Orton Gillingham is an organized format of learning where words are broken down into smaller sound groups. Individuals learn to pronounce these units of sound separately, club them together, and finally vocalize the entire word. This approach was designed for people with speech and/or reading difficulties, such as dyslexia.
The handiwork of the polymaths Samuel T. Orton and Anna Gillingham, the Orton Gillingham approach is a pioneering teaching and learning technique. It explains the connections between letters and sounds. This article is going to elaborate on various aspects of this innovative, multisensory, and reformatory learning technique. The table of contents below catalogs the details we are going to focus on.
This explicit, sequentially structured, and methodical reading procedure is a dynamic tool for people with dyslexia or other learning disabilities. The approach is multisensory, which means it involves utilizing the sense of sight, hearing, touch, and movement to learn stuff. Let us begin with discussing the concept to understand it better.
What is Orton Gillingham?
Formulated in the 1930s, the Orton Gillingham approach is a legendary teaching method specially designed for people who face difficulty in reading, writing, and spelling words.
It works by dividing the spelling of a word into letters and the subsequent sound associated with each letter. This way, the word transforms into a series of small tasks rather than looking like an arrangement of alphabets. Words are taught with the logic of why they sound a particular way.
The 26 letters of the English alphabet produce 44 speech sounds through various arrangements and combinations. What is even more fascinating is that there are 250 ways of spelling words. Orton Gillingham focuses on illustrating the words in the form of sounds. The sounds are connected with each letter or letter combination, which builds the understanding of the sound-symbol link.
Educators elaborate on the concepts by using various tools and techniques. Some fun games, props, and certain hands-on learning procedures are employed to teach the students in an intriguing manner. There are some terminologies associated with this method.
Before taking a dive into the technicalities of the program, we will take a look at the origin of the idea.
The Origin of the Orton Gillingham Method
The Orton Gillingham reading program is named after its founders, Samuel Torrey Orton (1879-1948) and Anna Gillingham (1878-1963).
Samuel T. Orton was a pathologist and neuropsychiatrist who, in 1925, was working on researching brain damage in adults. These people were injured in accidents that led to them suffering some kind of brain impairment. While studying these patients who were exhibiting writing, talking, or reading difficulties, he suddenly got intrigued to know how much speech impairment can also occur without any injury or brain damage.
He decided to carry out an in-depth analysis of this inherent flaw showcased by many children. He set up a 14-day mobile clinic to gather and examine children who were slow learners at school. During his speculations, some of these kids turned out to be smart and rational; or maybe straight-up geniuses. This was baffling for Orton as these brainy children were, in reality, the castaways of their classrooms.
Orton penned and presented his research on word blindness (now known as Dyslexia) in 1925. Along with his practical observations, Orton also referenced past works of Kussmaul, Morgan, and Hinshelwood with his personal implications. He focused on finding ways to ease the learning process for students facing significant difficulty in learning things that seem effortless or natural for others.
He was joined in his journey by an expert psychologist and skilled educator, Anna Gillingham. Together they devised the world-renowned reading program known as the Orton Gillingham method.
Anna planned a methodical system by cataloging a set of 70 phonograms, single letters, and letter pairs representing the 44 distinct sounds of the English language, followed by designing a system of teaching the same.
Anna’s technique, combined with Orton’s discoveries, laid the foundation for the first-ever language-teaching approach, explicitly, for dyslexic people.
Any reading program that bestows students with the eloquence of a certain language, must adhere to the protocols of literacy. See how the National Reading Panel has divided the protocols into 5 aspects.
The Foundations of Literacy
A child’s early education starts with developing their reading skills. This begins by reading at the word level, which strengthens reading comprehension. Language literacy is the basis of a child’s all-around development as their social, emotional, and cognitive growth is derived from it.
The National Reading Panel has credited the success of language learning to 5 components. These five components engage and train the learner’s mind section by section. The learner ultimately acquires the skill of understanding, reading, and writing the particular language.
Having known about their importance, we shall now look at what are these five pillars of early reading erudition:
- Phonological Awareness: Proficiency in reading comes from the perception of how sounds are associated with words. This is called phonological skill development.
The act of distinguishing sound effects in words and blending them is called phonological awareness. It involves splitting, omitting, and adding syllables, having the knowledge of rhymes, onset, rime, etc. Phonological awareness emphasizes sounds rather than alphabets.
This component ensures effective reading and spelling skills in children. The knowledge of what word parts sound like helps the learner in articulating reading and spelling words.
