Many of us have at least one vivid memory of a lesson that captivated us. Maybe it was a field trip that made history come alive or a song that transformed a mundane math lesson into something exciting and accessible. In a recent virtual seminar, Multisensory Learning: Accommodating Each Child's Best Ways of Processing Information, educational and school psychologist Dr. Erica Warren provided recommendations for how educators can use multisensory instructional modalities to tap into the senses (e.g. visual, auditory, touch, etc.), an approach that not only engages all students but also activates the strengths of each individual student.
What is multisensory learning?
At its most basic, multisensory learning refers to the continuum of strengths and weaknesses individuals develop as a result of inherited genetic traits and exposure to different instructional methods. More specifically, Dr. Warren defines multisensory learning as “accommodating each child’s best ways of processing information.” Ultimately, according to Warren, there is “no right or wrong way to learn.” Multisensory instructional methods, therefore, use what Warren calls the 12 Ways of Learning:
- Indirect Experience
- Direct Experience
There are several existing instructional programs that use this kind of multisensory approach. For example, the Orton–Gillingham phonics program uses “sight, sound, movement, and touch to help kids connect language to words.” While it is not necessary to deliver lessons that feature all of these modalities, using more than one sense may help not only more students, but even each individual student learn better.
How can parents and tutors apply Multisensory Learning?
Whether you are a student, teacher, or parent, knowing the “12 Ways of Learning” only gets you halfway toward the goal of optimum learning. According to Dr. Warren, the other crucial component is for members of each of these groups to “step out of [their] own way of learning to believe that someone could possibly learn differently than” they do.
Teachers need to be especially flexible. Although Dr. Warren reassures that “teachers don’t have to teach 12 different ways to reach all of their students,” she does encourage teachers—and parents who are currently taking on instructional responsibilities at home due to the COVID-19 pandemic—to become comfortable accommodating the needs of individual students. An ideal way to accomplish this is to offer “assignment options” whereby students “select from a number of choices” to demonstrate “mastery of the academic content.” In her article, “Exposing Teachers to the 12 Ways of Learning,” Dr. Warren further explains the alchemy of this eclectic teaching approach: “The trick is to weave multiple ways of learning into one lesson or offer assignment options. For example, a lecture (auditory) can be enhanced with images (visual), discussions (interactive and verbal), written activities (tactile) and so forth.”
Assessments can be used to identify the modalities that help a student learn best and ultimately match instructional methods to a student’s way of learning. Dr. Warren designed a 40-question survey that helps her develop a profile of a student, his or her family, and strategies (e.g. lesson modalities, organizational methods, technology and product recommendations) to improve learning. Meanwhile, A+ Test Prep and Tutoring offers students and parents the opportunity to use another assessment tool: Mindprint. Students who complete a Mindprint assessment will receive a report that evaluates their performance across four domains of learning: speed, executive functions, complex reasoning, and memory. Within each domain, there are skills that roughly correspond to some of the “12 Ways of Learning”. The “Complex Reasoning” domain, for example, evaluates a student’s verbal and spatial skills while the “Memory” domain evaluates visual and verbal skills. Each Mindprint report is also accompanied by recommendations for how to build on a student’s strengths and support his or her weaknesses. Regardless of the assessment method used, what is important is to become more aware and more accommodating of the different ways students learn, using a blend of modalities simultaneously for maximum benefit.
The Way Forward
A multisensory approach to learning supports students, parents, and teachers by identifying the continuum of strengths and weaknesses of students and linking them to the instructional modalities that will help them learn best. While the variety of instructional methods may seem overwhelming at first, it’s important to remember that ultimately “your way is the right way for you,” as Dr. Warren says, and becoming a “more patient, understanding, and compassionate” person is a reward more than worth the effort.
At A+ Test Prep and Tutoring, our practices are based on the latest developments in educational theory and research. We have an excellent team of tutors who can help you with standardized testing, executive functioning, or achievement in any other school subject. If you want to find out more about our services, our Client Service Directors Susan Ware and Joelle Faucette can be reached at 215-886-9188.