Blaze New Paths to Understanding

Using brain-based, multi-sensory intervention methods

We ask our students to meet education standards every day. While some students respond easily to initial instruction, others need different tools to meet the same standards. As educators, we're challenged to respond to these learning differences, keep our eye on the standards and find ways to teach every student.

So how do we reach those students who don't respond to initial instruction? We can't just try again using the same methods. We must find new intervention paths: new approaches, unique resources and lots of fresh instructional methods. One tactic is to tap into students' various senses to engage them and blaze new paths to understanding. Try adding these multi-sensory ideas, and related tools, to your intervention program:

  • Hands on! Foundational learning starts with the fingers. Many children benefit from visuals and also crave tactile stimulation. Manipulatives can help you reach children on both fronts. For example, students who struggle with handwriting may find success through using letter manipulatives to build words or by using word manipulatives to build sentences. And, if those manipulatives are color coded, the visual cues may help children recognize spelling or sentence patterns, too.

  • Move it! Sure, large muscle movements stimulate the brain by increasing the flow of blood and oxygen. But did you know that movements that cross the midline, such as crawling and climbing, are especially amazing? That's because they stimulate both sides of the brain. Get students down on the floor! They can:
    • Play mat games and use activity mats that target all kinds of literacy and math skills.
    • Do giant word sorts on rolls of paper spread out on the floor.
    • Crawl as they practice counting by tens.
    • Pretend to climb an imaginary ladder while spelling words or reciting math facts.

  • Rock & roll to remember! Research has indicated that musical intelligence may be the first to develop and that it continues to flourish throughout our lives. You can have students make or listen to music to create those synapses! Here are a few ideas:
    • Do some downloading! The Internet gives us access to unlimited jingles that can stimulate dendrites.
    • Have students who love to perform use a USB recorder to capture their voices as they sing upbeat educational chants. Then, replay the recordings to help the whole class build their skills in a fun way.
    • Remember that music with visuals, physical actions or manipulatives is even more powerful. So, encourage students to tap their toes, dance along or create colorful coordinating artwork as they listen. Or, how about playing clap games with a partner while chanting rhymes or alliterative tongue-twisters?

  • Visualize! Graphic organizers allow students to see connections and critically analyze data and concepts. Just as a coach uses a board to teach a play to athletes, students can use graphic organizers to make abstract concepts more concrete. Try using graphic organizers in these unique ways to help students visualize the key points and supporting information:
    • Introduce story webs, sequencing charts and timelines into the writing process/writing workshops. Each student can use information from his/her own piece of writing to fill out the organizer. By doing this, the student can double-check that his/her original piece of writing makes sense and includes all the right elements.
    • Use completed graphic organizers as prompts for discussions. Talk about facilitating some deep discussions!
    • Challenge students to create a new visual (e.g. poster, collage, drawing, painting) based on a completed graphic organizer. This requires them to analyze, synthesize, evaluate and create! Make the activity even more powerful by integrating verbal skills—have students present and explain their new visual creations to their peers.
    • Integrate graphs into basic sorting activities. We often use Venn diagrams for sorting, and they're great. But, what about having students tally up their sorting results and displaying their findings as data in bar or line graphs?

Brain-based activities are the intervention that allows all learners to succeed. To stimulate your students' brain cells, add these kinds of activities to your program. With the right coaching, exercises and equipment (multi-sensory materials), nearly all students—even those who are struggling—will have the best chance to achieve the success that they so richly deserve.