What is the Orton-Gillingham Approach, and what makes it so unique?
First of all, it is diagnostic and prescriptive. Each lesson is planned for a particular student or small group of students. It is not a “packaged” curriculum in which “one size fits all.” The teacher must be adaptable and flexible, understanding the learner’s needs and using appropriate teaching strategies.
Orton-Gillingham is also direct and explicit, and students are not expected to know anything that has not already been taught and practiced.
It is language based. Teachers are trained in the structure of the English language. They teach the language as it is to the students where they are in their understanding of the language. Many programs say that they employ multisensory methods but to be truly multisensory, teachers must make sure that auditory, visual and kinesthetic elements are utilized together to reinforce each element for optimal learning.
What makes Orton-Gillingham unique in this respect is that spelling is taught simultaneously with reading. It is critical that reading and spelling go hand in hand.
Students begin by reading and writing letters/sounds in isolation. These letters/sounds are blended into syllables and words. The consonants, digraphs, blends, and vowel teams are all introduced in a structured, sequential way.
Students learn new material while also reviewing “old” material until their skills are automatic. Vocabulary, sentence structure, writing and composition, and reading comprehension are all taught in a structured, sequential, and cumulative manner.
Students learn about the history of the language, and they study the rules and generalizations that govern a lot of its structure.
Metacognitive strategies are taught and encouraged so that reading and writing become thinking activities rather than guessing games.
Finally, because Orton-Gillingham skills are constantly reviewed and new material is introduced systematically, students experience a high degree of success with each lesson. Students gain both confidence and skill. Self esteem develops from that success, and learning becomes a positive experience.