For some sensible learning

For some sensible learning

MULTISENSORY APPROACH

For some sensible learning

We are all aware that children learn in different and unique ways. Some children are visual learners, whilst others are auditory learners.  It never ceases to surprise me that most of the teaching in our schools is done using just two senses — sight and hearing, meaning visual or auditory.

The child reads the information, looks at diagrams or pictures and/or reads what is written on the board, or in the book.  Then the sense of hearing is used in listening to what the teacher says. I walk into so many classrooms and there is the teacher talking to the students with explanation on the board in the written form. This is fine at upper levels but what about the lower levels?  Are we meeting the needs of the children in our approaches to learning?

The best teaching methods involve the use of more of the child’s senses especially the use of touch and movement (kinaesthetic). This gives the child’s brain tactile and kinaesthetic memories to hang on to as well as the visual and auditory ones. When we teach using multisensory methods we refer to this method as VAK modalities.  The three modalities of learning styles are summarised by the acronym VAK: V for visual, A for auditory and K for kinaesthetic. The latter is the tactile, where the child touches and handles objects.

I will illustrate an example to make this point about using the sense of touch.  The majority of dyslexic children experience confusion over the direction of ‘b’ and ‘d’. Not just dyslexic children, it is common for ordinary students also to experience this difficulty at the foundation stage of their reading and writing.

Both these letters are represented with a stick and a circle at the base.  The question which baffles is which side of the stick does the circle sit? A teacher here needs to give the child a tactile experience of the letter ‘b’ — this means the touching and feeling of experiencing the letter ‘b’. Sit on a carpet and get the child to draw the letter ‘b’ really big on the carpet. Do it many times.

Say the sound of the letter as you do it with the child.  Get the child to do it by himself. This activity will involve the child using his/her arms, combined with a sense of balance and using his/her whole body.  He or she will not be able to see the finished ‘b’ because you have not actually written the letter on the carpet — just felt the sensation of forming the letter. The child will remember the day his teacher made him write on the carpet with his hands making this great big shape and he will use this memory the next time he comes to write the letter.

Sandpaper is an excellent tool — cut out the shape of b and paste the sandpaper ‘b’ on to card.  Get the child to run his fingers over the letter ‘b’ saying the sound ‘bee’ all the time. Teachers can write words in sandpaper and get children to trace the words by colouring across the sandpaper. A word here about learning letters — teach lower case letters first to pre-school, not capital letters.  The majority of reading material is in lower case, get children confident with one set of letters before confusing them with another case!

Teachers might like to introduce a cursive ‘b’ with a big movement in the air which makes this letter stand out in the mind in a different way.  The letter will start on the line and then rise up, falling to the downward stroke.  There is nowhere else to put the circular bit but after the down stroke.

The teacher must take care demonstrating this, by standing to the side, so that the children can see the ‘b’ formed correctly.  If the teacher faces the child, then the ‘b’ will be reversed, which we definitely do not want!  Demonstrate physically and write it on a white/black board.  Reinforce the tactile and the visual. Another way to give a strong tactile memory of ‘b’ is to make the letter out of plasticine, play dough, or clay. They make the letter, they feel the letter and they say the letter.  Once the children have mastered the ‘b’ shape, repeat the exercise with the ‘d’ shape.

Having mastered the ‘b’ and ‘d’ shapes, show the children the word ‘bed’ on a card. This word begins with the letter ‘b’ and ends with the letter ‘d’. This is an excellent way to demonstrate the two similar, but different letters. Write this on the white/blackboard. “What does the word bed start with?  What does the letter bed end with?”  Children need to know beginning and ending sounds at this stage. 

Write the word on the board.
Draw a bed over the letter.
The upright part of the ‘b’ becomes the headboard of the bed and the upright part of the ‘d’ becomes the foot of the bed.  Now draw a child lying on the bed to complete the picture. This exercise gives a strong visual memory for the child to use each time the letter has to be written.

Have this visual image pasted all over the classroom, so wherever a child happens to look he will see the visual image and it will reinforce memory.

To further reinforce the tactile, use the child’s hands. The index finger on each hand is the finger nearest the thumb.  Get the child to identify the index finger.  Then the index finger needs to touch the thumb.  Those form the circles of the letters ‘b’ and ‘d’. Now the child needs to be shown how to make the word ‘bed’ using his/her fingers.  If they learn to do this they can make the shape discreetly with their fingers each time they need to clear up a misunderstanding about the letters b/d.

The combination of all these activities will be: the visual memory of the letter, the auditory memory of hearing the sound it makes, the tactile memory from writing the letter in cursive in the air and from touching the sandpaper letter or drawing in the sand, combined with the kinesthetic (body movement) memory of having drawn the letter really huge on the carpet. All these factors combine to give a multisensory experience. 

This method has been tried and tested and used successfully year after year and its success lies in the fact that the child is not limited to visual and auditory experiences but uses other areas of the brain to establish clear memories of letters, words and numbers that are difficult to learn.

Maria Montessori designed many pedagogic materials for children based on her ideas on the process of learning.  She believed that the process has three parts — the brain, the senses and the muscles.  She believed that the three must cooperate for learning to take place. Her philosophy was that teachers need to let children ‘see-do’ and then learn. 

Multisensory teachers use the sense simultaneously — visual, auditory and kinesthetic-tactile to enhance the memory and learning in children.  The brain consistently makes links between the visual (what we see), auditory (what we hear), and kinesthetic-tactile (what we feel) pathways in learning to read and spell.
Some children exhibit weaknesses in auditory or visual processing.

This may manifest itself in weak phonemic awareness, meaning they are unaware of the role sound plays in words.  They may have difficulty rhyming words, blending sounds or segmenting words into sound. When taught by a multisensory approach, children have the advantage of learning alphabetic patterns and words using all three pathways. We all have different learning patterns in our brains; presenting new learning in such a way that all the senses are involved, makes sense!

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