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Orton Gillingham: Who, What, and How

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TEACHING Exceptional Children, Vol. 51, No. 3, pp. 240 –249. Copyright 2018 The Author(s). DOI: 10.1177/0040059918816996
Orton Gillingham
Who, What, and How
Kristin L. Sayeski, Gentry A. Earle, Rosalie Davis,
and Josie Calamari
Orton Gillingham
TEACHING ExcEptional childrEn | January/FEbruary 2019 241
Hannah Thomas and Rubia McDaniels,
two special education teachers, attended
a regional conference on reading
disabilities. During the conference,
several speakers mentioned Orton
Gillingham (OG) in reference to the type
of instruction provided to students with
dyslexia. After one of the presentations,
Hannah turned to Rubia and stated, “I
am a little embarrassed, but after 10
years of teaching reading to kids with
learning disabilities, I have no idea who
or what Orton Gillingham is. Is this a
program or curriculum we could get for
our school? How would it be different
from what we are already doing for
intervention?” Rubia shook her head
and said, “I am in the same boat. Over
the years, I have had parents mention it
to me, but I have always responded by
explaining how the instruction I provide
is based on the five big ideas in reading
and supported by research. It probably
wouldn’t hurt to find out more about
Orton Gillingham as I would love to
provide a more detailed response to
parents about what it is.”
For many, the terms dyslexia and
Orton Gillingham go hand in hand, yet
much is misunderstood about both
terms. Dyslexia is a specific learning
disability that is neurobiological in
origin and results in difficulty with
accurate or fluent word recognition,
reading, and spelling (International
Dyslexia Association [IDA], 2014).
However, dyslexia is commonly and
incorrectly associated with problems in
visual processing—letters jumping
around a page or reversals (Washburn,
Joshi, & Binks-Cantrell, 2011). OG is an
approach to teaching individuals with
dyslexia to read based on principles
established by Samuel T. Orton and
Anna Gillingham, but it is commonly
and incorrectly described as a program
or curriculum.
Even though Orton and Gillingham
established their foundational
principles for reading instruction in the
1930s and 1940s, the methodology
developed as a result of their work is
still considered by many to be the
signature approach for addressing
reading disabilities. Rose and Zirkel
(2007) found 64 cases of litigation
wherein parents sued school districts in
order for their children to receive
OG-based instruction. Many specialized
private schools for students with
learning disabilities offer reading
programs designed around the
principles of OG (Hanford, 2017; Rose
& Zirkel, 2007). Yet, given the
specialized training required to
implement OG, many public school
teachers are not familiar with OG and
have not received preparation in the
foundational knowledge and skills
associated with a language-based
approach to reading instruction (Budin,
Mather, & Cheeseman, 2010; Youman &
Mather, 2013). As a result, OG-based
instruction may not be equally
accessible to public school students
from lower socioeconomic
backgrounds, including culturally and
linguistically diverse students with
Who and What Is Orton
Dr. Samuel T. Orton (1897–1948) was a
neuropsychiatrist and pathologist who
was particularly interested in the
causes of reading failure and related
language-processing difficulties. Anna
Gillingham (1878–1963) was an
educator and psychologist who had a
deep understanding of language.
Encouraged by Dr. Orton, Gillingham
published her first set of instructional
materials in the mid-1930s (Gillingham
& Stillman, 1936). Given their mutual
interest in the structure of language
and how this structure is internalized
by individuals in order for reading to
occur, Orton and Gillingham worked to
create an approach to reading that (a)
explicitly taught students elements of
language (e.g., phonology,
syllabification, morphology; see Table 1
for reading terminology and
definitions) and (b) facilitated students’
automaticity in applying this
knowledge to the decoding (reading)
and encoding (spelling) of language.
Thus, their approach to reading
instruction was based on breaking
down the components of language into
individual and overlapping skills and
then creating instructional activities
designed to promote mastery and
automaticity of those skills for students
with dyslexia (Uhry & Clark, 2005).
An OG approach has been variously
described as language based,
multisensory, flexible, cognitive,
systematic, explicit, and cumulative
(Davis, 2011; Sheffield, 1991). Given
the extensive training required, OG
practitioners are best described as
professionals with a deep
understanding of language who are
skilled in the delivery of specific
OG-based techniques required to
systematically teach struggling
individuals to read (see Table 2 for
sample requirements for practitioner
certification). Therefore, although the
day-to-day implementation of OG will
vary slightly from practitioner to
practitioner, OG instruction will reflect
a similar structure, include a consistent
nomenclature, and possess features
that will be constant across all
implementations. In short, it is easy to
identify OG, if one knows what to look
After a quick search online, Hannah
and Rubia found that an introductory
30-hour course was being offered in
their area that summer. Their principal
agreed to send them to this weeklong
professional-development training.
