Can learning with different senses help students learn better? Read on to find out, as we discuss some of the facets of multisensory learning and how using five senses supports all learners, especially struggling students.
What Is Multisensory Learning?
Multisensory learning refers to instructional techniques utilizing multiple senses at the same time. Teachers of multisensory instruction simultaneously employ visual, auditory, kinesthetic, and tactile pathways within their lessons to enhance learning and memory. Multisensory techniques show strong results with struggling students, but why is that?
Why Does Multisensory Learning Work?
The human brain evolved to navigate a complex natural world, where hunter-gatherers needed all five senses to survive. Constantly looking for prey and predators, they also had to rely on their senses of hearing and smell to stay safe and obtain necessities from their surroundings. Highly physical, they learned crucial kinesthetic information by manipulating items in their environment.
Today, our brains are still wired to gather information from all five senses. In fact, doing so allows the brain to create additional neural pathways, which strengthens learning and helps young brains function at their best. When teachers engage students with all five senses while reading, they’re helping to improve many other abilities including retention and comprehension.
Does Multisensory Learning Support Struggling Students?
Each student has their own unique set of learning abilities, along with their own challenges – from dyslexia to ADHD. The challenge of helping each student reach their goals can be managed successfully through a multisensory approach. Struggling students are supported by this approach, helping them gain confidence, while learners at every level stay engaged. As you take steps to enable your students to build fluency, be sure to make time for allowing students to access information in their own ways through multisensory learning.
Is Kinesthetic Learning Multisensory?
As students read, they’re engaged visually by using their eyes to scan letters and pictures to create meaning. If they’re reading aloud or listening to a story, they’re engaged in auditory learning. But movement is often ignored, with teachers instead expecting young students to sit still and focus. This tendency can be counterproductive because recent studies reveal that the brains of many students with ADHD and other executive functioning disorders organize information better when their bodies are moving. Requiring these students to sit still hinders their ability to concentrate and therefore to learn. Many students may learn well while sitting still, but others need motion in their lessons to effectively absorb the material.
What Are Good Ways to Add Movement to Structured Literacy Lessons?
Gross motor skills use large muscle groups, helping students develop balance, coordination, and confidence, along with healthy brain functions. According to a 2018 NIH study, the powerful connection between physical activity and brain development applies to the crucial role of motor proficiency in the acquisition of reading skills. Movement in a school setting positively impacts students’ ability to learn, and this study demonstrated (as have many others) that gross motor skills influence reading abilities.
Ask students to write letters or words in large formats (larger than 18”) to encourage big arm movements that build motor memory and help young brains retain new knowledge at an even deeper level. Try pairing reading instruction with these fun ways to develop gross motor skills: running, climbing, playing tag or hopscotch, jumping rope, tossing a ball, swinging, building forts, doing yoga, walking, even sitting!
Tip: Encourage movement in place of screen time to boost brain health.
For students who need to fidget while engaged in reading intervention and literacy lessons, provide opportunities for quiet movement. Therapy bands strung across chair legs allow for silent kicking, and a yoga ball is better than a traditional chair for students who prefer moving their core. For direct instruction, School Specialty Curriculum offers a variety of multisensory reading intervention programs to support non-readers and struggling readers.
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