Spotlighting Jennifer Hasser’s Presentation on Multisensory Language Instruction

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by Maria Paluselli

Based on my experiences as a teacher, parent, and student long ago, I think I can say that learning grammar and completing practice exercises with punctuation is not a preferred activity. Students have shared with me that it is simply “boring.” It also can be particularly challenging for students with dyslexia and other language-based learning difficulties. Learning grammar, along with correct punctuation usage, is just not as exciting as making a volcano in science class or as rewarding as solving a difficult math problem in math class. Despite its ranking as one of the most unpopular subjects to learn, understanding grammar, especially how punctuation affects sentence comprehension, is a required component of literacy instruction.

Jennifer Hasser, Executive Director of Kendore Learning and Syllables Learning Center, offers multisensory alternatives that can positively impact instruction and learning for both teachers and students. Her presentation at the PBIDA conference on October 1, 2022, titled “Building a Rock Solid Foundation,” highlighted a variety of strategies that instructors can use to improve prosody, vocabulary, and grammar.  A better understanding of the aforementioned leads to improved comprehension and that, we know, is the goal of reading!

Hasser referred to specific skills, such as tracking text, use of prosody, understanding vocabulary, and application of correct punctuation when reading, as “building blocks” of fluent reading. For many who teach structured literacy to students with dyslexia, there is an emphasis and great deal of time spent on improving phonemic awareness and decoding and encoding skills.  Hasser introduced strategies that can be used with students simultaneously during decoding and encoding instruction, regardless of what reading skills they possess at the time. For example, she shared how to use Venn Diagrams to demonstrate the multiple meanings of words such as “bat” or “jam.” Another example is the use of hula hoops to engage young learners reading CVC words.

As learners improve decoding enough to be reading at the sentence level, many teachers and practitioners focus on “words per minute” to assess students’ fluency. Prosody, however, is a critical component of fluent reading and the Oral Punctuation strategies Hasser shared were both multisensory and engaging. Participants were able to watch, then practice a series of hand gestures that physically represent punctuation and capitalization in speech. Gestures include an “alligator’s jaw” by making a “zwhoop” sound and twisting wrists to indicate presence of a comma. There is an “eerp” sound with an outstretched hand when a period is present. This process is not only multisensory, involving visually, auditory, and tactile, kinesthetic modalities, but it is truly a concrete representation of an abstract language concept, that being punctuation.

Jennifer Hasser, like many, has used her experience as a parent to create solutions or alternatives to traditional instructional practices. These strategies, whether it be tracking text, using a “line and loop” process, or tossing a ball while segmenting sounds, all involve the simultaneous use of eyes, ears, voice, fingers and/or whole body. Punctuation and grammatical elements take on an active, engaging quality using Hasser’s approach and help students not only to learn but to enjoy the process.


Maria Paluselli is the CEO of Provident Charter School in Pittsburgh, PA.  She is the past Director of the Pittsburgh Children’s Dyslexia Center and past Chair of the Pittsburgh Regional Group of PBIDA.  She has worked as a consultant and Orton Gillingham Trainer for over 25 years.