What is the Orton Gillingham Approach?

According to the Orton Gillingham Academy, “The Orton-Gillingham Approach is a direct, explicit, multisensory, structured, sequential, diagnostic, and prescriptive way to teach literacy when reading, writing, and spelling does not come easily to individuals, such as those with dyslexia.  It is most properly understood and practiced as an approach, not a method, program, or system. In the hands of a well-trained and experienced instructor, it is a powerful tool of exceptional breadth, depth, and flexibility.”

Samuel Terry Orton, a neuropsychiatrist and pathologist and Anna Gillingham who was an educator and psychologist developed this “Approach”, as it is called.

Orton was a pioneer in his field and focussed on the failure to read in some individuals as well as “language processing difficulties.” By 1925, based on neuroscientific information, he had identified dyslexia as a problem and the impact it has on learning. Encouraged by his research and guided by him, Anna Gillingham put together instructional and teaching material which set the foundation for the Orton Gillingham Approach.

Equipped with knowledge and experience that has been time tested for over 80 years, coupled with a lot of research into the way humans learn the skills of reading and writing, this approach is focussed on the learning capabilities of each individual as an entity.  This also gives them a better understanding of how and why certain individuals struggle with this ability and why for people with dyslexia achieving these skills becomes a problem. 

An educational Approach, this method of teaching is specifically designed to teach the correlation between letters and their sounds and breaking reading and writing into single alphabets, their sounds and then progressing and building on the skills leaned. It is widely preferred by teachers as an ideal way to promote learning letters and words.

The Orton Gillingham Approach has also been pioneered as a “multisensory approach” to teaching, using sight, hearing, touch and movement to help students form a connection between letters and words. Children are encouraged to write alphabets in the sand with their fingers or walk on letter shapes while making the sounds of the alphabet. This helps develop fluency at the basic alphabet learning level before moving on to bigger projects.

Since it is focussed on individual learning capabilities, students are often taught in smaller groups formed on their ability to grasp words or letters. The focus is on building a solid foundation, so if an instructor feels that a student is struggling with the concepts they can start over again to ensure better understanding. Eventually the goal is to help children unravel words on their own.

It teaches  children and learners to orally break down words into their syllables or phonemes (the smallest unit of sound) to be able to join them and spell the words.

But it is not only multisensory and individualized but also structured and systematic way of teaching. It uses the same methods to approach learning and teach new concepts so no energy is wasted on trying to figure out a new method of learning each time. This makes it easier for children to focus on just the topic being taught. 

The Orton Gillingham Approach is also very detailed and explicit in its method of teaching. Rules and patterns used for teaching are explained in detail and very deliberately, specially when dealing with non-phonetic words.

And above all this approach modifies, analyses and prescribes based on the skills acquired at each step. The instructor monitors progress based on what has been previously taught and what still needs to be learned in order to move forward.

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