Jeanne Jeup and the Institute for Multi-Sensory Education

Oct 16, 2019 by

EdNews: Jeanne, you were a first-grade teacher. How did your experience in the classroom lead you to launch the Institute for Multi-Sensory Education?

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Jeanne Jeup

EdNews: Jeanne, you were a first-grade teacher. How did your experience in the classroom lead you to launch the Institute for Multi-Sensory Education?

Jeanne Jeup: I just didn’t feel prepared when I started teaching. I was in a first-grade classroom and didn’t have the skills to teach children how to read. A quarter of my class were not readers and really didn’t have a support system at home. 

We also didn’t have a phonics-based program within our school. Some of my fellow teachers were teaching phonics, but they were teaching it behind closed doors.

When I graduated from college, we were taught a whole-language approach, and you were not supposed to be speaking of phonics. You were only supposed to be doing embedded spelling. 

The thought was: By reading to children and by immersing them in literature, they would eventually pick up on the proper spelling — and those things will come over time. Phonics was not something that was supposed to be explicitly taught in a general classroom.

So, unfortunately, that’s how I was taught at the university and how many teachers are taught. But as a child, I was taught phonics and loved it. I was searching for a balance — immersing them in literature but also trying to find a very phonetic controlled system that would help children learn how to read if they weren’t picking it up naturally.

After experiencing the power of Orton-Gillingham myself, I knew I wanted to bring a modernized version of the approach to the general classrooms all over the country. The modern classroom is so diverse and with children growing up in a multi-sensory environment, it only makes sense to teach literacy with a multi-sensory approach.

By incorporating multiple senses, teachers can reach a wider audience of learners. 

I wanted to create a training that offered much more than theory, and that explicitly modeled real techniques and practical ideas that teachers could use immediately in their classroom and start seeing results. Teachers leave our 30-hour, weeklong training ready and confident to start working with students. That was twenty-five years ago and I’m so proud of the impact our training sessions have had since that original mission was born.

EdNews: To this day, the IMSE brand is very rooted in supporting teachers. Do you think that, too, stems from your experience in the classroom?

JJ: I’m always trying to find easier ways for teachers to assess their students and easier ways to do multi-sensory activities in the classroom — whether it’s with the whole class or in small groups, in a special education classroom or a general education classroom. It’s just really about understanding what the teachers’ needs are.

IMSE trains around 10,000 educators every year and we take that opportunity to gather feedback, critiques, and challenges that teachers face in the modern classroom. 

No matter how long you’ve been in the system teaching, it’s always new children at the start of the year — sometimes 25 or 30. Class size and ability levels are going to be all over the place. 

That’s why I think it is vital to have an approach that allows you to differentiate students based on their needs and skills. We often hear from teachers that they don’t want to hold back students who are at or above grade-level reading. 

The beauty of Orton-Gillingham and IMSE is teachers will be equipped to help students based on their individual needs. 

EdNews: Orton-Gillingham has long been associated with special education classrooms. When you realized it could also be hugely beneficial to general education students, did you meet resistance? How do you push for a new way of thinking?

JJ: Orton-Gillingham has been around since the 1930s and was designed for children with dyslexia and neurological-based disorders who required a one-on-one system.

We were going into schools here in Michigan, knocking on doors, and had a lot of doors slammed in our face. The mindset was that Orton-Gillingham was for special education. We went in and said, “We can help your special education population, and we can give them the tools to learn how to read and to catch up and to really leave no child behind in terms of literacy.”

Early intervention became our big thing and ticket into school districts. A lot of children were being diagnosed in third grade as being “at-risk” or “failing.” 

So, we went in with the philosophy that in Kindergarten or pre-K, we can start helping or identifying those children who are struggling. We can try to give them a very structured and sequential approach to learning how to read — while also having fun doing it in a multi-sensory manner.

Once we saw how much the multi-sensory approach kept the whole class interested, we really honed in on that multi-sensory approach with the general population. We went through the back door, so to speak, having success with children in special education classrooms. 

A lot of the general education teachers were saying, “Susie is coming back from the resource room, and she’s doing amazing. What’s happening? … I want that training.” From there, it was a nice bridge to talk about Orton-Gillingham with all the teachers and administrators.

