Unlocking Neurosensory Multisensory Learning: Strategies for Enhanced Education

Most commonly, neurosensory multisensory learning is used in elementary school classrooms to help students learn phonics and other core reading skills. These lessons are well-suited to the multisensory approach because they involve visual, auditory, and kinesthetic experiences.

This method of learning is different than the once-popular approach known as “learning styles.” A learning style approach tries to match teaching methods with children’s preferred learning styles—typically auditory, visual, or kinesthetic.

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1. Know Your Students

Many students come to school with a particular area of sensory learning strength (often called a “learning style”) that they relate to better than others. Incorporating multisensory techniques into a neurodiversity-affirming pedagogy can give students with varying sensory needs a way to connect with their learning in a comfortable, accessible manner.

These sensory experiences activate different areas of the brain, promoting holistic cognitive development and building neural connections to help students access their learning in diverse contexts. They also evoke emotional engagement and support memory retention, facilitating meaningful connections to curriculum content.

However, the “learning styles” approach can be problematic if it leads to labeling children and limiting what types of teaching methods they are offered. This is why using multisensory approaches like the ones described here, rather than trying to match learning to specific preferences, can be so beneficial.

Knowing your students can also help you determine how much scaffolding is needed in a multisensory activity and when to gradually remove it. For example, a student with sensory discrimination differences may need to be exposed to a number of textured materials before they can successfully distinguish between “b” and “d.” Scaffolding activities by starting with low-level sensory support and then gradually increasing it can help your students feel supported and engaged. This helps prevent feelings of frustration and teaches students that their unique strengths can be used to learn, too.

 

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2. Know Your Senses

The world around us is full of sensory experiences. From the sun shining through your window to the smell of your morning toast, these moments of input are hard-wired into our bodies and brains. They make up our everyday experiences and are the foundation for how we learn.

There are many different theories as to how many senses we have, with some experts listing 21 or more. Regardless of how we categorize the senses, the most important thing is that we use them to learn. Sensory inputs are transmitted from the body to the brain via cranial and spinal nerves, where the neurons in sensory organs process and interpret the information (perception). For example, when you taste a piece of food, your tongue is transmitting sensory data to the brain about what it tastes by means of tiny bumps all over the surface called taste buds.

We also have a sense of where we are in space, which is called proprioception and involves the movement of our joints, muscles, and limbs. This is the information that tells us where our left knee is when we’re standing up or how far to reach to grab a cup from the cupboard. This sensory information is gathered by proprioceptors in the joints, muscles, and skin, which send signals to our brain to help with balance, posture, and motor control.

 

3. Create a Learning Environment

As the brain processes information, it needs context to understand and retain new concepts. Incorporating sensory experiences into learning — such as smelling or touching materials to create association with reading material — enhances cognitive processing and improves memory.

It’s important to note that multisensory learning is not synonymous with the now discredited “learning styles” approach, which attempts to match the methods of online tutoring for ADHD students‘ preferred ways of processing information (typically categorized as visual, auditory, and kinesthetic). Instead, it embraces the idea that everyone benefits from engaging all their senses in order to gain greater understanding.

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Incorporating multisensory learning techniques into lessons for children and adult ADHD Sydney students should be done by deeply considering what the goals of a lesson are, and then determining which sensory experience will enable students to reach those goals. This may mean adjusting the way an existing lesson is taught or adding a sensory component to an already-planned lesson.

While it’s not always possible to incorporate all the senses into a lesson, multisensory learning offers a great alternative for people who struggle with single-sensory access or SpLDs, like dyslexia. The Orton Gillingham multisensory approach uses a combination of visual and tactile instruction to bypass initial sensory obstacles to learning, providing alternate pathways to comprehension and skill development. Whether it’s making letters with clay, showing how to count using number blocks or giving children verbal prompts to answer questions, this inclusive approach opens up literacy for all learners and makes learning more fun!

 

4. Plan Activities

When students engage their multiple senses to learn, the brain is stimulated in different areas, promoting holistic cognitive development and strengthening neural connections. These connections are more easily retrieved and retained for future reference than information that is only learned through one sensory experience.

Using multisensory teaching techniques, you can tailor your lessons to your students’ learning styles. Rather than simply checking off all the different sensory experiences in your lesson plans, consider the goals of each lesson and determine which sensory experiences will best help students achieve those goals.

For example, kinesthetic learners thrive in hands-on activities that involve movement and the proprioceptive senses. These types of activities could include forming alphabet letters out of clay, spelling words in the air (‘sky writing’), or utilizing Math-U-See integer blocks for nonverbal students. These types of activities will provide your students with the opportunity to build foundational literacy skills while still feeling engaged in a fun and exciting way that they would normally find challenging.

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Other ways to use sensory learning strategies in the classroom include providing your students with opportunities for collaborative work or individual pacing. This allows each student to explore concepts at their own speed, resulting in a more meaningful understanding of the content and less frustration. Additionally, formative assessments and timely feedback can reinforce concepts and help to support understanding.

 

Neurosensory multisensory learning offers a powerful approach to education, particularly in elementary classrooms where foundational skills like phonics and reading are being developed. Unlike the outdated notion of “learning styles,” which can lead to limiting labels, this approach recognizes and leverages the diverse sensory strengths of students, fostering inclusive and effective learning environments.

By understanding students’ sensory needs and integrating various sensory experiences into lessons, educators can promote holistic cognitive development, emotional engagement, and memory retention. Moreover, scaffolding activities and adjusting teaching methods to suit individual needs can prevent frustration and empower students to utilize their unique strengths in learning.

Recognizing the importance of sensory inputs in learning, educators should create enriched learning environments that incorporate multisensory experiences tailored to lesson goals. This approach not only enhances comprehension and skill development but also makes learning more enjoyable and accessible for all students, including those with specific learning differences like dyslexia or ADHD.

Ultimately, by embracing multisensory learning strategies and planning activities that engage multiple senses, educators can stimulate different areas of the brain, strengthen neural connections, and promote meaningful understanding, laying the foundation for lifelong learning success.

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