The Reading Brain and Why Multisensory Learning Works

Here we all are, walking around with our own versions of a reading brain.  As a species, humans haven’t been reading for very long.  Oh, only for about six-thousand years or so.  According to evolution, that’s not nearly long enough for our brains to have developed one specific region dedicated to the act of reading.


Yellow and light teal background with white text: The Reading Brain and why Multisensory Learning Works. Photo of light teal book cover with white illustration of brain connections.


The Reading Brain

So how do we manage it?  How do our brains learn to read?  Fancy term alert, we use “neural recycling” to create a reading brain.  That is, when we learn to read we use multiple areas of the brain that already support other functions, like cognition, language, and attention.


The simple act of reading, then, is not so simple at all.  It involves careful coordination across multiple areas of the brain.  The four lobes of the cerebral cortex, several structures below the cortex, and the cerebellum all take part in the reading brain.


We don’t need to be neuroscientists to realize that with so much going on at once, any number of things can easily go haywire.  We can also see why multisensory learning can profoundly impact the reading brain, whether reading ability has gone haywire or not.


Multisensory Learning

Simply put, multisensory learning utilizes multiple senses during the learning process.  If we see a letter, say a letter, and touch a letter all at the same time, we engage multiple senses, and multiple regions of the brain simultaneously.  We might also choose to incorporate movement while we learn.  As strange as it sounds, even the sense of smell might help as we learn.


While I don’t typically incorporate that last one into my own instruction (perhaps I’ll rethink that), I have seen the power of multisensory learning firsthand.  It helps transform struggling learners into confident readers quite likely, in part, due to the neural recycling of the reading brain.


Even better, multisensory learning helps ALL students learn, not just the struggling ones.


If you’d like to improve a student’s reading brain through multisensory instruction, you might like to explore The Letter Sounds Made Simple Program.


Plus, since reading isn’t the only skill that uses multiple areas of the brain (math concepts, for example), see if you can add some new senses to whatever learning experience comes next for you.