Hannah and Rubia knew that this
would be the first step in understanding
what OG is. They were curious to see if
the methods they learned could be
incorporated into their teaching of
students who had reading-based
learning disabilities.
Distinguishing Features of OG
Several distinguishing features of OG
facilitate student learning. These
features include (a) direct, systematic,
incremental, and cumulative lessons;
(b) cognitive explanations; (c)
diagnostic and prescriptive methods;
(d) linguistics-based instruction; and
(e) multisensory engagement (see
Table 3 for descriptions and examples
of these features). These features are in
alignment with many national
syntheses of research, such as the
National Early Literacy Panel (2008)
242 council For ExcEptional childrEn
and the National Reading Panel (2000),
as well as more recent, systematic
reviews of the research literature.
Specifically, defining characteristics of
an OG approach—explicit, systematic,
and phonics based—have been
supported by research on effective
reading instruction (Brady, Braze, &
Fowler, 2011; Kilpatrick, 2015). For
example, recent research has revealed
the value of synthetic phonics
approaches (Brady et al., 2011). Within
synthetic approaches, students are
taught to attend to letters and letter
patterns when decoding words.
Research has demonstrated that
instruction that reflects a synthetic
(grapheme- or letter-level) approach to
decoding instruction can boost
students’ word and nonword reading
ability (Jeynes, 2008; Johnston,
McGeown, & Watson, 2012; Johnston &
Watson, 2004). In addition, integrating
encoding instruction within phonics-
based instruction has been shown to
improve word reading, phonological
awareness, comprehension, and
spelling outcomes (Weiser, 2012;
Weiser & Mathes, 2011). An OG
approach will include attention to
letter-level instruction and integration
of encoding instruction.
Although many features of the OG
approach align with research on
effective reading instruction, it is
important to note common criticisms of
OG. For example, in Kilpatrick’s (2015)
comprehensive review of reading
research, he identified three
components of reading intervention
that appear central to the effective
remediation of reading difficulties.
Specifically, reading intervention
programs that provided (a) basic and
advanced phonemic awareness
instruction, (b) explicit decoding
instruction, and (c) ample
opportunities to apply reading skills to
connected text resulted in superior
gains in terms of student achievement.
Kilpatrick found that although
OG-based instruction provided explicit
instruction in phonemic awareness and
decoding as well as applied
opportunities, OG fell short in terms of
providing instruction in “advanced
phonemic awareness.” Basic phonemic
awareness instruction involves teaching
students to segment (e.g., “Say the
sounds in cat: /k/ [pause], /a/ [pause],
/t/.”) and blend (e.g., “Listen to the
following sounds: /k/[pause], /a/
[pause], /t/ [pause]. Now say them
fast: cat.”). In contrast, advanced
phonemic awareness involves the more
challenging tasks of phoneme deletion
(e.g., “Say the word cat. Now say the
word without the /k/ sound.”) and
substitution (e.g., “Say the word cat.
Replace the /k/ sound with /m/:
mat.”). Although Kilpatrick identified
the lack of advanced phonemic
awareness instruction within OG, the
individualized nature of OG
implementation does not prohibit
advanced phonemic awareness
instruction (i.e., phoneme deletion and
substitution can easily be combined
with OG; see IDA, 2010), and programs
based on OG principles explicitly
include advanced phonemic awareness
instruction (e.g., Lindamood Phoneme
Sequencing Program, a program
reviewed favorably by Kilpatrick, 2015).
Table 1. Reading Terminology and Definitions
Terminology Definition
decoding The ability to translate a word from print to speech, usually by employing knowledge of
sound-symbol correspondences
encoding Using individual sounds to spell letters and words
grapheme A letter or letter combination that represents a single phoneme (e.g., ch = /ch/, d = /d/)
keywords Words taught to students to help them learn letter sounds; for example, a keyword for the
short a sound could be apple (a = apple; b = bat; c = cat)
morphology The study of word forms, including affixes and root/base words
orthography Written system that represents language
phoneme A speech sound that combines with others to make words
phonemic awareness The ability to break down and manipulate the individual sounds in spoken language
phonics A method of teaching reading that emphasizes the sounding out of letters, groups of letters,
and familiar patterns of letters in order to read words
phonology The study of the rule system that governs the sequencing of phonemes in a language
schwa A schwa sound, /ə/, is a brief vowel sound that occurs only in unaccented syllables and
sounds like a short u (e.g., again, celebrate, occur).
syllabification The division of words into syllables
syllable Uninterrupted segment of speech consisting of at least one vowel sound
TEACHING ExcEptional childrEn | January/FEbruary 2019 243
Another criticism of OG is its focus
on the use of multisensory techniques.
