The Orton-Gillingham Approach is a direct, explicit, multisensory, structured, sequential, diagnostic, and prescriptive way to teach literacy when reading, writing, and spelling does not come easily to individuals, such as those with dyslexia.
Samuel Torrey Orton (1879–1948), a neuropsychiatrist and pathologist at Columbia University, brought together neuroscientific information and principles of remediation. As early as the 1920s, he had extensively studied children with the kind of language processing difficulties now commonly associated with dyslexia and had formulated a set of teaching principles and practices for such children.
Anna Gillingham (1878–1963) was an educator and psychologist at Teachers College, Columbia University. Working with Dr. Orton, she trained teachers and compiled and published instructional materials. Gillingham combined Orton’s teaching methods with her analysis of the structure of the English/American language and with Bessie Stillman, she wrote what has become the Orton–Gillingham manual: Remedial Training for Children with Specific Disability in Reading, Spelling and Penmanship. First published in 1935/6, this work is updated and republished regularly.
What Orton–Gillingham Focuses On
Orton–Gillingham focuses on teaching kids to read at the word level. While it can help develop reading comprehension, that’s not the primary goal.
This approach uses multiple pathways to help kids learn. For example, students might learn the letter s by seeing it, saying its name, and sounding it out while writing it with their fingers in shaving cream.
Orton–Gillingham also puts a strong emphasis on understanding the hows and whys behind reading. Students might explore why the letter s sounds one way in the word plays and another way in the word snake. Once they know consistent rules and patterns, they’ll be better able to decode words on their own. Orton–Gillingham is a well-regarded approach to teaching kids who struggle with reading. That’s why many teachers use Orton–Gillingham-type strategies in their reading instruction. Having students walk around the floor in the pattern of a letter, for instance, is an activity inspired by Orton–Gillingham. Reading specialists use the approach and programs influenced by it more comprehensively with students who have dyslexia and other reading issues. Some schools provide Orton–Gillingham-type instruction through a student’s IEP or response to intervention.
What Orton-Gillingham Is
Language-based: The Orton-Gillingham approach is based on a technique of studying and teaching language, understanding the nature of human language, the mechanisms involved in learning, and the language-learning processes in individuals.
Multisensory: Orton-Gillingham teaching sessions are action-oriented and involve constant interaction between the teacher and the student and the simultaneous use of multiple sensory input channels reinforcing each other for optimal learning. Using auditory, visual, and kinesthetic elements, all language skills taught are reinforced by having the student listen, speak, read and write. For example, a dyslexic learner is taught to see the letter A, say its name and sound and write it in the air – all at the same time. The approach requires intense instruction with ample practice. The use of multiple input channels is thought to enhance memory storage and retrieval by providing multiple “triggers” for memory
Structured, Sequential, and Cumulative: The Orton-Gillingham teacher introduces the elements of the language systematically. Sound-symbol associations along with linguistic rules and generalizations are introduced in a linguistically logical, understandable order. Students begin by reading and writing sounds in isolation. Then they blend the sounds into syllables and words. Students learn the elements of language—consonants, vowels, digraphs, blends, and diphthongs—in an orderly fashion. They then proceed to advanced structural elements such as syllable types, roots, and affixes. As students learn new material, they continue to review old material to the level of automaticity. The teacher addresses vocabulary, sentence structure, composition, and reading comprehension in a similar structured, sequential, and cumulative manner.
Cognitive: Students learn about the history of the English language and study the many generalizations and rules that govern its structure. They also learn how best they can learn and apply the language knowledge necessary for achieving reading and writing competencies.
Flexible: Orton-Gillingham teaching is diagnostic and prescriptive in nature. Teachers try to ensure the learner is not simply recognizing a pattern and applying it without understanding. When the confusion of a previously taught rule is discovered, it is re-taught from the beginning. John Gabrieli, Ph.D., from the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology said, “If we can identify children at risk effectively very early, we know the literature supports that early interventions are most effective not only for learning to read, but we also hope in any discouragement the child might have about his or her first major educational experience. If you could identify a problem before it plays out you can support a child in a way that doesn’t make them feel defeated.”
In my personal experience with Orton-Gillingham it is an approach that benefit EVERY child in the classroom. Having a Dyslexic son who has been taught this method for a year now I can tell you it does work and I have seen measurable progress, but the trick is finding a school that utilizes this approach and more importantly tells you they have it. Some schools and school districts will not tell you they have Orton-Gillingham trained staff because Dyslexia is thought of as an “expensive need” and to be honest they just do not want to deal with it. Another reason is that even though its true that the Orton–Gillingham (OG) approach is well-regarded in the field of dyslexia there’s no research that supports the claim that it’s “the best” way to teach kids with dyslexia. One of the reasons for the lack of research is the fact that OG is an approach, and not a program of instruction.
Below are some resources I hope you find helpful
- Academy of Orton-Gillingham Practitioners and Educators
- Institute for Multi-Sensory Education
- The Reading Well
- Homeschooling with Dyslexia
- The Yale Center for Dyslexia & Creativity
In closing, my firm belief is that children do not learn by word and text alone and we must stop teaching them that way. Children are born explorers and once they hit school we do all we can as a society to make them sit still for hours at time and expect them to learn the same as the child next to them while maintaining individuality. This world is meant to be explored that is why there are so many different methods and ways to learn and that is what I love about Orton-Gillingham it incorporates all the senses. You, of course are your childs best Advocate but I hope I was able to shine some light on an approach that has helped my son.