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Everything we do at Lawrence is rooted in Orton-Gillingham-based, multisensory instruction. Our highly structured approach uses sight, hearing, touch, and movement to help students understand and make the connection between what numbers or letters/sounds represent. Beyond language and math, we require that lessons in all subjects, K–6 and 7–12, are presented in at least two modalities: visual, auditory, kinesthetic, tactile, or even smell and taste-related activities.

Our commitment to this style of teaching is rooted in decades of research on how students with learning differences best retain information. Through engaging multisensory activities, Lawrence students collect information, make connections between new information and things they already know, learn to work through problems, and use nonverbal problem-solving skills.


What is Multisensory Instruction?

Multisensory instruction was originally designed in 1935 by leading psychologists and researchers Samuel Orton and Anna Gillingham. They pioneered a program to help struggling readers by explicitly teaching connections between letters and sounds, along with systematic, layered phonics, and multisensory activities. This structured approach helped students break reading and spelling down into small steps and then build on their knowledge step by step. Students were required to master one skill before moving on to the next. Their philosophy was to strongly emphasize the how and why behind our language in order to help students identify consistent rules and patterns so they could eventually decode words independently.

As schools around the globe found great success with the multisensory techniques introduced by Orton and Gillingham, many well-known language curriculums were developed based on their philosophy. Their techniques have even proven very effective in the instruction of mathematics and other subjects. Today, multisensory instruction is considered the gold standard for students with learning differences.

Multi-sensory class exercise

Lower School Multisensory Instruction

What does Multisensory Instruction look like at Lawrence?

Lower School
Multisensory activities can be found in literally every classroom at Lawrence School. Some examples of multisensory teaching techniques at the Lower School, include:

  • Air or sky writing – Students write letters in the air as they say them, reinforcing the sound a letter makes through muscle memory.
  • Sand or shaving cream writing – Students use touch to connect letters to their sounds.
  • Sandpaper letters – Students cut letters out of sandpaper to retain touch memory.
  • Word building – Students build words with tiles or magnetic letters, using color coding to connect sounds with letters.
  • Manipulatives – Students use small plastic shapes to represent numbers as they illustrate mathematical principles.

Middle & High School
Examples of multisensory teaching techniques at Middle and High School still require the use of different modalities, but look quite different:

  • If students are working on learning vocabulary words, instead of using the dictionary to spell and define the words in writing, students are instead given index cards with the terms and definitions already on them. The task is for students to hand sort the words into categories, increasing comprehension and understanding.
  • Students might engage in a comprehension exercise that asks them to build or sketch a model of an important event in a story, or a writing and speaking exercise where students create a mock news report to summarize important details in various types of reading materials.
  • If a class is studying fractions, a fraction tower will be constructed out of blocks. Students will then divide the blocks evenly into sections so that they can visually see the whole, as well as the fraction (⅕, ⅖, ⅗, ⅘, etc.) Students will then draw the same tower on their own, looking for different fraction patterns within the structure they create. And finally, once the concept is understood both concretely and representationally, students begin to interact with number problems, applying the information already learned in the two previous phases. 

Does Lawrence utilize a specific multisensory curriculum to improve reading?

Our signature language arts curriculum, CodeBreakers, was developed more than 25 years ago by Lawrence School faculty. We use this program school-wide to improve literacy—students in our Lower School spend the entire morning learning to read, write, and spell, while Middle and High Schoolers benefit from CodeBreakers during intervention period if necessary. CodeBreakers uses multisensory techniques to teach the rules of the English language and phonics in a step-by-step, explicit process. Each concept systematically builds upon another. Phonetic segmentation is stressed throughout each lesson, giving students exposure to a “part to whole” strategy. Using the curriculum, teachers are able to take students through all the speech sounds and syllable types one by one. Our goal is to get students away from the guessing game.

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