It is important to note, though, that the
integration of multisensory techniques
within OG is not an application of the
visual-auditory-kinesthetic (VAK)
learning styles theory. The VAK
learning styles theory posits that
individuals have learning modality
preferences and that teaching to a
singular, preferred modality aids
learning (Willingham, Hughes, &
Dobolyi, 2015). Learning styles theory
is largely unsupported by research
(Cuevas, 2015). In contrast, in an OG
approach, all modalities are engaged to
support repeated practice, varied
instruction, and multiple
representations of concepts. These
features of instruction are supported by
research (Brown, Roediger, &
McDaniel, 2014). Similarly, research on
other reading programs that include a
multisensory focus have been
demonstrated as successful (see
Kilpatrick, 2015).
Therefore, although there are many
signature elements of an OG approach
(e.g., unique terminology used for
instruction, such as the term
phonograms to refer to letter-sound
cards; elements included within
instruction, such as strategies for
teaching syllabification), the delivery of
an OG approach aligns with many
features identified by research as
essential for the delivery of effective
reading instruction and intervention.
Of course, there are other highly
systematic, phonics-based programs
that are not based upon the principles
of OG that also reflect evidence-based
practices and are effective for students
with dyslexia or who are at risk for
reading failure (see Brady et al., 2011;
Kilpatrick, 2015). Deep understanding
of the similarities and differences
across programs can enrich teachers’
understanding of reading instruction
and development.
During the week of training,
Hannah and Rubia immersed
themselves in the language and
methods of OG. During breaks and at
lunch, they would discuss certain
students who would have benefited
from an understanding of syllable types
to aid in the pronunciation of words
(see Table 4 for an overview of OG
syllable types) or how they had always
taught letter sounds but did not have a
strong scope and sequence for how
those sounds should be introduced or
what the sequence for subsequent
phonics instruction should look like.
Table 2. Academy of Orton Gillingham (OG) Practitioners and Educators (AOGPE): Certification Levels and Requirements
Level of certification Training requirements Qualifications
OG Classroom Educator
Prerequisite: Bachelor’s degree
Course work: 30 hours
Practicum hours: 50 hours (over 8 months)
Observations: 5
Readings: As assigned
An OGCE is qualified to provide OG
literacy instruction to classes or small
groups (i.e., Tier 1 instruction).
Associate Prerequisite: Bachelor’s degree
Course work: 60–70 hours
Practicum: 100 hours (over 8 months)
100 hours 1:1 or
50 hours 1:1 and 50 hours small group or
classroom setting
Observations: 10
Readings: AOGPE Associate reading list 2017
An Associate is qualified to provide
1:1 (A-level) or 1:1 and small-group
(B-level) OG instruction under the
mentorship of an Academy Fellow.
Certified Prerequisite: Bachelor’s degree
Course work: 100 hours (plus 60 from Associate)
Practicum hours: 200 hours (over 2 academic years)
Observations: 10 (40- to 60-minute lessons)
Readings: AOGPE Certified reading list 2017
A Certified member is qualified to be
an independent practitioner of OG
(Tier 3 instruction).
Fellow Prerequisite: Master’s degree
Course work: 90 hours (plus 160 from Certified)
Practicum: 300 hours (over 3 academic years)
Observations: 10
Teaching courses
Supervising trainees
Conducting observations
Providing feedback to trainees
Readings: AOGPE Fellow reading list
A Fellow is qualified to train and
supervise other in the OG approach
and well as provide direct services.
Note. There are different routes to certification offered through different organizations.
244 council For ExcEptional childrEn
The teachers lamented the fact that
spelling instruction had seemed like a
luxury—something they did not have
time to address when issues related to
reading were so pressing. However,
during the training, they saw how easy
it was to integrate spelling instruction
within reading instruction by having
students encode immediately following
decoding practice (i.e., see a letter, say
the sound; hear a sound, write the
letter; see a word, decode the word;
hear a word, spell the word; hear a
sentence, write the sentence). They
learned strategies and procedures and
wrote down many references to
workbooks or other readings that would
deepen their understanding of language
development and how to apply that
knowledge to teaching. They also came
to the realization that they had a lot
Table 3. Distinguishing Features of an Orton Gillingham (OG) Approach
Feature Definition What it looks like in an OG lesson
Direct, systematic,
incremental, and
cumulative lessons
Teacher determines what and how
instruction will occur. Includes
modeling, student engagement, and
feedback. The term drill is used to
reflect the high levels of student
engagement and repetition included
within individual lessons. Instruction is
based on a clear scope and sequence of
a hierarchy of skills; a similar format to
each lesson is followed.
Sample lesson plan outline
Visual drill (phonogram cards)
Auditory drill (dictate phonograms)
Sound blending (reading words)
Reteach confusing concepts (e.g., b/d, sound
cousins); review previously taught skill
Learned (nonphonetic) word instruction (reading and
New concept/rule/phonogram/syllable instruction
Spelling work
Sentence work
Oral reading (decodable text)
Teacher explains rules for spelling;
student understands why a word
is pronounced or spelled in a
particular way. Students apply their
understanding of language when
reading and spelling.
