The best parts about teaching with the Orton-Gillingham approach

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What the heck is the Orton-Gillingham method?

The Orton-Gillingham method to teaching reading and spelling is an explicit, systematic approach to teaching literacy, based on the work of Dr. Samuel Orton and Anna Gillingham. In the early 20th century, Dr. Orton’s understanding of the brain and language development was brought together with teaching materials and methods compiled by Anna Gillingham to create an approach to reading instruction to support people with dyslexia. In 1935, Gillingham published The Gillingham Manual along with Bessie Stillman. Although there are different organizations that train and certify OG tutors, and their methods vary, The Gillingham Manual is still the foundation of the Orton-Gillingham method as it is used today.

Teaching using the Orton-Gillingham approach involves assessing a student, determining what graphemes (letters and combinations that represent an English sound) the student knows, and systematically teaching the ones they don’t know. Students also learn grammar, vocabulary, syntax and comprehension in the same step-by-step way. The underlying principle of the Orton-Gilling approach is that struggling readers need to be explicitly taught how written English works, including the history and spelling rules that make us think English is “weird” or “crazy.”

I love my job!

Working 1:1 with students

I was trained in the Orton-Gillingham approach while I was a public school special education teacher. On paper, I was responsible for a lot of the same things I do now. But here’s the big, exciting difference: Where I used to see group after group during the week, often for 30 or 45 minutes at a time, now I get nearly an hour, two or more times a week, with my students! 

Instead of trying to help them catch up in their classwork while working our way through the Orton-Gillingham learning sequence, in my 1:1 work with students I can prioritize the student’s needs and work through the Orton-Gillingham sequence of skills in a focused way.

Directly connecting with families

Another bright spot for me as a private Orton-Gillingham instructor is that I get to connect more directly with parents and families than I did as a teacher. I work with all my students online, using Zoom, so parents can pop in at the beginning or end of a lesson to chat, or can observe what their children are doing in lessons. I also have time to check in with parents by email or phone, share details about the student’s work, and make suggestions for materials for home or school. It’s easier to share progress and concerns with parents this way than it ever was when I taught kids at school and parents and I had to try to catch each other during the busy day!

Responding flexibly

One of my favorite things about working as an Orton-Gillingham specialist is the flexibility I can bring to my teaching. There are some great OG-based reading curriculums out there, like All About Reading, Barton, and Wilson. Many students get excellent results. The limitation of these programs is that they are designed to be taught in a particular order, over a specific number of lessons. Some students get excellent results from these programs! 

Other students need instruction at a slower pace, or they need more practice with a particular skill. With the Orton-Gillingham approach, I tailor my lessons to the individual student. So if we need to spend a few weeks on a concept, we spend it! We’re not “falling behind” or “stuck,” we’re just doing the next necessary step. By the same token, some older children know parts of what I teach, and we’re able to push ahead and introduce the skills they need as soon as possible. Either way, I’m able to give students what they need most, instead of being tied to a particular book or curriculum.

Some of the things I do with students fall outside the traditional Orton-Gillingham approach. Remember, The Gillingham Manual was written in the 1930s. We’ve learned a lot since then about the human brain, reading, dyslexia, and how people learn. As an Orton-Gillingham provider, I incorporate other approaches and resources for teaching phonemic awareness, fluency, morphology, and writing. For the most part, these approaches support the Orton-Gillingham method. Rather than replacing OG, many of these tools are supplements that let me give my students more of what they need more quickly!

More of the good stuff!

I loved many parts of my job when I was a teacher! I love the energy in an elementary school, especially at the beginning of the year. I love that point in the middle of the year sometime when we hit our groove and everyone is learning together. I love seeing children proud of their accomplishments and moving on to the next level of skills. 

But now, as a private Orton-Gillingham instructor, my days are filled with more of the good stuff! I get to see more students make more impressive gains because when I work with a student, I can zero in on the skills they need next and teach those. It’s incredibly rewarding to see students succeed and become more confident in their reading and writing.

If you are looking for an Orton-Gillingham-certified online reading tutor for your child, contact us for a consultation. Let’s talk about how the Orton-Gillingham method can help your child and whether online learning is a good fit for them.