- Phonics: The connection between sounds and the subsequent letters creates words. This relationship between letters or letter groups and sounds produced is how we are able to read, write and identify words. And the ability to do so is known as phonics.
- Fluency: Reading written words correctly at an acceptable pace while understanding them perfectly, is regarded as fluency. Fluency makes understanding words easier, thus boosting interest in reading.
- Vocabulary: In order to understand the content we are reading or even a simple conversation, we have to know the meaning of the words. We pick words all the time from new information we encounter.
Vocabulary can be defined as the collection of all the words we know. We can learn these words by reading them or by conversing with people. The more words we know, the stronger our vocabulary becomes.
- Comprehension: The aim of reading is to understand what is written. Our metacognitive skills are responsible for comprehending what we read and motivating us to read more. Our comprehensive skills help us in enriching our vocabulary and improve our reading capabilities.
Every curriculum designed for people with reading disabilities is the compound of these fundamentals. How the Orton Gillingham approach embraces these principles will be discussed shortly. Before that, we need to explore the principles of the methodology.
Principles of Orton Gillingham Curriculum
The Orton Gillingham reading program is a reliable instructional system. It has a track record of evident success. Even though the approach was introduced in the 1930s, it started getting its befitting fame decades later. It has been rightfully regarded as the most functional and productive teaching strategy for individuals with unique learning needs.
There are 6 basic principles that are the foundational theme for implementing the Orton Gillingham curriculum. Elaborating on each of these is needed to begin the journey of adopting this approach.
- Structured: The first and foremost rule of the Orton Gillingham approach is establishing logical and consistent protocols for each lesson. This way, the student knows the pattern beforehand and can easily take on the activities coming their way without being overwhelmed.
- Sequential: To avoid any confusion, the approach follows a pre-planned and rational order of lessons. The obvious progression is moving from simpler word patterns to more compound words.
For instance, the initial lessons could teach the CVC (consonant-vowel-consonant) words like fix, bed, lag, mad, etc., and then introduce complex syllable patterns, vowel format, affixes, and morphemes.
- Cumulative: The Orton Gillingham curriculum works by building up memory. This means that the learner doesn’t start any new lesson until the previous one has been assimilated. Frequent revisions are also encouraged to retain the lesson permanently.
- Explicit: The educators involved in the program use a direct and explicit method of teaching. The mentor teaches the students all details of the lessons without deducing the student’s prior knowledge about the subject.
- Multimodal Integration: To mark a word into the long-term memory of the student, it is essential to utilize a multisensory interaction.
Let us elaborate on this using an example. For learning the word bat, the student will first identify it from the image, then look at the word itself, followed by saying it out loud while concentrating on the sounds of the syllables.
Lastly, any kinesthetic learning activity, like tracing the alphabet in the sand, is added for thorough memorization.
- Systematic Phonics: In an Orton Gillingham classroom, reading lessons always begin with the most common phonograms (sounds). The phonograms are taught one by one, followed by their revision to master the pronunciation. Systematic Phonics is the core element of reading. The phonics are edified from the basic ones to the more intricately spelled ones.
Orton Gillingham advocates the notion that any language shouldn’t be learned through a rote learning method. To master any language, we need to speculate rationally. The principles of the Orton Gillingham curriculum strive to follow this idea only. This program can be fully appreciated by understanding its implementation in the classroom.
An Orton Gillingham Lesson Plan Draft
The reading program employs a couple of proven strategies for every session. Reading instructions, spelling commands, and writing ease are the essentials of each of the Orton Gillingham lessons. The aim is to meet every student’s needs.
Like Rick Riordan said, “Fairness does not mean everyone gets the same. Fairness means everyone gets what they need.”
Fairness is indeed the virtue of the Orton Gillingham method. Lessons are devised in a way to involve as many sensory organs as possible. A list of Orton Gillingham lesson elements will elaborate the point better:
- Phonogram cards for the visual part.
- Phonogram recitation for auditory drill.
- Reading the words out loud.
- Revision of the past lessons.
- Learning a new phonogram, concept, or syllable.
- Spelling and sentence-forming activities.
- Orally reading texts.
These steps teach the students the basics of phonemic awareness, phonics, and phoneme. The lessons are devised to perfect the language literacy of the students.
There are also certain challenges that are encountered by both the teacher and the students. One such hassle is the red words. The next segment discussed the two types of words and the associated teaching method.
