory activities. Keep in mind that all three pathways to the brain should be engaged in every lesson, simultaneously whenever possible.
When a new phonogram is introduced (for example, phonogram DGE), the teacher dictates the sound “/j/, three-letter /j/.” Then the student writes the letter or letter combination as he repeats the sound.
This simple activity simultaneously engages the visual, auditory, and kinesthetic pathways to the brain:
The visual, auditory, and kinesthetic pathways are all engaged, and the information becomes neurologically linked together. This will allow information to be retrieved more easily than if only one pathway had been engaged.
When blending, the child touches one letter tile at a time, saying the sound as she touches the tile.
This simple activity simultaneously engages the visual (seeing the phonogram), auditory (saying the sound), and kinesthetic (touching one tile for each sound) pathways. The activity also reinforces the skills of directionality, phonics, and blending, and leads to long-term retention.
Every single lesson in both programs contains multisensory activities.
Visit these posts to get free printable activities so you can try out some of our multisensory activities with your kids.
Compound Words are most effectively practiced with visual and kinesthetic activities.
Contractions are a lot more interesting with an activity that engages multiple senses.
Solve Letter Reversals quickly and effectively by activating all three pathways to the brain simultaneously.
Word Flippers engage all three pathways while working on decoding skills and automaticity.
Word Trees reinforce Latin roots, suffixes, and prefixes, activating visual and kinesthetic pathways.
Download my free e-book, “Help Your Child’s Memory,” to learn more techniques to help strengthen your child’s memory and achieve learning that really sticks.
Do you use multisensory teaching with your children?
Farkus, R.D. (2003). “Effects of traditional versus learning-styles instructional methods on middle school students,” The Journal of Educational Research 97 (1).
Sousa, D.A. (2006). How the brain learns. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.