The Orton-Gillingham method for teaching reading was developed in the 1930s by Samuel Orton, a neurologist, and Anna Gillingham, a psychologist, to teach reading to students with dyslexia, which is a language-processing disorder. Orton and Gillingham were among the first people to find techniques to help children with reading and learning issues.
The Development of the Orton-Gillingham Method
Orton had studied children who had difficulty learning to read, and he believed that many of these children were left-handed or ambidextrous and therefore had never learned to make the left hemispheres of the brain dominant over the right. His theory has been supported by later brain research. Orton developed an approach for remediating their learning issues, one that used both left- and right-brain functions, while Gillingham, working with Orton, developed a series of instructional curricula to train teachers and worked on teacher education. Gillingham also developed a system to teach the 44 separate sounds, or phonemes, that make up the English language. Her work meant that children no longer had to simply memorize all the words that made up the language but could use their knowledge of phonemes to write and spell the words (except for those that did not follow these rules). Her approach also involved the teaching of morphemes, or units of meaning, and common spelling rules. Gillingham, with Bessie Stillman, wrote the Orton–Gillingham manual: Remedial Training for Children with Specific Disability in Reading, Spelling and Penmanship, published in 1935 and still updated and published. Interestingly, Gillingham believed that being exposed to reading too early could hurt children, in part because of her own childhood, which she spent on the Sioux reservation in South Dakota.
Their approach is the most practiced intervention for children who struggle with dyslexia and other language-processing disorders. Here is more information about what the Orton-Gillingham approach involves:
The Orton-Gillingham approach involves techniques that are multi-sensory in nature in that they involve information presented through the auditory, kinesthetic, and visual pathways. The same concept is presented in a number of ways. For example, a student can learn how to write the letter “s” by seeing the letter, writing it in sand, and saying the sound aloud. Using a variety of techniques allows the student to use a number of different neural pathways and allows him or her to cement the information. The technique involves repetition as well as instant teacher feedback on the student’s performance. Usually, the techniques are presented in one-on-one instruction, but they can also be used in a larger classroom setting. The approach provides flexibility in responding to the needs of the individual student.
Comprehensive Approach to Learning
The Orton-Gillingham approach also is used as part of a comprehensive reading curriculum that includes phonemic awareness, phonics, vocabulary development, fluency, and comprehension strategies. It can help students in the areas of reading, handwriting, and spelling, and it has also been applied to the area of mathematics. While the results of research studies have been mixed, many studies have shown that the Orton-Gillingham approach is effective in teaching students with language-processing issues to read, spell, and write.
The Application of the Approach
There are many programs that use the Orton-Gillingham approach to teach reading and that provide instruction to train teachers in the approach. The Institute for Multi-Sensory Education, based in Michigan, is one organization that provides research-based Orton-Gillingham training for teachers in both general education and special education classrooms. The Acaemy of Orton-Gillingham Practitioners and Educators is the only organization that maintains professional and ethical standards for educators and that certifies instructors and accredits schools that use this approach. Some special education schools use Orton-Gillingham methods to teach reading.