Students are taught rules that help them understand
why, such as the following:
The FLOSS rule: If a one-syllable word ends in a
vowel immediately followed by the consonant f, l, or
s, double that consonant.
Use ck to spell /k/ when the sound follows a short
C and g are soft when followed by e, i, or y.
prescriptive methods
All responses are monitored and
subsequent lessons are built on data
collected during previous lessons.
An OG practitioner will plan the next lesson based on
how the student performed in the current lesson. In
addition, the practitioner will use an assessment, such
as the Gallistel-Ellis Test of Coding Skills or the Wilson
Assessment of Decoding and Encoding, on a regular
basis (e.g., after about 25 lessons) in order to monitor
Initial decoding and spelling work
progresses to include instruction
on syllables, morphemes, syntax,
semantics, and grammar. Reading,
writing, and spelling instruction are
integrated within each lesson.
Early lessons include instruction on sound-symbol
relationships (/b/ = b), blending (/b/-/a/-/t),
segmenting for spelling (/b/ = b; /a/ = a; /t/ = t), and
handwriting (legible letter formation). Later lessons
address word families (e.g., -ild, -old, -ind, -ost), syllable
types (e.g., open, closed), morphemes (e.g., common
suffixes and prefixes), syntax, semantics, grammar,
reading comprehension, and written expression.
Multisensory Instruction includes auditory, visual,
and movement-based activities to
emphasis features of instruction.
When teaching the short /a/ vowel sound, students hear
the sound, repeat the sound, learn the correct position
of mouth and tongue, visualize the letter, and write the
letter. This process will be reiterated multiple times,
and different prompts will be provided (e.g., “Show me
what your mouth looks like for the short /a/ sound”) to
reinforce learning and automaticity.
TEACHING ExcEptional childrEn | January/FEbruary 2019 245
more work to do in order to “do” OG
well. At the workshop, some of the
participants talked about using specific
programs that were based on OG, such
as the Wilson Reading System (Wilson,
2017). They wondered what these
programs were and how they differed
from what they were learning.
Unbranded and Branded OG
Individuals who are certified by
professional organizations, such as the
Academy of Orton Gillingham
Practitioners and Educators and the
Institute for Multi-Sensory Education,
have the knowledge and skills
necessary to make use of a variety of
materials in order to craft
individualized OG-based lessons. This
type of instruction is referred to by the
Institute of Education Sciences as
“unbranded Orton Gillingham.” In
contrast to these certified practitioner-
developed plans, several commercial
programs have been developed based
upon the sequential, multisensory
principles of OG. These programs are
referred to as “branded OG” (see
Table5 for a sample list of programs).
For some practitioners, the advantage
of branded OG programs is that they
provide additional structure and format
for instruction, which can simplify the
planning process. Although many
programs contain the common OG
features, such as explicit instruction in
syllabification and multisensory
methods, unique variations include
Wilson Reading Systems’ “sound-
tapping system” and Lindamood-Bell’s
use of imagery. These signature
methods reflect interpretations or
enhancements of original OG practices.
On the last day of training, a group
of participants (teachers and private
tutors) went out to lunch together.
Among this group were a couple of
people who had prior experience using
OG-based programs, such as the Wilson
Table 5. Unbranded and Branded Orton Gillingham Instruction
Unbranded Orton Gillingham Branded Orton Gillingham (i.e., commercially available programs)
Customized instruction delivered by
certified Orton Gillingham practitioners
Alphabetic Phonics
Barton Reading and Spelling System
Herman Method
Recipe for Reading
Take Flight
The Slingerland Approach
The Writing Road to Reading
Wilson Reading System
Table 4. Orton Gillingham REVLOC Mnemonic for Six Syllable Types
Syllable type Explanation Examples
R = r controlled Syllable that has an r immediately following a vowel
wherein the r distorts the sound of the vowel
ar, or, er, ir, ur, ear, our, barn, star,
yard, fern, bird, torn, worn, burn, purse
E = “magic” eA syllable with the long vowel–consonant–silent e pattern bake, game, Pete, pine, bone, poke,
V = vowel teams A syllable containing two or more vowels that represent
one sound
oak, seen, bean, pie, train, cheek, boat,
tray, bow
L = consonant + le An unaccented final syllable containing a consonant and
le; always has a schwa sound for the vowel sound
bubble, handle, humble, circle, jungle
O = open A syllable ending with a single vowel; in a one-syllable
word, the vowel is usually long, but in an unaccented
syllable, it may have a schwa sound (e.g., alone)
hi, go, me, so, she, lady, spider, music,
pilot, depend
C = closed A syllable in which a single vowel is followed by a
consonant; the vowel is usually short but in a word of
more than one syllable, t may have a schwa sound (e.g.,
at, mat, if, sit, bet, rabbit, pencil,
kitten, muffin, insect
246 council For ExcEptional childrEn
Reading System and Barton Reading
and Spelling System. Hannah and
Rubia could now see the difference
between an OG practitioner—as person
who has years of training and
experience designing and delivering OG
instruction—and a person who uses a
branded OG program, who may have
training only in that specific program.
