Term of Art: Orton-Gillingham Approach

“Orton-Gillingham approach: A multisensory approach to reading, writing, and spelling born of a theory of reading disabilities devised by Samuel Orton, Anna Gillingham, and Bessie Stillman in the 1930s. Their approach was based on the idea that the brain stores information in both hemispheres; when the connection between the two hemispheres is not fully developed, individuals may read words in reverse.

People with dyslexia have the potential to be accomplished readers and adequate spellers. The ability to achieve this potential depends on two variables: the instructional approach and the amount of practice. The Orton-Gillingham approach to reading and spelling ensure success by developing multisensory techniques for memory and retrieval. This practical teaching technique emphasizes the reading-decoding process.

The teacher introduces the elements of the language systematically, and students are taught letter-sound relationships using all senses: seeing the letter (visual), saying the letter (auditory), and writing the letter (kinesthetic). In this respect, Orton-Gillingham differs from traditional phonics instruction. Once letters are mastered, letters are grouped into blends, and short, structured passages are used for reading and dictation, Infinitely flexible, it is a philosophy rather than a system. The student learns the elements of language-consonants, digraphs, blends, and diphthongs in an orderly fashion.

As students learn new material, the continue to review old material until it becomes automatic. The teacher addresses vocabulary, sentence structure, composition, and reading comprehension in a similar, structured, sequential, and cumulative manner.

At best, the teacher tries to understand how an individual learns and to devise appropriate teaching strategies. In every lesson, the student experiences success and gains confidence as well as skill. Learning becomes a happy experience, The Orton-Gillingham approach is appropriate for teaching individuals, small groups, and classrooms. It is appropriate for teaching in the primary, elementary, and intermediate grades, and at the secondary and college level, as well as for adults.

An Orton-Gillingham approach, while not the only program available, is probably the best-known for helping children with dyslexia learn to read. The fundamental principles on which it is based, including developing phonemic awareness, and suing a multisensory approach, are consider essential components in reading instruction today.

The Orton-Gillingham approach has proven successful with students who have struggled in learning to read and spell through traditional classroom methods, despite normal intelligence, hearing, and vision. It is the program most recommended by experts in the field of dyslexia.

Modern research has continued to confirm Dr. Orton’s theories about the physiological differences experienced by people with dyslexia. Early remediation is most effective; however, these methods have been successfully adapted for use with older students and adults. The result is the development of lifelong language skills and the wonderful feeling of success in the world of written language.”

Excerpted from: Turkington, Carol, and Joseph R. Harris, PhD. The Encyclopedia of Learning Disabilities. New York: Facts on File, 2006.

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