If I had to select one educational concept that I feel is most significant for teaching children with learning disabilities, I would say multi-sensory teaching. As I look back over my own journey with special education, I can identify certain years that were far less difficult than others. What was it that made one year better than the previous; why could one teacher make such progress, while others made none? What was so different in those certain years where our struggles were far less, his grades were noticeably better, he enjoyed learning, and years later, he can still tell me things he learned from that particular teacher. These were the teachers who were using multi-sensory teaching strategies.
What is multi-sensory teaching?
We learn from information taken in through our basic natural senses: sight, hearing, taste, smell, and touch. Statistics show that, for most of us, we learn best through sight and touch, and least through our sense of hearing, alone. Based on that information, the majority of us would learn best by seeing and doing; the teacher draws the letter “a” on the board, and the student practices duplicating it on their own paper. We show a toddler not only how the round shape fits into the round hole; we give them the toy and allow them to try it themselves. We provide books with soft furry bunnies that the child can touch and flowers that they can smell and they remember those lessons. When we involve multiple senses in teaching, children are more probable to retain the information. The more senses we involve in learning, the more successful the lesson will be.
Multi-sensory teaching strategies are very effective for everyone, regardless of age, but for children with learning disabilities, they are critical. Since these disorders cause varying degrees of deficits in the way the brain processes information gathered by the senses, teachers who rely on single or limited sensory teaching methods will not reach many of these children. Trying to force a child with a learning disability to learn through limited sensory teaching methods is a lot like handing a blind student a written worksheet and expecting them to perform equally to their peers.
In order to be a more effective educator for all students, teachers need to know a variety of different techniques. They should develop some level of awareness of each child’s individual strengths and have enough flexibility to altar lessons to meet them. Not every child has the ability to learn in the same way, regardless of our efforts. If we continue to provide lessons in those same limited styles, we cannot expect the results to change; the child will fail. No matter how hard we try, we can’t make a blind child see; likewise, we cannot make a child with impaired learning ability learn in a way that their disability prohibits. We cannot change the child. However, just as we modify the way we teach in order to enable the student who is visually impaired to learn, children with LD’s can be successful if we deliver the lesson in a way that they are able to “see”.
There are literally countless examples of proven methods for teaching any subject more effectively with multiple sensory techniques. They can be relatively simple, or more complex; they can use conventional means or more innovative methods. There is no wrong way to teach if it helps the student learn. Do not discount the effectiveness of even the simplest modifications in teaching.
For more specific examples, visit your local library or bookstore.