In this article, we'll dive into the Orton-Gillingham Approach for helping your child overcome the unique learning challenges created by dyslexia.
If you’re a parent of a child diagnosed with dyslexia, chances are you have heard of the Orton-Gillingham approach as a possible tool for helping your child overcome the unique learning challenges that the disorder creates. While all the terms and acronyms being thrown your way can be overwhelming, Orton-Gillingham is one you’ll definitely want to remember. You probably have a million questions about it too, all of which we seek to answer below.
First of all, what is the Orton-Gillingham approach?
The Orton-Gillingham approach was designed in the 1930s by Dr. Samuel T. Orton and Anna Gillingham, two highly regarded psychologists who created the approach to help students with what we now call dyslexia, but was then referred to as “word-blindness”.
The very first formal method for teaching children with dyslexia to improve their language skills, the Orton-Gillingham approach at its core involves breaking down reading concepts into their simplest form, individual letters and sounds, in order to build a strong foundation that can be effectively built upon. It also employs use of multiple different senses, touch and movement to help students learn and remember potentially difficult building blocks of language, rather than just sight and hearing.
To this day, the Orton-Gillingham approach is regarded as the gold standard, and is utilized along with other newer teaching methods to help students with dyslexia achieve academic success on par with their peers who may not face the challenges associated with learning disabilities.
How does it work?
Initially, as with treating any learning disability, a trained evaluator will test the child to see where their strengths lie, and where they see room for improvement. Once assessed, children are typically split up into groups based on their language abilities, putting children with similar weaknesses together to make instruction most efficient.
Going at the student’s own pace, the Orton-Gillingham approach begins with parsing out single sounds, and builds from there to grasping individual words. Done in simple, easily-digestible steps, the primary purpose is not full reading fluency, though of course reading abilities improve dramatically once children can successfully identify and understand individual words every time they appear.
The approach is taught in the same way no matter where you come across it, as it follows a specific order based on our understanding of how children learn language. Starting with connections between letters and the sounds they make, students then move on to picking those sounds out of words. In order to move on to the next step, children have to demonstrate that they mastered the previous one. If they cannot prove that they are ready to go on to the next step of the approach, the teacher will start again from the very beginning of teaching that skill to create a solid base of understanding. In the end, students should be able to employ all the tools they’ve learned for breaking down language into its core parts without relying on the teacher for assistance.
Another helpful aspect of the Orton-Gillingham approach is that it encourages students with dyslexia to flex their critical thinking muscle, providing the “why” behind sounds and word structure, rather than just expecting students to blindly memorize rules. This sets it apart from traditional reading education, making it an excellent option for children who may not have dyslexia as well.
Does my child require the Orton-Gillingham approach?
While nearly every child could stand to benefit from some of the tactics employed in the Orton-Gillingham approach, and might even find that it makes learning more fun with its interactive and nontraditional style, not every child with a learning disability needs to be taught in this manner to achieve academic success.
Certain children with learning disabilities might stand to benefit more from simple changes like allowing extra time for test taking or being allowed to use text-to-speech programs. Whether or not the Orton-Gillingham approach is right for your child can all be determined by getting your child evaluated, and creating an Individual Education Plan (IEP) best suited to their needs.
Where can I access it?
Once a child is diagnosed with dyslexia and placed with the proper educator for their needs, it’s likely that said educator will already plan to use the Orton-Gillingham approach, or has lessons that are designed using the approach as a foundation. You should not have to request it, though there is certainly nothing wrong with bringing it up in an Individual Education Plan meeting.
How effective is it?
The Orton-Gillingham approach, and the similar methods derived or built upon it, are incredibly effective at teaching language concepts like reading comprehension, writing, and spelling to children with dyslexia. This is why nearly 100 years after it was first developed to treat learning disabilites the Orton-Gillingham approach is still widely used in schools and tutoring centers today.
What are the alternatives?
While most modern methods are based on the Orton-Gillingham approach due to its simplicity and track record, some children might be better suited to a different learning style. This can be determined by working with teachers and special educators and evaluating whether or not Orton-Gillingham or its derivatives are working for your child. Other methods may be required for students struggling with math concepts, as Orton-Gillingham strictly deals with language.
Orton-Gillingham and beyond
In summation, more often than not children with dyslexia will receive some form of education that employs the Orton-Gillingham approach, or one of its descendants, during the course of their school career. It has withstood the test of time as one of the most effective ways for students with dyslexia to tackle reading, writing, and spelling challenges. However, if for some reason it fails to meet the needs of your child with dyslexia or another similar learning disability, there are other resources and scientifically-backed methods to help with language and math skills. It’s imperative that if you notice that Orton-Gillingham is not working, that you advocate for your child by bringing it to the attention of the child’s educator(s).
At Marker, we’re here to support your learning journey every step of the way. Whether you’ve just been evaluated or you’re looking to sharpen your skills, our experts are here to make a customized plan – just for you. Students are matched with a tutor who is certified and highly experienced in teaching students with dyslexia. Our tutors are highly experienced and certified in approaches like Orton-Gillingham, Wilson, and Barton, which build a strong foundation for readers of all ages.