Tuesday, November 22, 2016

The Top 5 Reasons To Incorporate Multisensory Learning in the Classroom

At the most basic level, we process information through all of our five senses: sight, touch, taste, hearing, and smell. Not only that, but we all have differing learning styles that rely heavily on one or a few of these senses to help us distill information. So why do so many classrooms only involve the “lecture” style of teaching, where an instructor stands at the front of the class, relaying information to rows of students sitting in desks silently? It's no wonder that students are struggling to formulate accurate answers, sentences, and essays, and find themselves totally unprepared for higher education. Thankfully, there is a different approach that looks at learning from a holistic sensory approach: multisensory education. There are a myriad of reasons why multisensory learning is a valuable way to learn; here, we have narrowed it down to the top 5:

  1. Multisensory learning creates multiple ways to make connections and learn concepts.
    If you wanted to learn how to play a musical instrument or a sport, you couldn't just master it by listening to or watching someone playing it. You have to practice. Learning concepts by multisensory instruction uses the same principle. For instance, to assist with spelling, teachers can write out blanks for each letter of a word to help students visualize how many letters are in that word. This technique also slows down the thinking process so that students really focus on learning how to spell the word correctly, encourages learners to utilize spelling concepts such as blend placement, and praises students when they identify correct letters within a word, instead of just telling them they have wrongly spelled the word. Multisensory learning can be used to help in all subject areas. The Wilson Reading System helps struggling readers by using“sound-tapping”, where students tap out each sound of a word with their fingers and thumbs to help them break the words down. Manipulatives such as interlocking cubes and shape blocks aid in learning math, as these tools give learners a visual representation of the problem being solved. Multisensory learning works because it tackles learning concepts from every angle. 
  2. Multisensory learning is a diverse method of instruction, which will reach a wide range of learners.
    Each student has their own unique learning style, which incorporates their sensory strengths. By blending all five senses, multisensory instruction allows students to tap into these areas of sensory strength in order to learn. This will aid in increasing retention of information and overall understanding of material. For example, if a student is an auditory learner, and they are allowed to read problems out loud, their success rate will increase. Another example is using dioramas to teach history. This method will appeal most to tactile and visual learners. These learners will digest much more information by creating a diorama of the Revolutionary War instead of just reading about it in a textbook. In many cases, they can even come to love the subject matter! This diverse teaching method creates true, deeply rooted learning, not just superficial “test passing” memorization of facts and figures. Constructing a strong foundation of the subject matter through multisensory teaching will build a bridge to further learning in college and into students' career fields.

  3. Multisensory learning is interesting, and therefore creates motivation to learn.
    Which sounds more engaging: reading a subtraction problem where 5 apples are subtracted from 7 apples, or taking actual apples, and having students separate them out in order to create the problem themselves, as well as try other variations of math problems with the fruit? It is obvious that the second choice would appeal to the majority of learners, and they could have a tasty snack after the lesson is finished! Interest in the subject matter encourages students to pay attention, focus, and invest in their learning. This will inevitably bring up test scores and grade point averages...but more importantly, it will mean that pupils are becoming passionate about learning. Students who once thought certain subjects were “boring” or “useless”, once participating in multisensory learning, will come to enjoy the material and remember key concepts that will be useful in the future. In many cases, students who thought they were not good at a certain subject were pleasantly surprised to find that they were, in fact, great at the subject once a teacher implemented multisensory techniques to teach the material. If every instructor shifted their teaching style to add in multisensory elements, how many students' career paths would be altered forever toward something they discovered a passion for- that beforehand, they thought they could never excel in? It's exciting to think about! 
  4. Multisensory learning is a key element in helping students with “attention” and “behavioral” issues.
    For students with learning differences such as ADHD, it’s difficult to only listen or to only read. In many articles (like this one), doctors explain that children who have learning difficulties thrive with multisensory learning because they need more than one pathway in the brain activated in order to understand the material at hand. For example, reading along as a passage is read to them can help students comprehend the material better, not only because they aren’t struggling with pace, pronunciation, and punctuation, but also because their auditory and visual senses are engaging with the material at the same time. For many children, it’s also a matter of getting enough excess energy out to focus. At SpiderSmart, we often let the students stand up at their desks, rather than sit, because the freedom to move actually helps them become less distracted. But multisensory learning is not just for special cases- it’s good for ALL children to be intrigued and excited by work that engages them in more than one way. 
  5. Multisensory learning helps students develop verbal and non-verbal problem-solving skills.
    Teaching students to untangle problems in a variety of ways ensures that there will be something of value in their mental toolbox no matter what. Multisensory learning develops these critical thinking skills by encouraging students to build relationships between new information and things they already know. Encouraging students to ask questions about a new concept and explore it, rather than just asking whether they know it or not, allows students to develop a pathway to understanding. When presented with a problem, which they will be time-and-time again in this every-changing world, students need to understand that asking questions might lead them to information that they already have, and unlock part of the problem at hand!

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