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What is the Orton-Gillingham Approach?

Orton-Gillingham, the oldest, and most respected instructional approach for teaching dyslexics addresses the gaps in an individual’s fundamental literacy skills with language instruction that is individualized, cognitively based, direct and explicit, diagnostic and prescriptive, cumulative, structured, sequential, and multisensory. 

Dr. Samuel T. Orton, a neuropsychiatrist and pathologist, was a pioneer in focusing attention on reading failure and related language processing difficulties. He brought together neuroscientific information and principles of remediation, having extensively studied children with the kind of language processing difficulties now commonly associated with dyslexia and formulating a set of teaching principles and practices for such children. Anna Gillingham was an educator, psychologist, and school administrator. Working with Dr. Orton, she devised methods of teaching these students based on the principles formulated by Dr. Orton, and she compiled and published instructional materials as early as the 1930s which provided the foundation for student instruction and teacher training in what became known as the Orton-Gillingham Approach.  

Principles of Instruction:

  • Individualized- Each lesson is planned to a particular student. Infinitely adaptable, Orton-Gillingham is a flexible approach rather than a “system.”
  • Cognitively based- Students think about what they are being taught and understand the reasons for what they are learning.
  • Direct and explicit- Concepts are directly taught, modeled, and practiced in very structured lessons. A student is never expected to know anything that has not been taught and practiced.
  • Diagnostic and prescriptive- The teacher is trained to assess a student’s performance and to use the information to adjust instruction to ensure that the instruction meets the needs of the student. In this way, elements of the next session can be prescribed on the basis of that child’s need, to strengthen his understanding and reinforce it.  
  • Sequential- each lesson follows a specific scope and sequence which provides the building blocks for learning the phonemic structure of the English Language.
  • Cumulative- As students learn new material, they continue to review old material to the level of automaticity. The organization of material follows the logical order of language, progressing from easiest to more difficult.
  • Multisensory- utilizes auditory, visual, and kinesthetic elements together to reinforce memory and enhance learning.

This comprehensive approach to instruction allows a student to enjoy a high degree of success during each lesson. If by giving each student the right kind of educational support, we can make a large contribution toward the solution of the problems with school failures and underacheivement.