BLOG > What is explicit, multi-sensory literacy instruction? 

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Significant research and expert practitioners state that learning how to read with explicit, multi-sensory literacy instruction is needed by 46% of our students. If teachers receive this training, all of their students will have a better opportunity to reach grade-level reading skills. But what is multisensory, literacy instruction? Peggy Price, Fellow of the Academy of Orton-Gillingham Practitioners and Educators, is a gifted teacher and teacher trainer, and has kindly agreed to provide Boon with a description of explicit, multi-sensory literacy instruction that is clear and understandable.

"Explicit instruction means the teacher never assumes a student will know how to read or write a word without being taught the structure of the word and how this word's structure fits into the greater framework of the English language. There is sequential order to what is taught based on what is more common and predictable in the English language to less common and less predictable. Multisensory literacy refers to the following acronym: VAKT. V- visual, A- auditory, K- kinesthetic, and T-tactile. We often think of reading as a visual task, but simultaneously utilizing multiple sensory modalities strengthens letter-correspondence, memory, and one’s ability to read, spell, and write. Initially developed by Dr. Samuel Orton and Anna Gillingham, multisensory instruction is the hallmark of the Orton-Gillingham (OG) Approach"

"In more traditional primary or kindergarten classrooms, literacy instruction may begin with teaching the letters of the alphabet and letters' sounds with varying degrees of sound accuracy. Teachers will read aloud to students from a variety of children’s literature and expose them to letters and sight words with the hope that children will learn to read and write through osmosis. Most spelling instruction relies upon memorization. There is little to no explicit instruction about the sounds or structure in our language that govern the spelling patterns and sentence structure."

"A classroom that utilizes multisensory instruction or an OG Approach looks very different. Children are still exposed to rich literature, but they are also taught systematically through guided exploration and the Socratic method of questioning how sounds are articulated in the mouth to provide greater kinesthetic feedback when learning letter-sound correspondence. In addition to being taught how letter-sounds are articulated, reading and spelling are taught simultaneously because learning how to automatically and legibly form letters strengthens a student's ability to read and spell. Students are shown letter "d" and then trace the letter on a textured surface, such as a salt-tray, while stating the letter-name, key word, and sound. In this one example, students are seeing a visual symbol, a letter, but are integrating multiple modalities: auditory- stating the letter-name and sound, kinesthetic- they are feeling what their mouth is doing when they make this sound (tongue tapping the roof of their mouth and vocal cords vibrating), and tactile- act of handwriting. This is one small example of how OG is multisensory literacy instruction."

Placeholder image"What I want to emphasize is that while our English language may appear somewhat irregular, in fact, over 90% of our language is quite predictable if we understand the structure and rules within our language AND how to teach it in a simple, concrete, easy-to-understand approach. OG is based upon the idea that children should not be taught to memorize word lists for a spelling test, but be given critical thinking skills to think about language. We are teaching to our students’ intellect. This is not about rote memorization or kill and drill."

"When students are taught in such a manner it leads to student mastery and improved self-confidence. If the ultimate goal of reading is comprehension and novel thought, we must ensure students can read effortlessly so that their mental energies can be spent on comprehension and are not bogged down with sounding out a word, or even worse, skipping or guessing words."

Explicit, multi-sensory literacy instruction is also the gold standard for remediating learning differences. The OG Approach was originally designed for students with dyslexia . OG works because this type of instruction teaches to the student’s strength, his or her intelligence, instead of rote memorization. Through diagnostic and prescriptive instruction (a teacher analyzes a student's errors in one lesson and incorporates this error analysis into the next lesson), students are taught to mastery utilizing VAKT modalities. Explicit, multisensory literacy instruction will benefit all students regardless of whether some have learning differences and some do not.

Whether in kindergarten or an adult, it is never too late to improve your reading and writing skills. The oldest student I ever taught was 44 years old. He began OG tutoring as functionally illiterate and through his tenacity he learned how to read and spell multisyllabic words. He began using text messaging and enrolled in an adult computer class, two things he had not felt confident enough to attempt previously.

Our brain remains plastic throughout our lifespan, but the older a child becomes, the greater the gap between his or her low literacy rate and his or her peers' growing literacy rate becomes. Not only do we need to work on closing this gap to bring an older student up to grade level, but that student has also missed out on years of being exposed to rich vocabulary, sentence structure, and content knowledge from books he or she originally missed. The amount of resources necessary to close the gap drastically increases the older a student becomes. Both common sense and the research clearly indicate the earlier we can intervene, the better."

Peggy Price leads the Orton-Gillingham Institute at the Stern Center for Language and Learning, where she teaches graduate courses and supervises teachers working toward Orton-Gillingham certification with the Academy of Orton-Gillingham Practitioners and Educators. The Stern Center for Language and Learning was founded and is led by Dr. Blanche Podhajski, who is a nationally recognized expert in language and learning.

Henry Sinclair Sherrill
Boon Philanthropy