With their new understanding of OG,
Hannah and Rubia knew that OG
practices were in alignment with the
principles of effective reading
instruction for students with learning
disabilities, but they weren’t sure if
research had demonstrated that one
approach or program was best.
Efficacy Research on OG
Although an OG-based approach to
reading would be considered research
based (i.e., aspects of the approach
have been demonstrated as effective by
research), research on the effectiveness
of an OG-based intervention, as a
whole, is challenged by threats to
internal and external validity
(Alexander & Slinger-Constant, 2004;
Ritchey & Goeke, 2006; What Works
Clearinghouse, 2010). Internal validity
is how well confounding variables are
controlled for by the research design,
and external validity is the capacity of
the findings generated by the study to
be applied to similar populations (e.g.,
other students with reading
disabilities). Specific challenges to
internal and external validity include
variation in implementation and
context of delivery, respectively.
A crucial aspect of a strong research
study is tight control over the variables
involved. Therefore, the independent
Table 6. Lesson Plan Framework
Focus area Lesson activity Time
Word study/
Phonological awareness/phonics activity
Phonemic awareness (sans letters)
Visual drill (phonograms, sound cards, magnetic letters)
Sounds only
Sound-letter work (letters and letter patterns/phonograms)
Teach new concepts (e.g., consonants/vowels, digraphs)
Make words with sounds or cards
Play with word structure (remove/add letters/word parts)
Syllable work
Teach or review syllable types (as appropriate)
Coding/marking works
Syllable division with cards or mini-whiteboards
Decoding + irregular (learned) words
Wordlist reading (followed by questions/extensions)
Word cards (fluency games)
Learned word instruction (SOS, gel pads, air writing)
Spelling + written
Auditory drill/dictation (spell sounds, words)
Teach/review concepts for spelling (rules)
Dictation (syntax + handwriting)
Written dictation work (sounds, words, sentences)
Handwriting practice
Syntax and paragraph writing work
Fluency +
Controlled sentence or passage reading (decodable text)/fluency
Sentence reading (silent reading, oral reading, scooping)
Passage reading (silent reading, oral reading, scooping)
Listening comprehension (grade-level text)
Vocabulary instruction
Morphology instruction
Teach comprehension strategies
Apply comprehension strategies
TEACHING ExcEptional childrEn | January/FEbruary 2019 247
variable—in the case of OG, the
intervention delivered should be as
consistent as possible across
participants. A clearly operationalized
and uniformly delivered intervention
increases the confidence with which a
researcher can say, “Students with
reading disabilities who received x
intervention for y duration made, on
average, z amount of gains.” This
confidence is referred to as the internal
validity of a study. The challenge with
OG is that it is not a standardized
program, and implementation varies
due to differences in student need and
teacher selection of particular
instructional activities. Although
advocates of OG note that the
individualization of intervention
delivery is a strength of the program
(Davis, 2011; Sheffield, 1991), it does
present challenges for research. Other
common, uncontrolled variables in prior
research on OG have included variation
in duration of intervention session,
intensity of intervention, and focus of
intervention (Ritchey & Goeke, 2006).
In addition to the challenge of
establishing strong internal validity,
research on OG is also hampered by
threats to external validity. One way to
increase the external validity of a study
is through random assignment of
participants from a target population to
either a treatment or control condition.
Many OG studies fail to randomly
assign students to condition (Richey &
Goeke, 2006). For example, if the
population of interest was third to fifth
graders with reading disabilities who
are performing at least two grade levels
below in reading, a strong research
study might identify 90 students who
meet that profile and then randomly
assign students to different treatment
groups: One group receives OG, one
group receives Super Duper Reading,
and one group receives whatever
regular reading instruction is provided
in their school (i.e., the “business-as-
usual” group). In this type of design,
individual variations in students are
controlled for through random
assignment. However, OG is intensive
(typically delivered one-on-one or in
small groups), expensive, and
dependent on a highly qualified
practitioner. As noted previously,
students typically receive OG
instruction through tutors or private
schools (Joshi, Dahlgren, & Boulware-
Gooden, 2002; Rose & Zirkel, 2007). In
addition, families or schools may
object to the use of a control group, as
some students will be denied access to
the specialized instruction (Rose &
Zirkel, 2007).
