A Multisensory Approach to Reading

A while ago a parent contacted me for help because her child was struggling with reading. He hadn’t picked up phonics in Reception with the rest of his class, and so now his Year 1 teacher wanted to send him back to Reception for another dose of letters and sounds.

His mother was concerned about the effect this would have on his self-esteem and also couldn’t understand how repeating a year of something that clearly hadn’t worked was going to help him move on. She asked if I had any idea for things she could work on at home with him that might help him progress.

My first thought was that if phonics lessons at school hadn’t worked at all, he was possibly a purely kinaesthetic learner. This line of reasoning was backed up by the fact that he learnt more physical activities easily: he had learned to ride his bike without stabilisers with no problems at all, and he was already quite accomplished at several sports. These were all things he would have learnt kinaesthetically. Phonics in school is taught in a visual and auditory way (see the letter, listen to the sound it makes). I know that some people claim that kinaesthetic learners are catered for because there are actions to go with the letters and sounds, but I’m a kinaesthetic learner myself and I know for a fact that tapping my arm whilst saying “a-a-a”, or holding a finger in front of my mouth to pretend I’m blowing a candle out whilst saying “b-b-b” wouldn’t have helped me to recognise either of those letters.

I suggested helping him experience the letters in a different way. He started getting to know the letters by using wooden ones (magnetic ones would do just as well) that he could pick up so he would be able to feel the shape of each letter. He explored which letters had straight edges, which had curved edges and which had sharp angles, and as he picked each one up we said together the sound the letter represented.

From there, I stayed with the idea of 3D letters but we moved on to making them. By using straws, rulers, pens, bits of string, blu-tack, sellotape, etc he was able to make his own 3D letters. With his mum he made some dough, which he fashioned into letter shapes and they baked them. Eating the letters afterwards brought in taste alongside sight, hearing and touch for a truly multi-sensory experience.

Now it was time to start relating these 3D letters to the 2D ones on the page. Again I wanted to bring in as many senses as possible so I used stencils to write out the letters on sandpaper so that he could trace his fingers over the rough surface to feel the shape of the letter. I drew big letters in chalk in his back garden so that he could walk around the shapes, and I got his mum and dad to take chalk to the park so that they could write even bigger letters for him to ride his bike round. Finally we looked at printed letters on paper. While he looked at each letter and we said the sound the letter makes, using my finger I drew the letter on his back so that he could feel the shape of it.

By the time we started looking at printed letters on the page without the additional extra-sensory support, he was so familiar with the shape of each letter that he was able to associate them with the sounds they represented without difficulty.

From then on his reading improved quickly and it wasn’t long before he caught up with the rest of his class. We avoided the knock his self-esteem would have taken by having to go down a year, and his confidence grew because he was no longer the only child in his class who couldn’t read. And that’s why I really love my job!

For maths and English tutoring in the north Birmingham, Sandwell and Walsall areas, visit www.sjbteaching.com. For links to other interesting education related articles, come and Like my Facebook page.

Related posts: Teaching the Times TablesA Multisensory Approach to Spelling  

This entry was posted in Dyslexia/Dyscalculia, English and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to A Multisensory Approach to Reading

  1. This is a beautiful piece! It is good that I came across it. Many people have issues with learning but can’t figure out the particular foundation that they missed. Well written and very enlightening!

  2. gsussex says:

    Great to read the develop the child made!
    That’s going the extra mile that perhaps some/many would not do or think of. As you say I hope many find the post helpful.

    • sjbwriting says:

      Thanks Gill. I appreciate your comment. I love working with under-achieving children and seeing their pleasure when they realise that they *can* do things.

  3. susankmann says:

    Wow this is incredible, what great tips and well done you. This must give you such satisfaction in your job x

  4. Lee Hoinville says:

    Thank you. I had a similar experience where I called in the parent and suggested such things as it was difficult to implement the intensity of what she need to support her 100% at school and her mum wasn’t sure of how to help her young daughter. They went to the beach and did great things in the sand which is a treasure trove of opportunities and it was so lovely when the mum came back to school so proudly and said their favourite game was drawing letters on her daughter’s soaped up back while she was in the bath and using shaving cream to write letters on the wall of the bath. That child really knows her sounds now and the mother knows what works to help her in future years. Parents are our best allies!

    • sjbwriting says:

      Hi Lee. Thanks for stopping by and taking the time to comment. You’re right – parents can make such an impact on their child’s learning once they have a few ideas to run with. Thanks very much for sharing some of yours – I love the idea of shaving foam on the bathroom wall.

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