The International Dyslexia Association (IDA) announced a two-pronged effort to promote research about multisensory structured-language reading instruction. In one part of the effort, IDA seeks to raise funds from corporations, organizations, and interested individuals in support of research efforts; essentially, it seems, IDA is creating a fund that will be used to support research activities. In the other part of the effort, and a slightly surprisingly candid one, IDA is expressly calling for tests of whether multisensory structured-language reading instruction is as effective as its supporters presume that it is.
Why do I say “slightly surprisingly candid one?” In “IDA’s Multisensory Research Grant Program: A Bold and Challenging Initiative,” Carolyn Cowen explained that well. She challenged IDA readers with this case:
How many times have you uttered the words multisensory structured-language reading instruction? If you are a long-time member of IDA or a seasoned reading and learning-disabilities practitioner, that mantra, or a version thereof, has rolled off your tongue countless times. If you had a dollar for every time you spoke or wrote those words, you would be rich. In fact, those words and the principles and practices they represent are so ingrained in the IDA community, they have earned an acronym—MSL reading instruction.
Meanwhile, you probably cheered over the years as scientific evidence mounted in support of reading instruction that explicitly addresses oral and written language components in an integrated, systematic, and cumulative manner. Very likely, phrases like evidence-based instruction also have become part of your lexicon, along with nearly everyone else’s in this era of No Child Left Behind.
Most members of IDA’s rank and file probably espouse both mulitisensory structured-language instruction and evidence-based education, particularly for students with dyslexia. Steeped in venerable MSL traditions, IDA and its members played a role in advancing reading research and in linking it to educational policy. As you probably know, however, there is no substantial body of scientific research supporting the efficacy of the multisensory component in structured-language reading instruction.
If that wasn’t enough, Ms. Cowen goes on to ask the question quite bluntly: “Can [IDA] raise the banner of evidence-based education in a campaign to promote structured-language reading instruction, yet overlook the inconvenient truth that our multisensory tenet lacks scientific evidence?”
To it’s credit, IDA is putting up funds to promote research about the efficacy of multisensory structured-language reading instruction. It’s a great opportunity for folks to propose applied studies of multisensory structured-language reading instruction. People may differ with Ms. Cowen’s assessment of the extent of the research base for multisensory structured-language reading instruction; some may consider it strong, in fact (see Kristen & Goeke, 2006, for example). Regardless of the relative strength of the evidence, there is surely room for additional studies, especially those that refine the knowledge base.
For more information, please peruse these IDA Web pages:
- IDA’s Multisensory Research Grant Program: A Bold and Challenging Initiative and
- IDA Research Grant Guidelines (note that as of 20110202 the link to the specific guidelines on that page pointed to a document for 2010, not 2011; I presume it will be updated soon).
For those who are looking for a starting place, here’s a review of one multi-sensory structured-language reading intruction program that will provide direction about current research and possible research directions:
Kristen D. R., & Goeke, J. L. (2006). Orton-Gillingham and Orton-Gillingham-Based Reading Instruction: A Review of the Literature. The Journal of Special Education, 40, 171-183.