Orton-Gillingham instruction starts with the basics, focusing on the phonics and structure of language. It moves gradually to weave the skills of reading, spelling, and writing into an integrated whole. Feedback is immediate, so students master skills step-by-step to achieve literacy and self-confidence and become more capable of achieving their full potential.
Personalized, diagnostic, and prescriptive: The focus is always on the student’s learning style. Students with dyslexia require more help than others to sort, recognize, and organize language skills, which need to be taught early, directly, and systematically. Teachers must be flexible and ensure that students understand what they are learning. If there is confusion about a previously taught rule, it is retaught from the beginning.
Multisensory: The method uses all the means of learning—seeing, hearing, feeling, and awareness of motion—which are reinforced by having the child read, listen, speak, and write. For example, the student may be taught to see the letter “S,” say its name and sound, and write it, all at the same time. Instructors use action-oriented multisensory methods to teach children in easily understandable ways.
Language-based: The approach is based on the technique of studying and teaching language, understanding the nature of language, and understanding the mechanisms involved in the language-learning process.
Cognitive: Children are taught to understand the reasons behind what they are learning and the strategies they use to learn. They learn the history and rules of the English language, which allows them to gain confidence in their ability to apply their newly gained knowledge to continue to develop reading, spelling, and writing skills.
Structured, sequential, and cumulative: As students master each level of language skills, they move forward step by step from simple to increasingly complex material. Children begin by reading and writing sounds, which are then blended into syllables and words. Vocabulary, sentence structure, composition, and reading comprehension are taught the same way. Even as new material is learned, old material is reviewed until it becomes automatic.
Success-oriented and emotionally validating: Children’s feelings about themselves and about learning are critically important. Orton-Gillingham focuses on providing the experience of success, which increases self-confidence and motivation.
The approach is named after neuropsychiatrist and pathologist Samuel T. Orton (1879-1948) and educator and psychologist Anna Gillingham (1878-1963). Orton was a pioneer in reading and language-processing difficulties who had identified dyslexia as an educational issue by 1925.
With Orton’s encouragement, Gillingham compiled and published instructional materials beginning in the 1930s that provided the foundation for teacher training and student education and soon gained acclaim as the “Orton-Gillingham Approach.” The curriculum content and instructional practices derive from a body of time-tested knowledge and practice, as well as from scientific evidence about how people learn to read and write; why some have difficulty doing so; how dyslexia makes achieving literacy harder; and which instructional practices are best-suited for teaching dyslexics to read and write.