Does multisensory instruction support reading?

Reading programs generally feature many components, any of which could contribute to teaching literacy skills.

The Orton-Gillingham approach (upon which several popular reading programs are based) is highly structured, and emphasizes the crucial role of language in literacy instruction. It also often includes a multisensory component, which is the purposeful addition of various auditory, visual, and tactile cues to aid learning.
The purpose of this study was to examine whether that “multisensory” component supports literacy instruction. Over a six- to seven-week period, eleven 2nd grade students (half with dyslexia, half without) were taught, “letter name, sound production, word reading, and word spelling,” using a small set of non-English letters and sounds. Participants served as their own controls, participating in each a “structured language” condition, and a similar condition with additional “multisensory” components. The two intervention conditions were, “…adapted from Orton-Gillingham-based programs and followed a systematic sequential structured language approach.” They differed only in inclusion of multisensory features. These multisensory features included students:

  • watching themselves produce sounds in the mirror
  • skywriting letters with full-body gross motor movement
  • manipulating 3D plastic letters
  • using sequential finger tapping to mark phonemes while blending
  • finger-writing letters on various surfaces (e.g. carpet square, tray of sand)

The authors found that, “…both structured language and multisensory instruction had a positive treatment effect for participants,” but, “…there did not appear to be an overall advantage for either intervention.” The authors state that, “Lack of overall multisensory advantage suggested overall positive effects for both interventions were likely not due to the simultaneous multisensory input but to the embedded Orton-Gillingham structured language components common to both reading interventions…”
Schlesinger, N.W., & Gray, S. (2017). The impact of multisensory instruction on learning letter names and sounds, word reading, and spelling. Annals of Dyslexia. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1007/s11881-017-0140-z.