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Created by Samuel Torrey Orton and Anna Gillingham in the early stages of the 20th century, the Orton Gillingham reading approach consists of a set of techniques to teach reading differently than the way that is considered 'conventional'. A blend of multi-sensory techniques help to reinforce letters, and later, whole words and sentences in the mind of the student - thus teaching them to read properly over a period of time. Here, we look at how the method is of particular use for students with difficulties such as dyslexia, and how the principles can be applied in the classroom.
Usually, when learning about letter formation, pupils are asked to copy out or trace over a set of letters. This is useful in the sense that the child memorizes the shape that identifies each letter, and can use this knowledge to build a whole sentence consisting of a combination of these.
When doing things the Orton Gillingham way though, the outline of each letter is reinforced three times, rather than just the once. As well as copying or tracing the letter, the student is required to trace it in the air in front of them, and try to speak it out loud. By saying a letter slowly and clearly, it is possible to gain a basic understanding of phonics - vital in understanding the art of building words and sentences.
Only after all the letters are known - and can be written out or said aloud without any major difficulties - does the child progress onto the next stage. They begin learning that letters make sounds, whilst sounds make words when combined. A collection of words creates a sentence, and this can later be developed into a paragraph.
Through carefully revising each step in learning to read, the student is less likely to have problems in the future. This is because they will know fully how letters are made, as well as the best ways to sound them out when trying to create the bigger picture.
The approach is not only flexible, but systematic; everything falls into place from one stage to the next. As the Orton Gillingham method can be quite time-consuming, it is not widely used in public schools. Instead, it is fostered only in special educational institutions where children commonly suffer from learning difficulties and conditions such as dyslexia.
Taking dyslexia as an example, people with this problem find it very difficult to read, copy or trace on paper. This means they are unlikely to retain the information for very long, and may even be unable to complete the task at all. However, by using different senses to express the letters and words (tracing shapes in mid-air, for example), they can create useful memory triggers that they can recall when reading, or even writing.
With a bit of history of the English language interwoven into the program, the Orton Gillingham method aims to address as many of the different areas of a child's reading experience as possible. Visual, auditory and kinesthetic learners can all use the approach due to its level of flexibility, and it is being used to this day in numerous schools for children with learning difficulties across the USA.