Multisensory Math:  A More Effective Approach To Teaching Math

Written by Ms. Jones, Upper Team Teacher

This year, I’ve had an amazing opportunity to take both the Multisensory Math I and II classes taught by Marilyn Zecher from the Atlantic Seaboard Dyslexia Education Center (ASDEC).   These classes revolutionized my perspective in teaching math. They are designed to help teachers develop multisensory math instruction using the Concrete-Representational-Abstract Approach (CRA Approach).  This approach is based on the following teaching principles from Samuel Orton: Instruction should be systematic, cumulative, diagnostic, simultaneous, multisensory and explicit.


The CRA Approach emphasizes that instruction starts with simple or concrete concepts and progresses to the complex or abstract.  At the concrete level, concepts in math are first introduced using manipulatives or any concrete objects to aid memory. Manipulatives can be anything from blocks, goldfish crackers, pipe cleaners, or any objects that enhances a student’s engagement and ability to quickly grasps math concepts. From the concrete level, students progress to the representational or semi-concrete level.  At this level, pictures of concrete objects or shapes, as well as student drawings or illustrations, are used to aid retrieval of concepts. After sufficient practice at the concrete and representational level, students then progress to the abstract level. At this level, abstract symbols are used to represent quantities, quantity relationships and math operations.


The CRA Approach encourages teachers to think outside the box and become more creative in lesson planning.  It also provides an easy on-ramp for engaging students in math instruction. Starting with a hands-on, concrete experience is far more motivating for students to attempt difficult concepts than the paper/pencil/worksheet approach.   Since I started using the CRA approach, my students are more engaged, and the math period seems to fly by. As I become more adept with this approach, I believe my students will experience more success and enjoyment in learning math and other subjects as well.