The Windward School Dee McKechnie

Multisensory Reading Instruction (MRI) is proven effective for all early readers and is fundamentally essential for struggling readers.

Ms. Dee McKechnie, a faculty member of The Windward Institute and lower school teacher at The Windward School, discusses her experience teaching the course and applying the pedagogy/ curriculum in her own classroom.

1) What are the key components of Multisensory Reading Instruction (MRI)?

MRI is a scientifically based instructional methodology for teaching reading. The key components are:

  • Explicit, direct instruction of phonics
    We directly teach students what they need to know. The sounds of the letters are taught in isolation and blended to form words. MRI teaches students how to sound out unfamiliar words by providing explicit instruction in how the sounds are represented in syllables and words.

  • Multisensory:
    A multisensory approach is one in which the visual, auditory and kinesthetic modalities are all trained simultaneously, meaning children learn to say the sound and write the letter when shown the graphic symbol. When they hear a phoneme, they are able to associate the graphic symbol and motor pattern with that phoneme.

  • Sequential and diagnostic
    We start from the simplest units of language and progress to the more complex.  Students learn to use individual sounds to build words, syllables and sentences in a systematic hierarchy. The curriculum and instructional pedagogy are diagnostic, meaning teachers deliberately assess students and teach skills that appropriately match student needs. Repetition and reinforcement of skills may be applicable.

  • Integration of reading and spelling
    The students use phonemes to decode (read) and encode (spell) the same material within the same lesson, integrating reading and spelling so that they reinforce one another. We teach reading and spelling together because they both deal with the coding of oral language.

  • Decoding text
    MRI relies on decodable text in which a high percentage of the words conform to letter-sound correspondences that have been taught. Decodable text allows word analysis skills to be consistently applied and includes lists of words, phrases, and sentences. Students practice their decoding skills as well as build automaticity, and fluency.

  • Monitored oral reading
    During reading, students read aloud and receive immediate feedback from a trained teacher and all mistakes are corrected. This prevents students from guessing and they are encouraged to use the appropriate strategies for decoding. Oral reading also aims to build word reading automaticity, fluency, and reading comprehension skills.

"Brain research has proven that the structures of the brains in young struggling readers change after experiencing effective reading instruction/intervention.

2) Why is Multisensory Reading Instruction effective for all readers and specifically, readers with difficulties and disabilities?

  • MRI is essential for struggling readers.
    Research has shown that MRI is essential for readers with difficulties and disabilities. Brain research has proven that the structures of the brains in young struggling readers change after experiencing effective reading instruction/intervention.

  • MRI benefits all readers.
    MRI is beneficial for all readers. In addition, it prevents reading problems in students who do not have identified disabilities but nevertheless struggle to learn to read. In the 2019 Community Lecture, Devin Kearns, PhD, noted that many students who have underlying deficits have brains that don’t look like the way they are supposed to because they haven’t benefited from good reading instruction.  Other research has shown that good readers rely on the strategies to break down sounds in syllables as opposed to relying on pictures or visual cues. As Phyllis Bertin, the creator of the PAF Reading Program, always says, ‘it is better to start with good instruction than have to provide intervention.’ MRI is simply good instruction for all learning readers.

  • MRI improves reading and spelling, benefiting both reading and writing.
    Students who have been explicitly taught phonics have a better understanding of the structure of words, so they read more automatically and accurately which improves comprehension. If students can spell words easily, they focus on the more important components of writing (ie. planning, development of ideas). I used to work with older students who regularly complained that their writing was not reflective of their ideas simply because they couldn’t spell the words wanted to use.

3) How has teaching the course in Multisensory Reading Instruction helped you in your own classroom? (i.e. how has it helped your sense of agency/ skills etc.)

Teaching the MRI course has definitely given me a much greater appreciation for the program and thorough understanding of the importance of each component of the lesson and how it works as a whole.

In terms of delivering the lesson in the classroom, it has helped me better support my students.  For example, explicit instruction has helped me use less language but more precise language when introducing new material. Additionally, understanding theory is extremely helpful for any teacher, as it explains the “why” a program is as important as how to implement it in a classroom.

"Honestly, the most rewarding and favorite part of my job is when students who have not succeeded in previous schools begin to view themselves as successful readers."

4) What is your favorite part of a multisensory reading lesson?

I love skywriting! It’s such a brilliant way to start the lesson and review previously taught material. Honestly, the most rewarding and favorite part of my job is when students who have not succeeded in previous schools begin to view themselves as successful readers. I am not an overly emotional person, but last year, after we finished reading our first reader (decodable text), we had a celebratory lunch. The students were so proud of themselves, it brought tears to my eyes! They might not be able to articulate it, but every child who is a struggling reader is very aware that reading has not come easily to them in the past.  Every child deserves effective, evidence-based reading instruction and to be taught by a trained teacher. And every teacher deserves to learn about MRI to be more effective with their students!

"Every child deserves effective, evidence-based reading instruction and to be taught by a trained teacher."