Although research on branded OG
programs can also suffer from similar
limitations, such as lack of control
groups or random assignment (Ritchey
& Goeke, 2006), the structure of the
programs and more standardized
implementation has resulted in a
handful of studies demonstrating
“potentially positive effects,”
particularly in the areas of alphabetics
and reading fluency (e.g., Lindamood
Phoneme Sequencing and Wilson
Reading System; see What Works
Clearinghouse, 2010).
It is important to note that these
challenges to internal and external
validity are common within education
research (Hempenstall, 2014). As a
result, the majority of literacy
approaches and programs used within
general and special education fall
under the category of research based
rather than the more stringent evidence
based category. This lack of research,
however, should not imply that all
programs are equally effective or
ineffective. The limitations in research
highlight the need for teachers to be
savvy consumers and the importance
of data to guide teachers’ decision
making. The more teachers understand
about language and reading
development, the more competent they
will be in their ability to screen
programs to see if necessary knowledge
and skills are being addressed (Binks-
Cantrell, Washburn, Joshi, & Hougen,
2012). Data on student performance
will also serve as a guide for
determining program efficacy.
By the end of their 30 hours of
training, Hannah and Rubia were
exhausted, inspired, and full of new
ideas. They decided to take some
well-deserved time off and regroup in
July to map out their plan for the next
school year. By July, they were ready to
take a long, hard look at their current
reading instruction. Knowing that they
did not have the resources or time to
train in a specific program, they decided
to table further exploration of branded
OG programs. First, they wanted to see
what they could learn from applying
some of the foundational concepts
covered in their initial training. They
knew that this hands-on application of
OG could also serve as a guide if they
did decide to seek training in a specific
program at a later date. Carefully
spreading out all of the OG content and
materials on a table, they identified
three areas that they could immediately
make changes to: scope and sequence,
daily lesson plans, and assessment.
OG and Special Education:
Practice Applications
Although special educators and other
practitioners who complete a 30-hour
introductory OG training session will
not possess the deep knowledge and
skills equivalent to those of a certified
OG practitioner, this introductory, basic
training is ample to provide a wealth of
new strategies that can complement
the delivery of reading intervention for
students with reading disabilities or
who are struggling to learn to read. For
example, training will include materials
and resources related to a scope and
sequence for instruction. A strong
scope and sequence reflects a
progression of less complex to more
complex skills, presents the most
functional skills before less common
skills, and includes a plan for teaching
prerequisite concepts through
appropriate scaffolding. In addition,
participants will learn how to use
informal assessments, such as the
Gallistel-Ellis Test of Coding Skills
(Gallistel, 2005) or the CORE Phonics
Survey (Diamond & Thorsnes, 2018),
that can be used for initial planning
and as a progress-monitoring tool.
To begin mapping out their plan for
reading instruction, Hannah and Rubia
looked at the scope and sequence they
received during their training. They
knew that the underlying principle of
248 council For ExcEptional childrEn
OG was to systematically build
students’ understanding of word parts.
For example, for their beginning
readers, after teaching students
consonant-vowel-consonant (CVC)
words (e.g., mat, sad, hit, bed), they
would introduce consonant digraphs
(e.g., sh, ch, th, ck) and then slowly
add in beginning and ending blends
(e.g., st, sp, dr, fr, scr) to teach CCVC
and CVCC words. They used their scope
and sequence to collect materials (e.g.,
sound cards, rules posters) and begin
thinking about planning. Next, they
designed a new lesson plan framework
that included daily drilling of
phonograms (cards with letters and
letter combinations that represent
sounds; e.g., ck = /k/; b = /b/; s =
/s/ and /z/) coupled with dictation
work (Table 6). To accompany this, they
had a handwriting guide they would
use with students to help them master
accurate letter formation. Finally, the
teachers knew that their first task when
students arrived back at school would
be to conduct informal assessments.
These assessments would help them
identify students’ specific skills and
determine initial reading groups. They
could also use the assessments to track
students’ progress over the course of the
year. They selected assessments for the
following areas: alphabetic knowledge
(letter-sound recognition), concepts of
print, phonological awareness,
phoneme awareness, word and sentence
reading, and connected text reading
(i.e., an informal reading assessment).
The history of intervention for students
with dyslexia is intertwined with the
history of Orton and Gillingham and
the curricula based on their work. An
understanding of fundamental
principles of OG can help special
educators understand foundational
elements of literacy instruction. Simply
studying resources associated with OG
implementation can deepen a teacher’s
understanding of the structure of
language and why students may
struggle to understand certain concepts
(e.g., Moats’ [2010] text Speech to
Print). Knowing why a word is
pronounced in a particular way can be
empowering for teachers—stronger
explanations and new strategies for
remediation stem from understanding
language development—and can allow
for more insightful assessment of
students’ strengths and needs.
The English language is complex
but not insurmountable. Every time
teachers engage in professional
development or training that enhances
their knowledge of the structure of
language and strategies for teaching
this structure to students, they are
becoming more skilled technicians of
reading. For students with dyslexia, a
knowledgeable and skilled teacher can
make all the difference.
