Multisensory materials help children learn

July 27, 2021

Jennifer Orr, BEd ’95, is combining evidence-based research and entrepreneurism to help students learn.

The alumna established Eyewords, a company that engages students’ senses to facilitate learning.

Eyewords uses multisensory materials, such as pictures, verbal cues and learning through motion, which provides students with more ways to remember and recall information. In addition, tactile and play-based reading activities are used to develop sensory engagement and personal connection, which improves the learning outcomes for students. Orr explains that activating multiple senses simultaneously helps the brain’s neurons fire at the same time and they wire together to create neural networks. This means the brain stores and retrieves information more efficiently.

“When children are taught to read using multiple pathways to the brain – visual, auditory, and kinesthetic – they are able to learn more effectively than when they are taught through only one pathway,” Orr said. “The more senses we involve, the more learning occurs.”

The organization collaborates with a multidisciplinary team of educators, children of different ages and abilities, speech and language pathologists, researchers, and graphic designers to develop curricula. They also use research that Stanford University conducted on their materials and multisensory method.

“Our goal is to increase student motivation, confidence and achievement through positive learning experiences and to remove reading barriers for struggling readers,” Orr said. “We are deeply committed to developing evidence-based resources based on neuroscience.”

Orr is an experienced educator. She spent 25 years with the Thames Valley District School Board where she taught mainly the primary grades, including kindergarten, for 18 years. Throughout her career, she’s had a passion for children’s literacy. She left the classroom to join Learning Support Services in Special Education and she spent five years as a Kindergarten Teacher on Special Assignment building capacity among educators on the Kindergarten Curriculum, Universal Supports, Universal Design for Learning, and programming for students with special needs teams.

For the past two years, she worked as a Special Education Teacher on Special Assignment for grades Kindergarten to 12. In this role, she implemented the Behaviour Skills Training Model and the principles of Applied Behavioural Analysis to support students with learning and behavioural challenges.

Reflecting on her time at the Faculty of Education, Orr learned a tonne of theory but added there was a real spirit of collaboration among classmates, including sharing resources and co-planning. Everyone helped – and learned – from each other.

“The day I started my first practicum placement I knew I was home,” Orr said. “Practicum was both exhilarating and exhausting as all that theory came to life.”

Looking back at her teaching career, Orr said it’s the little moments that are most satisfying. In particular, she highlights one time when her kindergarten students heard their dance fest music during a field trip.

“They all just spontaneously and gleefully broke into choreographed dance in the middle of Fleetway Bowling – flash mob style,” Orr said. “When the music was done, they just continued bowling like nothing happened. None of them said a word. It was magic.”

As education moves into pandemic recovery, teachers will need to address the learning loss students experienced as well as racial and socio-economic inequality, Orr said. In addition, remote learning is a supplement, and cannot replace, in-school instruction. Orr said staring at a computer screen all day doesn’t benefit student learning or well-being. Instead, teachers need to be flexible to adapt to the demands of a changing world.

“The single most important thing you can do as a teacher to influence a child’s motivation and achievement is to build a positive, trusting relationship with them. Always start there.”