Red Words and Green Words
The purpose of the Orton Gillingham reading program is to teach the phonemes to the students. Phonemes are sound-symbol connections that help us differentiate between words. These are small yet prominent sound units. Children with dyslexia find it hard to work with phonemes. And this is what the Orton Gillingham method aims to resolve.
Orton Gillingham linguistics classifies words as green words and red words.
- Green Words: They are named so because they are easy to follow. Green words are the first taught words in any kid’s curriculum, as this lays the groundwork for developing reading comprehension.
These words are easy to work out as they follow the regular phonetic rules, which makes them uncomplicated and effortless to pronounce. With gradual practice, these words can be articulated so easily that they don’t need to be spelled out or pronounced separately.
- Tapping on the arm: Write the red word on a flash card and have the student hold the card in their non-dominant hand.
Then, ask the student to tap on the arm that is holding the card with their dominant hand; the tapping should be for each alphabet of the targeted red word.
Now repeat this step 3 times while continuing the tapping from shoulder to wrist for reading the word.
- Gliding finger along the word: Now the student will hold the card in their non-dominant hand again. And slide the pointer finger of their free hand along the letters of the word whilst reading it. Repeat the action 3 times.
- Tracing the word with the fingers: The next step is to put the flash card on a table and trace the letters of the word with the pointer finger while spelling it. This activity should be repeated 3 times as well.
- Writing: Lastly, writing the word will help retain it. Provide a white and a red marker.
Now ask your student to write it while spelling the word out loud, and then underline it while reading it as a single word.
Like the rest, this action also has to be carried out 3 times. To remember the word better, urge the student to form a sentence using the word.
- Pin the words on a board: Write down the words your students have learned on colorful Post-it notes. Now pin them on a bulletin board in the classroom. Help your students revise the words through the board.
- Puzzles, passages, and sand: Create puzzles and riddles and encourage the students to solve these to find the red word.
Ask the students to mark the red words in reading passages.
You can also exhort them to write the words in red sand, shape the letters using clay, spell the words in shaving cream, and hop or skip while reading the word.
The Orton Gillingham strategy is beneficial not only for dyslexic individuals but also for people having general reading skills. As the approach demonstrates the letter-sound connections, it aids in cultivating critical thinking along with improving handwriting, spelling skills, and writing skills.
Apart from strategies, this teaching approach also requires certain supplies that assist in the tutoring process. Trained professionals deliver instructions through specific toolkits, which contain materials that help illustrate the lessons. So what are these needful items? Let us discuss this.
The Essential Toolkit for Orton Gillingham
The teachers trained in the Orton Gillingham reading program teach the language with the help of a set of rules. The teaching procedure uses various props:
- Phonogram Cards.
- White Board.
- Alphabet Tiles.
- Magnets with letters.
- Box of red crayons.
- Scented or multicolored stationary.
- Unifix cubes.
- Color counting chips.
- Plastic mesh mat, preferably red.
- Progress tracking system.
- Fun puzzle set.
These items are not very expensive or hard to find. But they are extremely useful. For educators trying to incorporate the approach, there are many books available that can help them in getting a better idea about how to handle everything.
Some Must-Have Books on Orton Gillingham Method
It is crucial to comprehend every aspect and scenario that a classroom might present to you. To be well-informed about the Orton Gillingham method, it is advisable to read books that elaborate on the subject. Some of the professional books that can help in your journey of the approach are
- The Gillingham Manual by Anna Gillingham and Bessie Stillman.
- A Guide To Teaching Phonics by June Lyday Orton.
- Multisensory Teaching of Basic Language Skills by Beverly Wolf and Judith Birsh.
- Everything You Want To Know and Exactly Where To Find It by William Van Cleave.
- Speech To Print by Louisa Moats.
- Unlocking Literacy by Marcia Henry.
- How To Teach Spelling by Laura Toby Rudginsky.
- Recipe For Reading by Nina Traub and Frances Bloom.
- Overcoming Dyslexia by Dr. Sally Shaywitz.
- Unlocking The Power of Print by Dorothy Whitehead.
- Reading In The Brain by Stanislas Dehaene.
- Language At The Speed of Sight by Mark Seidenberg.
- Readiness for Reading, Writing, and Spelling by Beth Moore.
The developmental years of reading and writing skills are crucial owing to the fact that these skills are the foundation of all the other abilities in the future. Employing a systematic technique that utilizes multisensory tactics is the best choice. Not only is the method productive in enhancing reading and writing flair, but it will also help in elevating the problem-solving abilities of the students.