By the time the new school year
began, Hannah and Rubia were ready
to begin their enhanced literacy
instruction. They were excited about the
new scope and sequence and
particularly ready to integrate spelling
and handwriting within daily reading,
but Rubia wanted more. She contacted
a local “OG Fellow” and was taking her
first steps toward pursuing official
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Kristin L. Sayeski, Associate Professor,
Communication Sciences and Special
Education, University of Georgia, Athens,
GA; Gentry A. Earle, First Grade Teacher,
Wardlaw School, Atlanta Speech School,
Atlanta, GA; Rosalie Davis, Fellow,
Academy of Orton-Gillingham Practioners
and Educators, and Josie Calamari, Director
of Teacher Training, The Schenck School,
Atlanta, GA.
Address correspondence concerning this
article to Kristin L. Sayeski, University of
Georgia, 517 Aderhold Hall, Athens, GA
30602-7153 (e-mail:
TEACHING Exceptional Children,
Vol. 51, No. 3, pp. 240–249.
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... The OG approach targets a multisensory, direct and structured system that emphasizes remedial training for potential deficiencies while also imploring beliefs of neurodiversity (Gillingham & Stillman, 2012). In summary, successful OG approach strategies involve effective communication that emphasizes getting students involved through multiple sensory (i.e., auditory, visual and kinesthetic) instructional approaches and targeting individual modification strategies that best align with each student (see Sayeski et al., 2019). Teaching with a multisensory approach provides additional pathways for the learner to receive information and is an essential pillar of the OG approach (Morgan, 2019). ...
... Disabilities that are "hidden" like dyslexia, as opposed to more physical and/or visually recognizable disabilities, can be overlooked in planning and expectations by PE teachers (Gilbert, 2019). Students with dyslexia might require the teacher to formulate class notes into "mind maps," with colors, arrows, pictures and humor, in an effort to improve comprehension and memorization of concepts (Sayeski et al., 2019). For example, when introducing a unit on basketball skills and lead-up games to students with dyslexia, the PE teacher should consider not only explaining the simple rules (audio) but also have a board with signs, symbols and pictures of the sport and key concepts (visual) and then have one of the students show the move or skill (kinesthetic) as a demonstration. ...
... For instance, creating a routine "check-in time" with students, using positive talk and encouragement, would allow the PE teacher to understand and connect with that student. Though research indicates that neurological origins of dyslexia are caused by biological factors (Sayeski et al., 2019), emotional aspects of uncertainty and overload resulting from dyslexia are extremely important. For instance, students with dyslexia often experience emotional distress during early educational reading instruction (Riddick, 2009). ...
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... The Orton-Gillingham method provides a structure for reading and writing instruction. It pioneered the idea of teaching reading and spelling through a sequence of increasingly challenging phonics-based practices (Mulyadi, 2010;Sayeski et al., 2019). The Gillingham method is an advanced, highly structured strategy that could take up to five years to master. ...
... The first assignment is to practice reading and writing Alkhazaleh, Khasawneh, Alkhazaleh, Alelaimat & Alotaibi 138 words containing distinct letter sounds (Sayeski et al., 2019). Children learn the alphabet by tracing each letter individually. ...
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Dyslexia is a cognitive disorder that emerges as a reading difficulty in childhood. This reading disability reveals itself as the inability to read. Children with dyslexia have difficulty distinguishing visually identical letters, and they perceive writing as a series of scribbles. This makes it difficult for them to comprehend the written material. This study endeavor employs the Fernald method with the intention that it will aid in the improvement of the participants' reading skills. The experimental design was used Alkhazaleh, Khasawneh, Alkhazaleh, Alelaimat & Alotaibi 134 to collect data for this study, which involved only one participant. The participants were given a 10-word reading comprehension test as the assessment instrument for this study. At the initial baseline examination, the respondent could consistently read only four out of ten words correctly throughout all four readings. This was the person's lowest score. After receiving four consecutive interventions based on the Fernald technique, the student was able to achieve a score of nine out of a possible ten points, demonstrating achievement. Before taking the drug, the student routinely scored nine out of a possible ten. Before the intervention, the situation was normal. The conclusion that can be drawn is that the employment of the Fernald technique is likely to result in an improvement in the subject's reading skills. The findings may aid parents and educators in assisting children with learning disabilities, such as dyslexia. In addition, the limitations and flaws of this study are provided at the bottom. Keywords: Dyslexia, Reading, Improvement
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... There are decades of support that the Orton-Gillingham approach is what works to help children with dyslexia (Sayeski et al., 2019). This approach advanced the multisensory perspective to teaching reading and is specifically designed to help struggling readers with its systematic and explicit connections between letters and sounds (Sayeski et al., 2019). A certified OG tutor costs $65-$100 or more an hour. ...
