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What is Orton-Gillingham?

Orton-Gillingham is the structured literacy approach that breaks down reading and writing English into smaller skills and building upon those skills over time.

The History

Dr. Samuel Orton was an American neuropsychiatrist and pathologist who pioneered the study of learning difficulties, particularly dyslexia. Orton asked Anna Gillingham, an extremely talented teacher and psychologist, to bring his educational ideas to life through developing detailed multisensory reading programs for students.

Gillingham wrote the Orton-Gillingham manual which included the systematic and explicit teaching of sounds (phonemes), prefixes, suffixes, roots (morphenes), and common spelling rules.

It is a remarkable reading system developed in the 1930s that still remains as one of the most reliable and evidence-based methods for teaching dyslexic students to read. This is due to the program's ability to focus on the core problem of phonemic manipulation, applying multisensory techniques and teaching in a highly structured way.

The How

Let's break down the Orton-Gillingham approach (OG) and look at how it is taught. This method is an extremely personalised teaching method as it recognises the individual needs of all learners.

OG uses multisensory techniques combining auditory, tactile, and kinaesthetic senses which engage students in their learning and help to build their working memory.

It is also diagnostic and prescriptive in nature, in the sense that our practitioners monitor the verbal, non-verbal, and written responses of students in order to understand both their challenges and progresses.The following lesson is then designed to help resolve any difficulties and build upon the progress from the previous lesson.

The OG method is systematic and structured as information is presented in an ordered way that indicates the relationship between material being taught and material previously taught. These steps are sequential, incremental, and cumulative and students can only progress after mastering each step along the way.

Student confidence is continuously gained and growing as they improve their ability to apply new knowledge about the learning process itself. Obviously with this success comes increased self-confidence and motivation not only during their sessions with us, but back in the classroom as well!

The What

Anna Gillingham's reading program that is linked throughout the approach has six content elements which are imperative for reading success.

  1. Phonological Awareness

The teaching of the specific sounds of language and the ability to parse or segment words into their constituent sounds is an integral part of the OG curriculum. Difficulty with phonemes is at the heart of dyslexia. When teaching phonological awareness our practitioners concentrate on the voice and the ear. Students should be able to distinguish and reproduce the fundamental sounds of the language.

2. Sound-Symbol Association

Students must learn to associate sounds with the letters (graphemes) that represent them. They must also be able to read the letter, make the sound, hear the sound, and then draw the letter to be able to represent them.

3. Syllables

Practitioners instructions must include the teaching of basic syllables and syllable division rules. Types of syllables include closed, vowel-consonant-e, open, consonant-le, r-controlled and diphthongs.

4. Syntax and Grammar

This includes how to order words in a sentence and taught explicitly through the study of grammar, sentence structure and good writing practice.

5. Morphology

This is the study of root words, prefixes, and suffixes with an aim to understand how words can be built up and manipulated to change their meaning.

6. Semantics and Comprehension

To read without comprehending is not reading at all. This is where semantics or comprehension of the written text is fundamental.

The 9 Orton-Gillingham Academy Principles are the foundation of the Orton-Gillingham Approach. Clinical evidence and scientific research corroborate these principles, they focus attention on the social and emotional wellbeing, personal strengths and educational needs of each learner.

1. Diagnostic and Prescriptive

Instruction is a dynamic, continuous, adaptable process of monitoring student work and giving corrective feedback based on the learner's profile and ongoing performance designed to promote accuracy and automaticity.

• Instruction is diagnostic in that the instructor continuously monitors the verbal, nonverbal, and written responses of the learner to identify and analyse problems and progress. This information is the basis for planning the next lesson.

• Instruction is prescriptive in that it contains elements that focus on resolving the learner’s difficulties and building on the learner’s progress noted in the previous lesson.

2. Individualised

Instruction is individualised to meet the differing needs of learners who may be similar, but not exactly alike. Lessons are customised to meet the learner’s profile, culture, identity and interests.

3. Language-Based and Alphabetic/Phonetic

Instruction is a comprehensive practice based on the structure and history of the English language that integrates oral language, reading, spelling and writing. It begins at the simplest level with phonemes (sounds) and the alphabetic principle (the relationship of sounds to letters) and progresses through complex word and text structures.

4. Simultaneous Multisensory

Instruction simultaneously utilises the associations of the auditory (hearing), visual (seeing), and kinesthetic (movement) neural pathways.


5. Direct and Explicit

Instruction is presented systematically with concepts clearly stated, modeled and practiced. Moving from supported practice to independent practice enhances learning and memory leading to automaticity and independent application.

6. Structured, Sequential, and Cumulative, but Flexible

Instruction is logically organised and moves from simple, well-learned material to increasingly complex elements. Lessons continuously spiral back to reinforce previously taught skills in an integrated manner. Instructional decisions require flexibility and are based on the learner.

7. Synthetic and Analytic

Instruction employs both synthetic and analytic processes at all levels of language; these processes are reciprocal and must be closely coordinated

.• Synthetic Instruction progresses from the parts to the whole. For example, when reading, the learner blends individual sounds, syllables,and morphemes to read words.

• Analytic Instruction progresses from the whole to its parts. For example, when spelling, the learner segments the sounds, syllables, or morphemes to spell words.

8. Cognitive

Instruction engages the learner in an active understanding of what they are learning, why they are learning it, and how to apply their learning in a thoughtful way. It encourages thinking and reasoning rather than reliance on rote memorization.

9. Emotionally Sound

Instruction builds confidence and trust by ensuring the learner achieves regular success.

Source: 2022 Orton-Gillingham Academy | Academy of Orton-Gillingham Practitioners and Educators| • W| www.ortonacademy.or

At DyslexAbility, the Orton-Gillingham method is employed for every lesson we teach.

All our practitioners are trained and certified to use the OG method.


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