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The Orton-Gillingham approach to reading instruction was developed in the early twentieth century. It is language-based, multisensory, structured, sequential, cumulative, cognitive, and flexible.
Orton-Gillingham techniques have been in use since the 1930's. These techniques are taught in only a very small number of public school systems today, and then only within special education classes. An intensive, sequential phonics-based system teaches the basics of word formation before whole meanings. The method accommodates and utilizes the three learning modalities, or pathways, through which people learn--
Orton and Gillingham
Samuel Torrey Orton (1879-1948), a neuropsychiatrist and pathologist, brought together neuroscientific information and principles of remediation. As early as the 1920s, he had extensively studied children with the kind of language processing difficulties now commonly associated with dyslexia and had formulated a set of teaching principles and practices for such children.
Anna Gillingham (1878-1963) was an educator and psychologist. Working with Dr. Orton, she trained teachers and compiled and published instructional materials.
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 with auditory, visual, and kinesthetic elements reinforcing each other for optimal learning. Instruction involves immediate, intensive, and continuous interaction between what the student is seeing, hearing, and feeling in the speech mechanisms and the writing hand. All the language elements taught are reinforced by having the student listen, speak, read and write.
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.