And what we’ve really noticed is those at-risk children are making significantly bigger strides when they’re getting a “double dose” of Orton-Gillingham. The surest way to help these children is by offering the same instruction in both the Gen-Ed classroom, where they spend about 80% of their time, and in their special education classrooms. 

We’ve seen so many students excel by using this “double dose” approach.

EdNews: You’ve grown this business dramatically over the last 25 years. What were some of the big decisions you made along the way that have brought you to where you are today?

JJ: It boils down to constantly believing in teachers and listening to them. We do a lot of evaluative forms. We do them every single day at our Orton-Gillingham training sessions, and we do a final one at the end. It really helps us evaluate our content, make sure that we’re hitting on those elements, giving teachers the support system that they need.

We’ve developed practice books. We’ve developed apps to support teachers. The practice books are going to be easy for them to implement. They can do spelling, writing and reading all in one place. 

We’ve created an assessment app, where after 10 minutes of one-on-one time, you can identify a student’s strengths and weaknesses. You can go on from there for the instruction. I think it’s been extremely beneficial for the teachers.

We’ve also found that a lot of schoolteachers don’t want to be out of the classroom during the school year, so the summer training months are a short window of opportunity for us. What we’ve done is find more instructors to work during the school years for their own schools — but then also be able to train in the summer so that we can increase our instructor model to really meet teachers’ needs.

EdNews : Where is IMSE going? What do you hope to accomplish in the next five to 10 years?

JJ: We do a lot with orthography and morphology, so we’ll probably do more in the practice books for teachers. They’re always looking for resources that can support what we teach them. We’re definitely working in that direction of supplying more hands-on workbooks.

As I worked with school districts across the U.S., I spoke with far too many educators who didn’t have access to paper or dedicated notebooks for children. Students weren’t writing enough, and there wasn’t enough data to measure advancement from the beginning to the end of any given school year.

The IMSE Practice Books are a one-stop-shop to assess the breadth and depth of what children are learning while giving students space to apply the skills you’ve taught them. Once children know four letters, they can start writing words. With nine letters, they can write sentences. Practice books offer reviews at key junctures to ensure children have truly mastered spelling, reading and fluency skills, and are ready to tackle the next lesson.

We’re also trying to set up more virtual training and consultations to extend OG instruction to people from rural communities, or even different countries, that don’t have the access or ability to come to traditional training sessions. We can go to them virtually, so we’re trying to navigate through that right now.

We’re hoping to increase what we call our district-training model, where we can actually have a trainer from their school who works for the district and can serve as a mentor and instructor right there on base. They would be the expert in their school.

Additionally, IMSE is holding its first annual Literacy Summit this March in Livonia, MI. The one-day summit will feature speakers, workshops, and networking. 

EdNews: You recently won an Ernst and Young Entrepreneur of the Year award for Michigan and Northwest Ohio. You were also recognized as a Notable Woman in Education by Crain’s Detroit Business. That’s incredible. What is your favorite part of your job?

JJ: I would have to say going and working in the classrooms. Working with the teachers, working with the children. I think that’s where I really learn the most about the challenges that teachers face, and I can really hone in on those specific skills and make those changes internally. It’s something I can give back to some of our districts; I’ll go in and support them just so they know that we’re here. That’s something I’m very passionate about.

I’ll do model lessons working directly with the children to show teachers: Look, we can do this with 25 Kindergarteners. This isn’t a one-on-one program. We built a movement.

I was doing a consultation with a school district nearby, and a Kindergarten teacher said, ‘We don’t do the workbooks. I think it’s going to be too challenging for them. We do everything in dry erase boards.’ And I’m like, ‘No. No. Let’s try it. Let’s see. I want you to try it out and teach your students to do something auditorily and then take it to paper and pencil.’ 

If they’re working on a dry erase board, the challenge is in the writing. And I went back probably two weeks later, and the teacher was showing me all these pictures of the children writing these words and being completely successful. She was like, ‘It really works. They’re doing amazing.’ It’s believing in the methodology and really pushing the children in a direction of success.

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