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Ask A REL Response

May 2017


Have multisensory approaches to teaching reading (VAKT) been supported by randomized trials, i.e. experimental research?


Following an established REL Southeast research protocol, we conducted a search for research reports as well as descriptive study articles on teacher professional development. We focused on identifying resources that specifically addressed the effects of professional development on teacher performance and student outcomes in K-12 education. The sources included ERIC and other federally funded databases and organizations, research institutions, academic research databases, and general Internet search engines (For details, please see the methods section at the end of this memo.)

We have not evaluated the quality of references and the resources provided in this response. We offer them only for your reference. Also, we searched the references in the response from the most commonly used resources of research, but they are not comprehensive and other relevant references and resources may exist.

Research References

  1. Barquero, L. A., Sefcik, A. M., Cutting, L. E., Rimrodt, S. L., (2015). Teaching reading to children with neurofibromatosis type 1: A clinical trial with random assignment to different approaches. Developmental Medicine and Child Neurology, 57, 1150-1158. DOI: 10.1111/dmcn.12769
    From the abstract: "Neurofibromatosis type 1 (NF1) is a genetic disorder with a cognitive profile that includes visual-spatial perception deficits and a high incidence of reading disability. There is a paucity of information about how this cognitively complex population responds to mainstream reading interventions. The clinical trial goals were to determine whether children and adolescents with NF1 and reading deficits (NF+RD) benefit from mainstream remedial reading programs and whether responsiveness varies with differences in program-related visual-spatial demands. Forty-nine participants (28 males, 21 females; aged 8-14y) with either NF+RD (n=17, 11 males, six females) or idiopathic reading deficit (IRD) (n=32, 17 males, 15 females) were randomly assigned to intensive remedial teaching using one of two multisensory reading programs: one with greater kinesthetic demands and the other with greater visual-spatial demands. Two control groups - wait-list IRD (n=14, 11 males, three females) and typically developing readers (n=26, 13 males, 13 females) - received no treatment. Repeated measures and multivariate ANOVA analyses compared each group's growth in reading achievement from pre- to post-testing. Treated groups showed significant growth whereas untreated groups did not. Comparing treated groups, the IRD group responded equally well to both interventions, whereas the NF+RD group showed a better response to the more kinesthetic approach. Results suggest that multisensory remedial reading teaching that emphasizes kinesthetic demands more than visual-spatial demands is suitable for students with NF+RD."
  2. Kerins, M. R. , Trotter, D., & Schoenbrodt, L. (2010). Effects of a Tier 2 intervention on literacy measures: Lessons learned. Child Language Teaching & Therapy, 26(3), 287-302.
    From the abstract: "Response to intervention (RTI) provides an opportunity to avoid long-term and sometimes costly intervention. The best models of the tiered approach to intervention are still under investigation. In this study, 23 first-grade students were identified as having below average reading abilities and/ or poor phonemic awareness through classroom-based and standardized assessments and then randomly divided into two groups. One group received explicit phonemic awareness training with the speech-language pathologists (SLP) and multi-sensory reading instruction from a special educator in conjunction with classroom instruction. The remaining group received exclusively classroom reading instruction. No significant differences were found when comparing results of classroom-based intervention to students receiving classroom intervention plus 16 hours of additional intensive instruction. Both groups demonstrated overall improvements in reading efficiency, including segmenting and blending. Implications are discussed comparing Tier 1 and Tier 2 approaches with children scoring below expectations using formal and informal reading measures."
  3. Labat, H., Vallet, G., Magnan, A., & Ecalle, J. (2015). Facilitating Effect of Multisensory Letter Encoding on Reading and Spelling in 5-Year-Old Children. Applied Cognitive Psychology, 29, 381-391. DOI: 10.1002/acp.3116
    From the abstract: "This study aims at identifying the effect of training in the acquisition of the alphabetic principle in 5-year-old children. We compared the effect of multisensory training of letters in visual, haptic, graphomotor, visuo-haptic, and visuo-graphomotor groups. For each training type, we contrasted trained versus untrained letters in reading and spelling tasks. First, visuo-haptic and visuo-graphomotor training improved letter-sound correspondence acquisition scores more than the other types of training, and this improvement persisted in the second post-test. A cross-modal transfer was revealed by the fact that scores increased after blindfold haptic and graphomotor experiences. Moreover, performance on untrained letters also improved, suggesting an indirect effect following the specific trained letters training. The results argue in favor of a facilitating effect of multisensory encoding on acquisition of the alphabetic principle. Practical implications for the prevention of future reading difficulties are discussed."
  4. van Staden, A. (2013). An evaluation of an intervention using sign language and multi-sensory coding to support word learning and reading comprehension of deaf signing children. Child Language Teaching and Therapy, 29, 305-318.
    From the abstract: "The reading skills of many deaf children lag several years behind those of hearing children, and there is a need for identifying reading difficulties and implementing effective reading support strategies in this population. This study embraces a balanced reading approach, and investigates the efficacy of applying multi-sensory coding strategies and reading scaffolding to facilitate elementary phase deaf readers' reading development. Sign language -- in combination with multiple visual, tactile and kinaesthetic coding strategies and reading scaffolding techniques -- was used to facilitate literacy and vocabulary development. Participants were 64 children, diagnosed with severe to profound bilateral hearing loss and aged from 6.03 to 11.08 years (mean age 9.37 years). Participants were randomly assigned to an experimental and a control group. There were no significant differences between the groups pre-intervention on measures of sight word fluency, word recognition, receptive and expressive vocabulary knowledge and reading comprehension. Results demonstrated a significant increase in reading and vocabulary skills of deaf readers who received the balanced reading approach intervention, as compared to the control group who received usual classroom instruction. The article concludes with a discussion of the theoretical and pedagogical implications these findings have for deaf children's reading and literacy development."
  5. Warnick, K., & Caldarella, P. (2016). Using multisensory phonics to foster reading skills of adolescent delinquents. Reading & Writing Quarterly, 32(4), 317-335.
    From the abstract: "This study examined the effectiveness of a multisensory phonics-based reading remediation program for adolescent delinquents classified as poor readers living at a residential treatment center. We used a pretest--posttest control group design with random assignment. The treatment group participated in a 30-hr multisensory phonics reading intervention over a period of 8 weeks; the control group received standard reading instruction. Both groups completed pretest and posttest norm-referenced reading measures to assess changes in reading skills. The treatment group showed significantly greater improvement than the control group, with large effect sizes. Participants with higher pre-intervention reading scores and those with a higher verbal IQ responded more favorably to the reading intervention. We address the implications and limitations of this study."


