Incorporating Multisensory Approaches in the Secondary General Education Classroom
by Harriet Fayne and Adele Weiss
A friend was teaching me to use a technique in Adobe PhotoShop Elements. He patiently
sat at the computer and demonstrated the multi-stop process as I watched over his
shoulder. After showing me the application several times, I sat in the seat and
tried to apply it myself. Surprisingly, I didn't even remember step one! Chris stood
behind me and walked me through the process while I executed the steps. I had to
manipulate the mouse, type on the keyboard, and drag down the menu at least five
times before I felt secure enough to transfer the process to my own photos on my
own computer in my own home.
Sound like a familiar scenario? It should. Many of us learn by doing, and so do
our students. While some are best at absorbing information after seeing it visually,
others need to hear the information before it is learned, and still others need
to manipulate the same information. Combining the use of multiple senses and multiple
repetitions may make the most sense for many people to get new information into
their memory banks.
While there is no definitive research on the use of multisensory approaches, teachers,
researchers, and clinicians have used multisensory methods of teaching reading when
working with learning disabled children as an alternative to traditional approaches.
These techniques can be described as the systematic use of multimodalities in teaching
vocabulary, phonological awareness, alphabet knowledge, and other foundations of
reading. The concept behind the technique is that children with learning disabilities
do not learn visual or auditory information in the same manner as typically developing
children. By simultaneously using different modalities or senses (visual, auditory,
kinesthetic, tactile) to learn new concepts, it is believed that the information
will be more readily retainedÂ–for example, learning alphabet letters by feeling
or tracing from a visual model while simultaneously saying the name of the letter;
modeling paragraph structure with Tinker Toys; or teaching speech sounds by segmenting,
feeling, and seeing the position of the mouth, lips, and tongue (Moats & Farrell,
1999). An overview of multisensory programs and contact information can be found
at Adult Literacy Reading Programs for Literacy Providers,
http://www.ldanatl.org/aboutld/professionals/adult_literacy.asp part of
the Learning Disabilities of America Association site. The site also includes a
list of several computer software programs and videos that can be used in conjunction
with multisensory approaches in the classroom.
Many of the techniques used in teaching information using multisensory approaches
can be incorporated into a general education secondary classroom and can be used
by the teachers in that classroom. Practical strategies for the classroom, categorized
under the headings "Classroom Environment," "Time Management and Transitions," "Presentation
of Materials," and "Assessment and Grading," are listed on the About: Special Education
http://specialed.about.com/cs/teacherstrategies/a/Strategies.htm. The author
states that "delivering an academic program to a room full of unique students is
certainly a challenge. Implementing some of the listed strategies will provide a
comfortable learning place for all students regardless of their academic abilities."
A how-to article (Lenz & Schumaker, 2004) on adapting instruction to meet the
needs of students who learn differently can be found at LD Online(www.ldonline.org/article/5629).
Incorporating multisensory activities in the middle school and secondary classroom
is an excellent way to reach students with disabilities or students who, for whatever
reason, do not learn in conventional ways. Content areas, such as science and social
studies, can be supported by a variety of multimodality approaches such as those
suggested at the Resource Room
http://www.resourceroom.net/index.asp. For example, activities for teaching
the periodic table of elements are described in detail at the Resource Room to Support
Content Areas: Elements and the Periodic Table
http://www.resourceroom.net/older/periodictable.asp. Other links will take
you to lessons that include ideas for activities, assessment, worksheets, labs,
and, my particular favorite, unique ways to memorize the periodic tables (http://www.chemistrycoach.com/periodic_tables.htm
using poetry, song, computer programs, and even apparel.
Science teachers and their students will also benefit from the multisensory approaches
to teaching biology, chemistry, physics, general science, and intermediate science
on the Science Education Resource Page
http://educ.queensu.ca/~science/main/mainconcept.htm developed by the Queen's
University Faculty of Education. Science lessons are broken down into "Concept Development,"
"Demos," "Tips," and "Labs/Activities.".
Helping Your Students with Homework: A Guide for Teachershttp://www.ed.gov/pubs/HelpingStudents/index.html
covers a variety of content-area topics and offers practical suggestions for getting
homework done. Suggested strategies make use of the visual, auditory, kinesthetic,
and tactile modes and are translated into "do-able" suggestions.
Technology opens up a whole new avenue for using multisensory approaches in the
classroom. As well as a tool for teaching, technology can be used as a tool to reinforce
learning. Some exemplary lessons that incorporate technology, as well as templates
for the design of lessons, can be found at The Knowledge Loom (http://knowledgeloom.org/gmott/index.jsp).
Working Together: Computers and People with Learning Disabilitieswww.washington.edu/doit/Brochures/Technology/atpwld.html
describes the use of technology for a variety of learning disabilities such as talking
calculators that allow students to see, hear, and input information. Concept mapping
software is described as a means of allowing for "visual representation of ideas
and concepts." This type of program lets students use color coding and manually
manipulate their ideas for papers.
A twelve-minute video in the preceding words twelve minute video
http://www.washington.edu/doit/Video/wt_learn.html highlighting the use
of computers can be viewed at a different part of the Working Together
site. In addition, a product list with contact information is supplied.
Strategies and Applications for the One Computer Classroomhttp://www.lburkhart.com/elem/strat.htm
provides a comprehensive list of computer usage that clearly demonstrates the advantages
of computers and the multisensory reinforcement of subject matter. Manipulating
sentences and words and using color text for demonstrating patterns and devices
in poetry are only a few of the skills reinforced by the flexibility of technology
that can be used when teaching students with disabilities. A more comprehensive
list is provided at the Strategies and Applications for the One Computer Classroom
Much of the available software is self-paced, allows for hands-on interaction, has
components that integrate sound and visual stimulation, offers practice and repetition,
and provides immediate feedback.
While some software may have to be purchased to allow students interactive and novel
ways to practice skills, many sites have free links to downloadable software, programs,
and games. A particular good site is Teacher Helpers
http://www.computerlab.kids.new.net/teacher_sites.htm. Here you can find
practice on-line for skills on many topics from math and reading to guitar playing!
References and Resources
Lenz, K., & Schumaker, J. B. (2004). Adapting language arts, social studies,
and science materials for the inclusive classroom. LD Online.
Moats, L. C., & Farrell, M. L. (1999). Multisensory instruction. In J. R. Birsh
(Ed.), Multisensory teaching of basic language skills (pp. 1-17). Baltimore,
MD: Paul H. Brookes Publishing.
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