i>This study adopts the lens of uncertainty management theory to understand how mothers of children with dyslexia construct and negotiate the uncertainty they face. Dyslexia is academically, mentally, financially, and emotionally challenging for families, but the voices of parents are often missing from the conversation. Interpretive thematic analysis of a large online support group for parents illustrated four major sources of uncertainty: the future, advocacy, communicating about the diagnosis, and the financial cost. Exploring the uncertainty of mothers themselves offers a more textured understanding of the meaning and sense-making processes of families as they navigate a common yet widely misunderstood learning disability. </i
... Another multisensory approach that can be used to improve reading skills is the Orton-Gillingham method [13]. This approach uses a systematic and structured approach to teach reading skills, starting with the basics such as letter recognition and sound-symbol association, and gradually building up to more complex skills such as decoding and comprehension. ...
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... He was assisted by Bessie Stillman and Anna Gillingham. The study produced a method branded the Orton Gillingham-Stillman Approach (Sayeski et al., 2019). A multisensory approach will be able to create a learning network capable of increasing phonological awareness (Ngong, 2019) capable of building students' interest and focus on reading skills. ...
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... Learners need to be able to blend, segment and place sounds in context within the process of learning oral language skills and in learning literacy skills (Ehri, Nunes, Stahl, & Willows, 2001;Nation & Snowling, 2004;Sayeski, Earle, Davis, & Calamari, 2018). The differences between the student's first language/dialect and SAE should guide learning (Toohill, McLeod, & McCormack, 2012) and the learning of consonants requires students to become aware of their pronunciation through sensory activities (Acton, 2015;Acton, Baker, Burri, & Teaman, 2013). ...
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There is a nascent movement towards evidence-based practice in education in Australia, evident in Federal and State education documents, if not in classrooms. Such a classroom-level outcome would require a number of conditions to be met. One of the critical requirements is that teachers be provided with knowledge and training in practices that have an acceptable evidence base, in other words to know what works. Many reformers pin their hopes on systematic reviews to provide the information. However, it is becoming increasingly apparent that this expectation may not be easily met, especially in the short term. This paper considers some of the recent issues that have muddied the waters.
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Although connectionist models provide a framework explaining how the decoding and encoding abilities work reciprocally to enhance reading and spelling ability, encoding instruction in today’s schools is not a priority. Although a limited amount of high-quality experimental or control studies to date (N = 11) give empirical support to using direct, explicit encoding instruction to increase the reading and spelling abilities of those students at risk for literacy failure, the benefits of integrating this instruction into current reading curriculums warrant further consideration. Students receiving encoding instruction and guided practice that included using (a) manipulatives (e.g., letter tiles, plastic letters) to learn phoneme–grapheme relationships and words and (b) writing phoneme–grapheme relationships and words made from these correspondences significantly outperformed contrast groups not receiving encoding instruction. Robust Cohen’s d effect sizes, favoring the treatment groups, were found in areas of phonemic awareness, spelling, decoding, fluency, comprehension, and writing. Educational implications of these findings suggest that there is support for using encoding instruction to increase the literacy performances of at-risk primary grade students and that encoding instruction can be successful in improving the reading and spelling performances of older students with learning disabilities. Importantly, there is also evidence to support the transfer effects of early encoding instruction on later reading, writing, and spelling performances.
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The purpose of this study was to determine whether integrating encoding instruction with reading instruction provides stronger gains for students who struggle with reading than instruction that includes little or no encoding. An instructional design model was investigated to best fit the data of 175 first-grade readers at risk for reading disabilities. Using cross-classified hierarchical linear modeling, variance in students’ posttest scores could adequately be explained by students’ initial encoding and decoding abilities, classroom and intervention encoding instruction time, and the number of supplemental integrated encoding and decoding intervention lessons received. Results indicated that integrating encoding and decoding instruction in first-grade classrooms, as well as supplemental intervention programs, may be the missing link to decreasing and possibly preventing future reading failure for students previously at risk for reading disabilities.
This paper discusses a philosophic basis for Orton-Gillingham teaching and attempts to demonstrate how certain of the features of such multisensory teaching act to remediate language problems exhibited by many dyslexic students. The common basis of the array of programs coming from both Orton and Gillingham is addressed. Some individual strengths and minor differences between Orton and Gillingham variations are examined.
This meta-analysis of 22 studies examines the relationship between phonics and the academic achievement of urban minority elementary school children. Further analyses distinguish between those studies that are of higher quality than the others and those studies that examine all minority students and mostly minority students. Results indicate a significant relationship between phonics instruction and higher academic achievement. Phonics instruction, as a whole, is associated with academic variables by about .23 to .33 of a standard deviation unit. This relationship holds for studies that examine all minority students and those that include mostly minority students. The results also hold for higher quality studies. The significance of these results is discussed.