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Schlesinger and Gray’s (2017) article on the impact of multisensory instruction on learning letter names and sounds, word reading, and spelling provides a very good example of the importance of critically analysing research.

In their abstract, they stated that “multisensory intervention did not provide an advantage over structured intervention for participants with typical development or dyslexia.” However, an analysis of their research design shows that their supposedly non-multisensory instruction actually comprised multisensory activities as per their own definition.

The activities carried out in the supposedly non-multisensory lessons included tracing over the letter being learnt while saying the sound (tactile, visual, auditory), sounding out each letter aloud and then blending to decode words (auditory and visual) and in a spelling activity the students were told a letter sound which they repeated and then selected the correct grapheme written on a tile (auditory and visual).

All of these activities meet my definition of multisensory AND the researchers’ definition of multisensory which was “activities that simultaneously engaged at least two sensory modalities”.

Interestingly the activities these researchers included in their multisensory intervention included skywriting and tapping next to the letter while saying the sound. Although tapping and skywriting are using different sensory modalities they would appear to have little relationship to the final activity of writing (a fine motor skill) or reading.

Unsurprisingly, both interventions (which systematically and explicitly taught phonics) had a significant positive effect and there was no difference between the two groups.

Take home messages

  • It is not sufficient just to look at the research findings, you also need to look at the research design.
  • This research does not provide evidence for or against the use of a multisensory intervention because in fact both interventions included multisensory activities.


Schlesinger, N.W., & Gray S. (2017). The impact of multisensory instruction on learning letter names and sounds, word reading, and spelling. Ann Dyslexia. 67(3):219-258. doi:10.1007/s11881-017-0140-z