When I walk into a classroom to observe a teacher instructing students in reading, I want to see lots of movement. Movement shows me students’ bodies and minds are engaged in learning to read. For years, I have been a true believer in a multisensory approach to reading instruction for students with disabilities. A multisensory approach to reading involves engaging more than one sense at a time. For example, in most classrooms, you see reading instruction that focuses very heavily on one sense, sight. Students look at words and try to read the words. With a multisensory approach to reading instruction, you might see hands in the air “skywriting” and saying a letter of the alphabet. You might hear students spelling out loud, saying each letter as they spell the word and write it. You might hear students saying letters out loud as they write words in sand. They also feel the texture of the sand in the shape of the letters. All of these activities involve the engagement of several senses at once, visual, auditory and kinesthetic. There are several other activities and strategies to engage the senses during reading instruction listed in 8 Multisensory Techniques for Teaching Reading.
Of course it isn’t enough just to provide strategies or techniques for teaching reading. The National Reading Panel lists 5 components of reading instruction. They are Phonemic Awareness, Phonics, Fluency, Vocabulary and Comprehension. Phonemic Awareness is understanding words have sounds and being able to manipulate those sounds. Phonics is understanding that a particular sound goes with a particular letter or letters. Fluency is the ability to read effortlessly enough to comprehend the text. Vocabulary is understanding the meaning of words to help understand the text. Comprehension is understanding and making meaning of the text.
There are several reading programs that are considered multisensory approaches to teaching reading. LetterLand, Wilson Reading, Barton Reading and Spelling System and Lindamood-Bell (LIPS) Program are all considered multisensory approaches. When providing reading instruction to struggling readers, you can use a structured reading program such as the ones, above or you can create your own lesson plans. Lesson plans should be based on a structured sequence of introducing new sounds and letters. For example, most reading programs begin by introducing one or two consonants and a vowel. Students practice reading words made up of only those consonants and vowel. The plan continues to build adding a few more consonants and vowels each week or month depending on the students age and/or ability. Lesson plans should be built around a structured plan with rich language experiences for vocabulary development, phonics, fluency practice, teacher read aloud and comprehension questions.
Students who struggle to read or have a reading disability should have a structured reading program with direct, explicit, multisensory instruction centered around the five components of reading. A multisensory approach to reading instruction will help improve engagement and the reading skills of struggling readers.