For some young people, reading and writing comes naturally. But thousands of children are diagnosed each year with learning differences like dyslexia, dysgraphia, dyspraxia, and other reading, language, and auditory processing disorders. Many others struggle with learning difficulties that go undiagnosed and unsupported, often resulting in academic failure, low self-esteem, frustration, anxiety, and acting out.
Neurological conditions like Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADD/ADHD), autism, and Asperger’s syndrome can also make learning difficult.
In order to teach students in the way they need to learn, some of the best private schools in the country are utilizing the Orton-Gillingham approach. When used by a trained and experienced teacher, this approach can significantly moderate the learning and processing problems that stem from dyslexia and other learning disabilities.
The Orton-Gillingham approach was developed by neuropsychiatrist Dr. Samuel Torrey Orton and his colleague, educator Anna Gillingham, to remediate the language processing problems of dyslexic students. Their methods were described in Remedial Training for Children with Specific Disability in Reading, Spelling and Penmanship, a book that has served as a primary method of teaching reading and writing in schools.
This multi-sensory, structured language approach has improved the lives and learning of dyslexic students for more than 70 years and has been validated by studies by the National Institutes of Health and numerous universities. For many children, sustained exposure to this approach to learning has diminished or eliminated notable reading and writing problems.
Why has the Orton-Gillingham approach been so successful? In part because it is multi-sensory and simultaneously uses the visual, auditory, and kinesthetic pathways of learning to appeal to every child’s unique way of learning. Much more than a simple reading approach, the Orton-Gillingham approach teaches reading, spelling, and written language at the same time. Each lesson is carefully structured, introducing the elements of language systematically so that students’ learning experiences are predictable and orderly. As students learn new material, they continue to review old material until their understanding becomes automatic.
Starting with teaching the sounds that letters make, and then the sounds that make words and syllables, and the words that make sentences and then paragraphs and stories, language is taught from the simple to the more challenging. Students begin with the concrete and progress to understanding the abstract; from basic, regular forms to multi-syllable words and irregular forms as well as the study of Greek and Latin roots. Orton-Gillingham teachers offer instruction at the student’s pace, requiring comprehension of basic forms before moving on to more complex ones.
In the Orton-Gillingham approach, students learn phonics (the alphabetic symbol-to-sound and sound-to-symbol relationships) and follow a careful learning sequence. In addition to copying a letter down, students are asked to speak it aloud and visualize the letter drawn in the air, reinforcing their memory of the letter or word.