How multisensory learning motivates young readers

Q&A with Vera Blau-McCandliss, Vice President of Education and Research, Square Panda
By: | September 1, 2020 | Thought Leadership

Vera Blau-McCandliss, Vice President of Education and Research, Square Panda

Why is it important that young students learn in a multisensory environment?

Humans naturally perceive their environments in a multisensory way. As we grow, develop and learn, we make use of these multisensory inputs to confirm and influence our behavior. When you try to cross the street, you both see and hear if a car is coming, for example. To apply that in a school setting and how students learn, there’s a similar principle at work. For example, when a student first learns how to read, they learn to match letters to sounds and written words to spoken words. That’s a multisensory task, because they are connecting the visual and language areas of the brain at multiple levels. Having more than one sense involved helps students to reinforce connections, enhance perceptions and maximize their learning.

How does early phonics instruction impact young students?

In its most basic form, learning to read is mapping a sound system onto a symbol system. Early phonics instruction helps the child to crack that alphabetic code. Once they can fluently match letters to sounds, they are well on their way to becoming good readers. Most adults tend to take reading for granted and think that it’s easy to learn. But from a neuroscience perspective, it’s a huge accomplishment.

What does it mean for a learning game to be adaptive, and how can that motive and engage students?

Decades of research have supported the idea that kids are more motivated to learn when the content is just right for them in terms of difficulty and pacing. Adaptive games can present the right amount of information at the right time, walking students down a learning path. Students need to be challenged, but the content needs to be in a zone where it is not overly challenging (which causes frustration), and it is not too easy (which causes boredom). Having content in that zone has been shown to be optimal for learning. This is why we make sure that our products are adaptive.

How can school districts support parents as they try to keep their child’s education on track at home during COVID-19 school closures?

I have so much admiration for how school administrators are adapting to this situation. Communication is so important. It’s crucial to make sure parents have the information they need to be good facilitators and understand the learning goals. Parents are asking, what exactly does my child need to know and by when? How do I know if they are on track?
Most parents understand there is so much to figure out and want to be supportive. Administrators are being so creative in this situation.

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