Multisensory Reading Instruction

by Rachel Currie Rubin on April 5th 2020

Lily is a seven-year-old, first grade student who has a diagnosis of dyslexia. She has been learning to read using a multi-sensory phonics-based approach with an intensive, direct instruction, fluency-based methodology. Lily had progressed from significant weaknesses in phonological awareness and almost no letter-sound knowledge to strong rhyming skills and the ability to decode at nearly the first-grade level in the five months since she began reading sessions. And I need this on top

Rachel Rubin Reading Case

Learning goals

  • Demonstrate knowledge of previously learned phonograms (letter sounds) 
  • Demonstrate understanding of sounds by blending known sounds to read words 
  • Learn the /ch/ sound and demonstrate knowledge by decoding words with that sound 
  • Demonstrate increased fluency of letter sounds, decodable words, and passages 
  • Correctly spell sounds, words, and sentences using previously learned letter sounds

Keywords

grades k-2, specific learning disability, dyslexia, fluency, multi-sensory phonics, individual reading instruction

Transition to distance learning

Activities

Face to Face

  • Identify previously learned sounds using phonogram cards 
  • Decode words
  • Learn the /ch/ sound and decode words with that sound
  • Fluency: timing of sounds, words, and passages
  • Spelling: spell sounds, words, and sentences using previously-learned sounds
  • Play bingo

At a Distance

  • Identify previously learned sounds using phonogram cards  
  • Decode words 
  • Learn the /ch/ sound and decode words with that sound
  • Fluency: timing of sounds, words, and passages
  • Switching game (see below) 
  • Play bingo

Materials

Face to Face

  • Phonogram cards
  • Book with sounds, decodable words, and decodable passages (Maloney Method)
  • Timer
  • Whiteboard, paper, marker, and pencil for spelling
  • Bingo board and chips

At a Distance

  • Schedule with information for the family about where to locate materials/lesson components
  • Phonogram cards
  • Two books with decodable passages
  • Timer
  • White board and marker for student and for teacher
  • Bingo board and coins

Strategies

Face to Face

  • Teacher shows a phonogram card. Student identifies the sound (in some programs students also say a key word). Teacher makes words (real and pseudowords) using the phonogram cards. Student decodes them. Teacher engages in error correction as necessary.
  • Teacher models the /ch/ sound. This student required support understanding the difference between the /sh/ and /ch/ sounds in terms of how the sounds are produced.  
  • Teacher guides student through reading words with the /ch/ sound and then timed readings of pages of sounds, words, and passages. Teacher times each for one minute, and then does each a second time.  
  • Teacher says sound, student writes letter.
  • Teacher says word, student says sounds and then writes word.
  • Teacher says sentences, student repeats sentences and writes them. Teacher engages in error correction as needed. 
  • During the bingo game, student draws card, reads the word, and finds the word on her bingo board. 

At a Distance

  • Teacher shows the student the phonogram card over the video. Student identifies the sound (in some programs students also say a key word). Student reads words that the teacher holds up over video OR that are sent over email to the family. 
  • Teacher models the /ch/ sound. This student required support understanding the difference between the /sh/ and /ch/ sounds in terms of how the sounds are produced.  
  • Using the schedule, family supports student in finding the right place in the direct instruction book. The teacher uses her book to show the student where to read. Student decodes words and then family helps student turn to timing pages. Student is timed on passages, then words, then sentences. Teacher engages in error correction as needed.  
  • “Switching game:” student forms new words by changing just one sound. Teacher says, for example, “Change ‘mat’ to ‘man.’” Student says, “Erase the /t/ and put an /n/.” 
  •  During the bingo game, teacher draws a card, holds up the card, and the student reads the word, and finds the word on her bingo board, which was printed by her family prior to the lesson.

What worked well

Because Lily has materials including a book and her family has been able to use a daily schedule to support Lily in preparing the appropriate materials for each lesson, the transitions in the lesson have been seamless. Lily is able to follow her picture and written schedule. In our face-to-face lessons, I have been working on reducing Lily’s tendency to guess. She often looks to me to see if she is correct, and she occasionally requires redirection to self-correct. However, during video lessons, her attention is focused on her materials, and she seems to be a more careful, accurate reader. She occasionally needs support finding her place, but because her family has her schedule and can follow the lesson with her, they are able to support her when she needs to turn a page or find a specific word on a page.

As noted, Lily’s biggest challenges have been tracking and not guessing based on visual similarities among words, so I had to think about new ways to support Lily in attending to each word. Alternating readings (I read one word and Lily reads the next) helps Lily to track and to focus on each word.

I was surprised by

In a face-to-face session, Lily often rushed to write before saying sounds aloud. However, over the computer, I wrote on the whiteboard while Lily said the sounds and then the letters. When we played a “switching game” where I asked Lily to form new words by changing just one sound, Lily told me which sound to erase and what to add. “Change ‘mat’ to ‘man,’” I asked. “Erase the /t/ and put an /n/,” Lily said. This back and forth component was the perfect way to help Lily focus on the sounds in words.

Next time I’ll try

Lily has had to learn some new routines, and new routines can take time to build. Specifically, Lily needs to be more independent in following the schedule and finding the correct materials in her work area. Her family has been supportive, but the transitions have certainly been longer. In the future, I’d like to send the student a notebook with tabs for each section and laminated pages for easier access to her materials.

My big picture takeaways

With multi-sensory instruction, it is important for the student to have multiple opportunities for practice of individual sounds, words, and sentences. It is important for the student to identify, decode, and encode (spell). The online environment allows for multiple ways of practicing and interacting. The video feature allows students and teachers to interact with materials in similar ways to the face-to-face setting. However, since we cannot pass materials back and forth, it is important to find ways for students to have at least some of their materials so that they have practice reading words on a page rather than only across a screen. Further, it is important to incorporate a family member as a facilitator. Lily’s family does not need to know how to teach reading, but it has been beneficial to see how Lily engages in reading during her lesson, to observe the things she needs to practice, and most importantly, to see her successes and be able to reinforce those successes (if they choose) at home between lessons.

About the Author

Rachel is the co-owner and education director at Learning Solutions for Learning Success in Northampton, Massachusetts. She has worked in education for 15 years as a reading teacher, learning specialist, and educational assessment specialist. She has worked at the Williston Northampton School, CAST, the Carroll School, and Boston Children’s Hospital. She has taught psychoeducational assessment at Harvard Graduate School of Education, the Carroll School’s graduate training program, and Endicott College. Rachel has published articles on reading development and Universal Design for Learning, and co-edited a book on the school to prison pipeline. She has a B.S. in Speech and Hearing Education from Ithaca College and both an Ed.M. in Language and Literacy and an Ed.D. in Human Development and Education from Harvard Graduate School of Education.

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