Monday, November 2, 2009

Orton-Gillingham: A Detailed Introduction

Orton-Gillingham techniques have been in use since the 1930s. The Orton-Gillingham methodology utilizes phonetics and emphasizes visual, auditory and kinesthetic learning styles. Instruction begins by focusing on the structure of language and gradually moves towards reading. The program provides students with immediate feedback and a predictable sequence that integrates reading, writing, and spelling.

The Orton-Gillingham method is language-based and success-oriented. The student is directly taught reading, handwriting, and written expression as one logical body of knowledge. Learners move step by step from simple to more complex material in a sequential, logical manner that enables students to master important literacy skills. This comprehensive approach to reading instruction is claimed to benefit all students.

Features of the Approach

Language-based: The Orton-Gillingham approach is based on a technique of studying and teaching language, understanding the nature of human language, the mechanisms involved in learning, and the language-learning processes in individuals.

Multisensory: Orton-Gillingham teaching sessions are action-oriented and involve constant interaction between the teacher and the student and the simultaneous use of multiple sensory input channels reinforcing each other for optimal learning. Using auditory, visual, and kinesthetic elements, all language skills taught are reinforced by having the student listen, speak, read and write. For example, a dyslexic learner is taught to see the letter A, say its name and sound and write it in the air – all at the same time. The approach requires intense instruction with ample practice. The use of multiple input channels is thought to enhance memory storage and retrieval by providing multiple "triggers" for memory.

Structured, Sequential, and Cumulative: The Orton-Gillingham teacher introduces the elements of the language systematically. Sound-symbol associations along with linguistic rules and generalizations are introduced in a linguistically logical, understandable order. Students begin by reading and writing sounds in isolation. Then they blend the sounds into syllables and words. Students learn the elements of language--consonants, vowels, digraphs, blends, and diphthongs—in an orderly fashion. They then proceed to advanced structural elements such as syllable types, roots, and affixes. As students learn new material, they continue to review old material to the level of automaticity. The teacher addresses vocabulary, sentence structure, composition, and reading comprehension in a similar structured, sequential, and cumulative manner.

Cognitive: Students learn about the history of the English language and study the many generalizations and rules that govern its structure. They also learn how best they can learn and apply the language knowledge necessary for achieving reading and writing competencies.

Flexible: Orton-Gillingham teaching is diagnostic and prescriptive in nature. Teachers try to ensure the learner is not simply recognising a pattern and applying it without understanding. When confusion of a previously taught rule is discovered, it is re-taught from the beginning.

Research Support

Despite the long-term and widely established use of Orton-Gillingham techniques, the Florida Center for Reading Research reported in 2006 that it was unable to identify any empirical studies examining the efficacy of the approach specifically as described in Orton-Gillingham training materials. Thus there was no direct research evidence to determine its effectiveness, although there are a variety of studies of derivative methods that incorporate aspects of Orton-Gillingham in combination with other techniques.

An overview of all reported studies of Orton-Gillingham derivative methods, such as Alphabetic Phonics or Project Read, revealed only a dozen studies with inconsistent results and a variety of methodological flaws. In a detailed report in the Journal of Special Education, the authors reported that despite widespread use in a variety of settings for more than 5 decades, “OG instruction has yet to be comprehensively studied and reported in peer-reviewed journals.” They concluded, “the research is currently inadequate, both in number of studies and in the quality of the research methodology, to support that OG interventions are scientifically based.”

Practical Applications

For remedial reading, if a child is dyslexic, you want her to have instruction that focuses on decoding, such as Orton-Gillingham or Wilson Reading (there are others, too).  This may be different from the instruction offered in a remedial reading class; it depends upon your district.  Don't insist on a particular brand name of instruction (i.e. Orton-Gillingham); it's the focus of the teaching that is important.

Picture: Raggamuffin Parade, Hoboken, NJ 2009

Raggamuffin: A homeless or poverty-stricken child. Usually refers to those kids you see in movies set in the 1800's, with those gloves that are cut off at the finger-tips and that wear those beret-like caps.