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Multisensory Learning May Be Just What Your Struggling Readers Need

Categories: Assistive Technology, Audiobook Library, Curriculum & Access, dyslexia, Education & Teaching, Learning Disabilities, Reading Strategies for K-12, Student Centric Learning

by Cindy Kanuch, Title I Reading Interventionist, Calhan Elementary School, CO

I’m a big believer in a multisensory, structured literacy approach, especially for students who struggle to read due to dyslexia and other learning differences, and I work closely with general and special education teachers to identify students with reading deficits and help them succeed. Here are my five tips for teaching students with dyslexia. 

  1. Don’t ask them to read to aloud.

  2. Give them more time on task.

  3. Don’t penalize them for spelling mistakes.

  4. Offer multiple ways to demonstrate knowledge. 

  5. Provide access to grade-level fiction and texts via audiobooks.

Over the years, I have noticed that struggling students have a very difficult time reading and understanding what they’ve read when they interact with printed text alone. Fortunately, we now have access to adaptive technology that can provide a different kind of learning experience. By giving struggling readers a proven reading accommodation that lets them access grade-level materials in audiobook format, you will improve their reading skills, build their vocabulary and background knowledge, and boost their confidence.

In 2013, our staff learned that our state test scores had dropped to the lowest range. Under the guidance of a new principal, we moved from Turnaround status to Performance status in a single year. This was a rare accomplishment. How did we get more struggling readers on the path to learning success? We began to use research-based reading practices with fidelity and incorporate human-read audiobooks—making subjects, like English, History, Science and Social Studies more accessible to students with reading difficulties. 

As an associate level member of the Academy of Orton-Gillingham and a Certified Academic Language Practitioner, I understand the positive impact reading and listening to a book simultaneously can have on students. I have used this multisensory structured language approach with students who have difficulty with reading, spelling and writing.

Building Reading Endurance and Independence

To build reading endurance and reading independence, I use The Learning Ally Audiobook Solution. This proven reading accommodation has made a profound difference in my students’ reading strength and stamina. 

Before access to Learning Ally, my students were limited by their skills to reading short, decodable “baby books.” Now they read the same books as their peers and keep up with assignments. I’ll never forget when a severely dyslexic student chose a thick book to read. He was so proud of himself. He had never attempted to read a chapter book on his own, but with this resource, his confidence soared.   

Legislating Early Intervention and Training

Mrs. Kanuch discussing reading goals with a student.I also believe in early intervention. My state recently passed the Colorado READ Act (Reading to Ensure Academic Development) to focus on K-3 literacy, assessment and individual planning for students reading below grade level. The Act requires identification of students with significant reading deficiencies and provides funding and training for appropriate resources and interventions.

This is good news, because most general education teachers are at a major disadvantage when it comes to working with students who struggle to read. These teachers have not received adequate training on reading science or the challenges of learning differences such as dyslexia.

Giving Teacher the Tools and Support They Need

While the Colorado READ Act is a step in the right direction, it lacks the accountability necessary to ensure that teachers receive appropriate instruction in reading science and that students are being accurately identified and provided with scientifically researched instruction and interventions, such as The Learning Ally Audiobook Solution.

There is still much to do and learn about dyslexia and other learning differences and making the right choices of how best to serve students. We must also do a better job of exposing teachers to the science of reading and neurological research on how we learn. One of my favorite books for teachers is Reader Come Home: the Reading Brain in a Digital World by Dr. Maryanne Wolf.

Making a Shift to Accessible Books

Children with dyslexia are often out-of-the-box thinkers, but this learning disability can rob them of time and self-confidence. Providing grade-level text in audiobook format allows these learners to participate in class and sparks their creativity. Making a shift to accessible materials unlocked more of my students’ learning potential.

Early in my teaching career, I knew I was onto something powerful when a child demonstrated substantial growth in his reading skills after I combined a multisensory structured literacy approach with instructional materials. We must help more students make meaningful connections to reading and overcome their feelings of inadequacy.

Multisensory Learning Can Be a Game-Changer

Readers must be thoroughly competent at decoding and fluency before they can accomplish deep reading and full comprehension. They need both targeted reading instruction to improve decoding and fluency skills and access to grade-level text. In addition to whole-class, grade-level instruction, my students receive individualized instruction to work on missing or weak foundational skills, and they have access to The Learning Ally Audiobook Solution.

By giving your struggling readers access to grade-level reading materials through audiobooks, you will improve their reading skills, build their vocabulary and background knowledge, and boost their learning confidence. If struggling readers don’t get the help they need, they’ll develop feelings of inadequacy and lose their passion for reading and learning, and sadly, many of them will fail to reach their academic potential.

If students aren’t learning the way we are teaching them, then we need to teach to the way they learn. For students with dyslexia and other learning differences, that means a multisensory learning approach that allows them to absorb grade-level content and develop a love for reading. Learning Ally is a reading accommodation that is proven to do just that. It might be exactly what your struggling readers need to read and succeed.

For more information on Learning Ally, or to request a demo, visit or call 800-221-1098.

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