Studies from the National Institutes of Child Health and Human Development have shown that for children with difficulties learning to read, a multisensory teaching method is the most effective teaching method.
This is especially crucial for a dyslexic child. But what does it mean?
Using a multisensory teaching approach means helping a child to learn through more than one of the senses. Most teaching in schools is done using either sight or hearing (auditory sensations). The child’s sight is used in reading information, looking at diagrams or pictures, or reading what is on the teacher’s board. The sense of hearing is used in listening to what the teacher says. A dyslexic child may experience difficulties with either or both of these senses. The child’s vision may be affected by difficulties with tracking, visual processing or seeing the words become fuzzy or move around. The child’s hearing may be satisfactory on a hearing test, but auditory memory or auditory processing may be weak.
The answer is to involve the use of more of the child’s senses, especially the use of touch and movement (kinetic). This will give the child’s brain tactile and kinetic memories to hang on to, as well as the visual and auditory ones.
An example will make this clear. The majority of dyslexic children experience confusion over the direction of ‘b’ and ‘d’. They can both be seen as a stick with a circle at its base. But on which side does the circle sit? A teacher might give the child a tactile (touchy/feely) experience of the letter ‘b’ by getting the child to draw the letter really large on the carpet. This will involve the child using their arms, their sense of balance, their whole body. They will remember the day their teacher had them 'writing' on the carpet with their hand making this great big shape, and can use that memory the next time they come to write the letter.
Some teachers purchase letters made out of sandpaper so that the children can run their fingers over the letter ‘b’, giving them a strong tactile memory. The thought of it sends a shiver down my spine!
Writing the letter ‘b’ in cursive handwriting on paper and with a big movement in the air puts a quite different slant on this letter. The letter starts on the line and rises to begin the down-stroke: there is nowhere else to put the circular bit but ahead of the down stroke.
Yet another way to give a strong tactile memory of ‘b’ is to make the letter out of plasticine, play-dough or clay.
A commonly used ‘trick’ to remember the direction of ‘b’ and ‘d’ is to show the child the word ‘bed’ on a card. This word begins with ‘b’ and ends with ‘d’, so that if you draw a bed over the letters, the upright part of ‘b’ will become the head of the bed, and the upright part of the ‘d’ will become the foot. You can draw a child lying on the bed to complete the picture. This gives a strong visual memory for the child to use each time the letter has to be written.
You can also show the child how to hold up their index finger on each hand, with the thumb and second finger touching, making the word ‘bed’, but without the ‘e’. If they learn to do this, they can make this shape discretely with their fingers each time they need a reminder in class.
The net result of these activities will be that a child has a visual memory from seeing the letter, an auditory memory from hearing the sound it makes, a tactile memory from writing the letter in cursive handwriting, in the air, and from touching the sandpaper letter, and a kinetic (body movement) memory from having drawn the letter really large on the carpet. Altogether a multisensory experience!
This tried and tested method has been used successfully for a long time, and its success lies in the fact that the dyslexic child is not limited to visual and auditory experiences but can make use of other areas of the brain in trying to establish clear memories of letters, words and numbers that are difficult to remember.
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