What is Orton-Gillingham?
You’re probably here because you’ve been wondering what Orton Gillingham is. Maybe you have a child with dyslexia, or you suspect that they have dyslexia, and someone has recommended that you find some Orton Gillingham approached programs. Well, that’s what we are going to talk about today.
A little background on the Orton Gillingham approach
Like so many things, it is named after people. Samuel T Orton was a neuropsychiatrist and pathologist known for studying the different sides of the brain, the left and right sides, which you’ve probably heard about based on how people learn their talents or their personality. And he realized that a child’s difficulty in reading was most likely connected to the fact that their left side of the brain and their right side of the brain were not functioning together properly.
Now back then, dyslexia was called word blindness. Samuel T Orton worked with others in his research. One of those other people was Anna Gillingham. Anna Gillingham was a psychologist and an educator who studied the English language in depth. She knew all about the different letter sounds in the English language, and how they’re spelled out on paper. Samuel Orton encouraged her to write a particular book in 1935, it was called: The Gillingham Manual: Remedial Training for Students With Specific Disability in Reading, Spelling, and Penmanship. You can find this for sale online in lots of places. Orton and Gillingham took a multi-sensory approach to teaching reading that would encourage the left and right sides of the brain to work together and teach explicit rules of the sounds in words.
Orton Gillingham characteristics
#1 An Orton-Gillingham approach is phonics based and multi-sensory
Phonic space means that you’re taking the small sound parts of the phonemes of a word and putting them together to make a real word. Multi-sensory means that as you are learning to read; you’re seeing things; you’re hearing things; you’re going to be using your gross body movements; your fine motor skills to put all that together and you’re going to learn in a more effective way.
Have you ever applied multi-sensory learning when you’re helping someone study for a test? Maybe you made something into a joke and made them laugh. You came up with hand movements to remember something as you were studying for the test, which helped you remember the material better. Or at least the person that you were studying with they could rely on something that they had done with their body to remember that you might see this. In an Orton-Gillingham lesson, kids do air writing. Kids use their fingers to write in the air.
#2 An Orton-Gillingham approach is direct and systematic
Learning to read starts with hearing these small sounds that the letters make, putting them together in short words eventually learning how to study the different syllables and how they work together to form longer words, maybe adding prefixes and suffixes onto the words.
Take “carefully” as an example, it has three syllables. The base word is “care,” the suffix is “ful,” then an additional suffix “ly” was added. A child who has been taught this analytical way of seeing the word in sections and understanding how they work together, so he will be able to break down these longer words much easier.
Students practicing with this sort of Orton Gillingham approach might practice this suffix skill by looking at a list of words that have had added suffixes, they’re training their brain to see that difference and to break that word down.
One example of a rule that you might see taught with an Orton Gillingham approach. think of the sound that the letter c makes in the following words city, cereal and cycle, the rule goes like, if a C is followed by an i, e or a y, it can make the S sound.
Another example, the sound that the G makes in words like giraffe, gentle and Gem. If a G is followed by an i, e or y, it can make the J sound.
This can get really confusing for children if they don’t have these rules. You might think that it is more complicated to teach children a bunch of rules. But remember they’re not learning all of them at once, and you definitely have constant review and practice in between learning these rules.
#3 An Orton Gillingham approach is that it teaches syllable types
Let’s look at a few examples of what syllable types and learning about them can do for a dyslexic child. Syllable types and their rules explain things like, why is the ‘’a’’ short in words like cat? It’s because it’s a closed syllable, the rule about closed syllables is that the vowels are short.
Why is the “a” long in a word like gate? That would be a vowel consonant e syllable, meaning that the e makes the vowel long.
Why is the “o” short in words like bottle? If you break down the word “bottle” into two syllables, you’ll see that the first syllable “bot” is closed and the next syllable “tle” is a consonant “le” syllable.
But why is the O long in a word like Noble? Well, if your child has learned the rules about breaking down the consonant “le” syllable, they will see that there is an open syllable “no” at the beginning of the word, and the rule about open syllables is that the O makes the long sound.
Now, as you can see, teaching syllable types will help a child know where to break the word apart and which vowel sound to use. The Orton-Gillingham Approach is a direct, explicit, multi-sensory, structured, sequential, diagnostic, and prescriptive way to teach dyslexia kids when reading, writing, and spelling.