Understanding the Orton-Gillingham Approach

“Going to bed at night saying we’ve done something wonderful, that’s what matters to me.” – Steve Jobs, the late CEO and co-founder of Apple with dyslexia

What is it?

The Orton-Gillingham Approach is a flexible, cognitive, multisensory, systematic, structured, and cumulative method of teaching a variety of concepts to students with learning difficulties. This approach is mainly utilized to assist with reading, writing, and spelling, but it is also applied to mathematics and other curricula. A broad range of modern strategies use the Orton-Gillingham Approach as their model and implement a majority of its key components.

A Brief History

Samuel Torrey Orton (1879-1948) and Anna Gillingham (1878-1963) worked together to formulate and publish the instructional materials that became known as the Orton-Gillingham approach. Orton spent his earlier years working as a pathologist for adults who had sustained brain damage through injury. His work in this field connected impairment to the brain’s left hemisphere with reading difficulty, which led him to understand the importance of multisensory instruction, or exercises that involved both sides of the brain. Orton later collaborated with Anna Gillingham, who contributed significant experience with the cumulative teaching of the sounds, phonemes, prefixes, and suffixes of the English language. The combination of their expertise produces the Orton-Gillingham Approach, which is one of the most efficient methods for mastering language and overcoming learning difficulties.

How Does it Work?

By combining Orton’s notion of multisensory teaching with Gillingham’s sequential, compartmentalized methods, the Orton-Gillingham Approach is a fully structured formula. It exercises all of the body’s senses through a multitude of lessons and requires the mastery of each previous challenge to advance, which reiterates and instills prior instruction as students progress. The Orton-Gillingham Approach is effective because it is:

  • Flexible, as the ideal student-teacher ratio is 4:1 or lower, which makes it easy for the instructor to accommodate the individual needs of students
  • Cognitive, as instructors clearly convey what they are teaching, how they will teach it, and why it is important
  • Multisensory, which involves at least two or more senses, including sight, hearing, feeling (tactile), or kinesthetic (awareness of motion)
  • Systematic, as it utilizes constant monitoring of student responses to track progress and plan the following lessons
  • Structured, as it evidently expresses the connection between lessons
  • Cumulative, as the students become proficient in each subject before proceeding to the next

Hill Learning Center

The professional development, classrooms, and instructors at Hill Learning Center are grounded in Orton-Gillingham principles. The faculty responds to the variety of learner profiles by taking the time to understand specific strengths, gaps, and weaknesses of individual students. With this knowledge, instructors formulate a structured, multisensory approach that breaks down skills and concepts into manageable segments. The Orton-Gillingham Approach makes it easy for students to turn each obstacle into a building block.  

How Hill Learning Center Can Help

We can make a difference. Hill Learning Center is dedicated to transforming students with learning differences and attention challenges into confident, independent learners. We have programs for students, educators, and families. Contact us if you’re interested in taking the next step.

Sources: Reading Horizons, The Reading Well, Understood

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