Reaching All Types of Learners With Multisensory Teaching

Posted by Erica Warren on

One of the most common issues teachers struggle with is how to accommodate the multiple intelligences and diverse learning needs of their students. With as many as 12 different ways of processing information, teachers can get overwhelmed developing a multisensory approach that accommodates the unique learning needs of each student.  
Happy students with a rainbow background
Luckily, there is a solution. Multisensory learning that uses multiple senses can engage students and struggling learners. A classroom teacher, educational therapist, or parent can employ multisensory instruction to help children grasp foundational reading skills, reading strategies, letter sounds, spelling patterns, alphabet letters, math concepts, and subject-based learning to name a few.

What are The Three Primary Steps to Multisensory Teaching?

There are three main steps to accommodate multi-sensory learning:

  • First, it is imperative to understand the different ways of learning or ways of processing information before planning your multi-sensory approach.
  • Second, one must consider a number of direct instruction strategies that can accommodate many ways students learn information.
  • Third, student skills should be assessed or evaluated using a variety of assignment options. Allowing students to choose comfortable ways of expressing their knowledge can increase motivation, attention, and improve long-term memory capacity.

Understanding the 12 Ways of Learning:

There are 12 ways of learning or processing information when considering multisensory learning. They include visual, auditory, tactile, kinesthetic, sequential, simultaneous, reflective/logical, verbal, interactive, direct experience, indirect experience, and rhythmic/melodic. Although most students can learn in some capacity using a single one of the 12 multisensory learning approaches, when more than one sense is activated and students’ unique profiles or preferences are accommodated, they often experience joy in the learning process and celebrate remarkable gains. 

What are the 12 Ways of Processing Information?

Below, the 12 multisensory teaching approaches are defined and 3 to 4 instruction suggestions are made for each.

1) Visual Teaching:

This method allows students to use their sense of sight to encode information or employ their internal ability to visualize classroom content.

• Seeing a diagram, web or flow chart

• Seeing an image

• Seeing a movie or video

2) Auditory Instruction:

This method allows children to use their sense of hearing to process information by listening.

• Listening to a lecture

• Listening to a debate

• Listening to a story or audiobook

• Listening to a podcast

3) Tactile Teaching:

This method allows involves teaching students to learn by touching or manipulating objects.

• Touching and manipulating an artifact

• Conducting a hands-on experiment

• Copying or tracing diagrams or tables

• Making dioramas

4) Kinesthetic Instruction: 

Kinesthetic modalities help students learn while moving or employing body movements.

• Role-playing scenarios or doing skits

• Participating in field trips

• Conducting interactive experiments

5) Sequential Teaching:

This method allows students to learn the material in a specific order.

• Breaking down information into a series of steps

• Making flow charts

• Placing events in sequence on a timeline

bring delight to learning

6) Simultaneous Instruction:

This method allows students to learn “the big picture,” or the overall message and how the detail are interrelated.

• Producing summaries

• Explaining the overall meaning

• Creating concept maps or webs

• Looking at a timeline to gleam the overall relationships

7) Reflective/Logical Teaching:

This method allows students to use their reasoning skills to solve problems and ponder complex issues.

• Brainstorming solutions to dilemmas

• Analyzing material or lab work

• Offering reflective writing opportunities

• Conducting discussions that explore a deeper meaning

8) Verbal Instruction:

This method allows students to learn information by talking about it.

• Breaking students into discussion groups

• Encouraging students to verbally rehearse their understanding of information

• Asking students to think aloud

• Meeting with students and questioning them about the material

9) Interactive Teaching:

This method allows students to learn information in the company of other people.

• Organizing a group debate

• Breaking into small group activities

• Conducting a question-answer session

• Meeting with students after class and answering questions as they complete assignments.

10) Indirect Experience Teaching:

This method allows students to learn from the experiences of others: vicarious learning.

• Learning from your others' experiences

• Reading a biography

• Watching demonstrations

11) Direct Experience Instruction:

This method allows students to learn through their own personal experiences.

• Conducting lab experiments

• Going on field trips

• Taking part in an apprenticeship program

12) Rhythmic/Melodic Instruction:

This method allows students to see patterns or pair melodies and rhythm to the information they are learning.

• Suggesting patterns/themes across course content

• Pointing out songs that address the course themes

• Bringing in a musical piece that reflects a time period and creates a mood

• Using songs to memorize content

Instruction Strategies that Accommodate the 12 Ways of Learning:

When you incorporate multisensory activities and multisensory lessons, there are a number of strategies that can be employed:

  • Create learning stations that enable students to pick activities, practice materials, complete handouts, and make projects that teach and reinforce new knowledge. Each learning station should accommodate multiple senses and address multisensory learning.  In contrast, you can also, create stations that accommodate each of the different ways of processing. For example, there could be a tactile activity station for phonics instruction or phonemic awareness with manipulatives and fine motor work, a sequential station that requires children to order syllable division activities, a visual station that allows Orton Gillingham instruction students to play with visual components, and a kinesthetic learning station that asks children to move around when learning their multiplication tables…
  • Step out of your own multisensory learning style and try other methods.  For example, struggling readers or students with dyslexia may require an approach that may not be your first choice.
  • Design multisensory learning lessons. A lecture, for example, does not have to be exclusively auditory. To name a few, visual, simultaneous, tactile, and verbal approaches can be woven into the lesson. Also, certain instructional techniques are naturally multisensory. For example, doing a skit is highly multisensory because it is auditory, visual, kinesthetic, verbal, and interactive.
  • Consider assessing the multisensory learning approach of your students so that you can tailor lessons to meet their needs. An excellent option is the Student Processing Inventory. This can be used to look at individual or class profiles. The manual is also packed with instruction suggestions, lesson ideas, and handouts.
  • Offer homework or project options that provide a number of multisensory learning activities. Say, for example, you wanted students to show mastery of a process. These could be the steps to complete a math problem, the plot of a story, or their understanding of a historical time period. In all three cases, students can select assignment options such as:
  • Create a timeline or sequence chart
  • Create a web or flow chart
  • Draw a series of images that show the steps and write a caption for each
  • Do a PowerPoint presentation that shows the sequence
  • Do a skit that illustrates the steps
  • Write a song that illustrates the steps

Clearly, multisensory instruction that uses more than one sense can be used in traditional or special education learning environments to reach more students. It helps to teach students by accommodating the diverse, multi-sensory learning needs of individual students. In addition, it will help you accommodate learning differences and make you a more popular, confident, and creative teacher. 

If you would like to see a video on the 12 Ways of Learning click on the image above.
Cheers, Dr. Erica Warren
Dr. Erica Warren is the author, illustrator, and publisher of multisensory educational materials at Good Sensory Learning. She is also the director of Learning to Learn and Learning Specialist Courses.

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