Keywords and Search Strings
The following keywords and search strings were used to search the reference databases and other sources:

  • Multisensory
  • VAK
  • VAKT
  • Visual, Auditory, and Kinesthetic Learning Style
  • Reading
  • Randomized Trial

Databases and Resources
We searched ERIC for relevant resources. ERIC is a free online library of over 1.6 million citations of education research sponsored by the Institute of Education Sciences. Additionally, we searched Google Scholar and PsychInfo.

Reference Search and Selection Criteria

When we were searching and reviewing resources, we considered the following criteria:

  • Date of the publication: References and resources published for last 15 years, from 2001 to present, were include in the search and review.
  • Search Priorities of Reference Sources: Search priority is given to study reports, briefs, and other documents that are published and/or reviewed by IES and other federal or federally funded organizations, academic databases, including ERIC, EBSCO databases, JSTOR database, PsychInfo, PsychArticle, and Google Scholar.
  • Methodology: Following methodological priorities/considerations were given in the review and selection of the references: (a) study types - randomized control trials,, quasi experiments, surveys, descriptive data analyses, literature reviews, policy briefs, etc., generally in this order (b) target population, samples (representativeness of the target population, sample size, volunteered or randomly selected, etc.), study duration, etc. (c) limitations, generalizability of the findings and conclusions, etc.

This memorandum is one in a series of quick-turnaround responses to specific questions posed by educational stakeholders in the Southeast Region (Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, North Carolina, and South Carolina), which is served by the Regional Educational Laboratory Southeast at Florida State University. This memorandum was prepared by REL Southeast under a contract with the U.S. Department of Education's Institute of Education Sciences (IES), Contract ED-IES-17-C-0011, administered by Florida State University. Its content does not necessarily reflect the views or policies of IES or the U.S. Department of Education nor does mention of trade names, commercial products, or organizations imply endorsement by the U.S. Government.