3.3.1 Multisensory teaching for students
Guyer et al. (1993) tested the effectiveness of the Wilson Reading System for improving spelling in higher education students with dyslexia. They compared this technique to a non-phonic approach that teaches visual memory techniques to help students to remember frequently misspelled words. A control group of students with dyslexia but who had specifically requested no intervention formed the control group. Both intervention groups were tutored in the given technique for two, one-hour sessions per week, for 16 weeks. Only the multisensory group showed a significant improvement in spelling ability at the end of this period.
What is significant about the students in the control group regarding (1) the ethics of conducting intervention studies of this kind and (2) the interpretation of the study's results?
There are normally ethical problems in excluding people from an intervention in order to form a control group. When this happens it is normally necessary to offer the treatment to the control group after the study has concluded to make sure that they have not been unfairly disadvantaged. However, Guyer et al. (1993) avoided this problem by using people who did not want any help for their dyslexia as his control group. However, this does raise some issues regarding the interpretation of their results because we do not know the reasons why this group did not want support. For example, the control group may have achieved less because they were less motivated to improve, or because their primariy difficulties had been successfully addressed elsewhere. In other words, an important factor to consider when designing an intervention is to use a closely matched control group.
As we have already mentioned, phonic approaches do not address the wider difficulties of visual or attentional processing, physical coordination or automatisation associated with dyslexia. There may be some individuals with no primary problems in phonological awareness who need programmes specifically tailored to address their particular difficulties.
Box 14: Definitions
Cognitive behaviour therapy: Involves observing the therapist ‘modelling’ the desired behavioural response to a situation, and the individual trying to copy that response and receiving feedback on their attempt. This behavioural rehearsal is repeated until the behaviour has been mastered.
Phonic approaches: An approach to teaching reading that emphasises the relationships between letters (graphemes) and their corresponding sounds (phonemes).
Reading Recovery System: An intensive individualised technique for teaching reading devised by Marie Clay.
Multisensory teaching: A technique that involves teaching children via the simultaneous stimulation of as many senses as possible.
Orton-Gillingham technique: A specific multisensory technique for teaching reading.
Matched control group: A control group that has been matched to the participants in the experimental group on various key characteristics.