Overcoming reading difficulties with Orton-Gillingham
Guest author Adria Karlsson writes about teaching children with language-based learning disabilities how to read.
There are many different types of learner in the world. Within any given classroom a teacher is likely to encounter a myriad of learning styles, skills, special talents, and learning differences. Although this can create an exceptionally enriching environment for the students, it requires a teacher that can encourage students to shine in areas where they are strong, and to learn in areas where they struggle.
As a teacher of student with language-based learning disabilities, I encounter students with very different learning styles each day. I work with students from first through seventh grade, and it is remarkable the ways in which each student’s profile is unique. The common strand throughout though is their difficulty in learning how to read, spell, and write. Commonly referred to as dyslexic, these students in fact have very different learning profiles, but none of them are disabled. Without proper instruction, they quickly fall by the wayside and often descend to the title of “trouble student.”
To tackle language-based learning disabilities, you need an approach which provides structure and positive feedback while allowing for the differences in each child’s learning style. My fellow teachers and I follow the Orton-Gillingham approach for reading instruction. Their method is “language-based, multisensory, structured, sequential, cumulative, cognitive, and flexible” (ortonacademy.org). This means that we teach students using their eyes, ears, and fingers. We teach them using a process that draws on their ability to problem solve and use logical reasoning. We do not make huge leaps in instruction and expect them to intuitively understand how language works. They always progress even as they constantly review the basics. It is clearly acknowledged that our students are capable, and we draw on their strengths as thinkers to enable them to learn. Lastly, we teach them in a way that works for each individual student – not in the way that works for the “normal” learners in the world.
Each lesson follows the same progression but with a new focus each day:
That is how an Orton-Gillingham lesson looks. It is highly structured and, due to that particular structure, it is also highly effective. Although no approach is right for every student, the Orton-Gillingham approach has proven successful over and over again for students that struggle to learn the symbolic systems of our language. With a knowledgeable tutor that can tailor the process to an individual learner, these “disabled” students have shown how able they really are. They grow into confident people with an understanding of their strengths and weaknesses. As a teacher, there is nothing like seeing a severely dyslexic student crack a piece of the code and realize that “hop” can be turned into “hope” by adding the “Magic E”. I credit the Orton-Gillingham approach for making that happen.
Parents who are interested in learning more about Orton-Gillingham can visit their web site at www.ortonacademy.org. Here are a few other useful links: