The Orton-Gillingham Approach: How It’s Implemented & How It Benefits A Child’s Learning
An interview with 3 Associate-Level Certified AOGPE Lower School Teachers at The Fletcher School
About our interviewees:
This spring, three Fletcher teachers will be presenting at the Academy of Orton-Gillingham Practitioners and Educators (AOGPE) conference. Held in Charlotte, the conference will be focused on “Unraveling the Mystery of Dyslexia”. In their presentation proposals, Christi Kubeck (M.Ed, A/AOGPE, 3rd grade teacher), Stephanie Sanders (MS, A/AOGPE, 4th Grade teacher) and January Reed (M.Ed, A/AOGPE, 3rd Grade teacher) demonstrated their knowledge and expertise in assistive technology and how it compliments the Orton-Gillingham (OG) approach, resulting in tremendous positive impacts on student learning. Working in teams, they submitted two presentation proposals, both of which were accepted for this conference.
What’s New in Assistive Technology?, presented by Christi Kubeck and Stephanie Sanders, will focus on specific built-in iPad features, including apps and strategies that support reading comprehension, speech/oral expression, written expression, executive functioning, and data collection using digital portfolios. The session will explore the rich set of accessibility features Apple devices offer and how you can customize them to help diverse learners succeed.
“Appy Hour: Innovation with iPads”, presented by Christi Kubeck and January Reed, will empower educators with innovative lessons to remediate struggling readers, improve spelling, and increase attention using the iPad. During the presentation, a variety of apps will be presented that educators can use to enhance the Orton-Gillingham lesson. The activities will keep students on-task and engaged while sharpening essential reading and spelling skills.
Our teachers chose to focus their topics on technology and its enhancement of learning based on their experience at several conferences in the past, including the International Dyslexia Association (IDA) Conference and 2016 AOGPE Conference in Atlanta. At these conferences, they realized that many of the presentations on technology and education were outdated. They were inspired to bring fresh, up-to-date information to this year’s AOGPE conference.
As an Apple Distinguished School, Fletcher has proven success with new and innovative technologies, and these teachers have witnessed first-hand the positive impact that it has had on our students’ learning.
What is the Orton-Gillingham approach and how is it implemented?
All Fletcher School academic programs are based on the Orton-Gillingham (OG) method of instruction as developed by Dr. Samuel T. Orton and educator Anna Gillingham. Proven especially effective for children with Specific Learning Disabilities (SLD), the OG methodology utilizes phonetics and multisensory teaching methods which cater to visual, auditory and kinesthetic learning styles. Instruction begins by focusing on the structure of language and gradually moves towards reading multisyllabic words, sentences, and passages. Through this approach, teachers provide students with immediate feedback and a predictable sequence that integrates reading, writing, and spelling.
This approach is unique in that it is both prescriptive and systematic -- it’s about figuring out where the child fits in the learning sequence. It’s literally based on a child’s unique needs. Through this approach, educators are able to capitalize on an individual student’s dominant learning modality while delivering instruction that will strengthen the remaining learning pathways.
What are the benefits of Orton-Gillingham on a child’s learning and how can students without a Specific Learning Disability (SLD) also benefit?
January’s daughter, McKenzie, attended Fletcher for several years and recently transferred to another school. When McKenzie was in 4th grade, she was asked about school and her teachers. She responded by saying that, at Fletcher, “we learn how we need to learn and our teachers make sure we don’t go faster than we’re capable”.
January notes that McKenzie never struggled with low self esteem because of her disability, even since her transition to a new school. She attributes this to her daughter’s experience at Fletcher and the School’s unique way of celebrating differences and encouraging self-advocacy. Fletcher’s culture of caring has formed a unique community -- a family of students and teachers who support each other and understand and celebrate their uniqueness. McKenzie felt great support as she came to know and understand what works for her and what doesn’t. This self confidence and ability to self advocate is critical to any child’s development.
Each subject it taught using every modality -- auditory, visual, kinesthetic -- so it’s about engaging in language, not just memorizing words. Our teachers use everything when teaching -- even the simplest props from around the classroom.
This multisensory teaching allows students to use many different parts of the brain. Children really do have fun learning. Lessons are very engaging. Learning via sight, sound, and touch really opens students’ eyes. Multisensory teaching, paired with an in-depth look at the structure of the English language demonstrates the logic behind how words are broken down. Again, students aren’t just memorizing, which uses one part of the brain. They are engaging different areas of the brain at once when using their ears, eyes and hands simultaneously. This multisensory experience helps children learn and truly understand the subject matter. This is an approach to learning that is beneficial for every child.
Another aspect of OG that is especially prevalent at Fletcher is a focus on improving Executive Functioning (EF) skills. Reinforcing accountability, organization and self-awareness within our students is critical for students with SLD, however, these are also very important life skills for any child.
Our students are encouraged every day to set goals while appropriately managing their tasks and staying organized. For example, each student begins their day in homeroom where they update their ‘blue sheet’. It is on this sheet that they write their goals and “to do’s” for the day. They even take this home and their parents must mark when their at-home tasks are complete. The student then turns this in to their homeroom teacher again the next morning. If a task is not complete, they are held accountable.
As our students grow in their learning process, they come to know and understand their unique learning style -- their strengths and weaknesses. Based on this self-awareness and understanding, they come to learn self-advocacy skills. They learn how to communicate their needs to others to be sure they’re in a situation that will allow them to reach their full potential. The development of these self-advocacy skills is especially a focus in Upper School as students prepare for college and life beyond.
Repetition is a very important part of any child’s learning and is hence a key component of OG. Repetition ensures mastery. [In OG, teachers make sure their students have mastered the first sequence in the learning process before moving onto the next one.] They often have to work through various methods/ways of teaching until they find a method that works for the student’s particular way of processing and retaining information.
How is this approach to teaching/learning different than in public schools?
A culture of caring: Individualized instruction
At Fletcher, the child sets the pace of his/her learning. One motto we go by is: “go as fast as you can, but as slow as you need”. This is one of the many things that makes Fletcher so unique. This paradigm is quite an adjustment for some parents who are used to the ‘race to finish’ mentality at many public schools.
Much of what makes our approach so successful is our small class sizes and well-trained teachers. This really makes a huge difference at Fletcher in terms of cultivating a culture of caring. Teachers are able to give each student individualized attention and unique methods of teaching. This intimate relationship fosters a deep understanding of each student. Each student is accepted for who they are and their unique way of learning. They aren’t put in box -- a large classroom full of students with one method of instruction -- as is the situation in many public schools. Our teachers really get to know their students, and this makes them (both students and teachers) truly happy. Our teachers really love what they do. And as a parent, student, or teacher, you can really sense this culture of caring and joy as soon as you walk in the door. Small class sizes also allows for teachers to really hold students accountable for what they say they will do, thus reinforcing their EF skills.
Our attentiveness to the way our children learn has resulted in a unique structure of the day. Whereas in public schools, core classes are held at various times of the day, at Fletcher, core classes (reading, writing, etc.) are always held in the mornings. This is because the mornings are when our children’s brains are awake and best able to focus. Electives and specials are held in the afternoons.
What are the benefits of technology use in Orton-Gillingham?
The OG approach doesn’t typically involve high technology use. Fletcher, however, has realized the benefits that assistive technology has had on our students’ learning.
It’s important to remember that children with SLD’s have average or above-average IQ scores. Many of our students are highly intelligent. Technology can help open the doors to this higher learning capacity. For example, a child who struggles with writing is allowed to let his/her ideas flow more readily and with greater detail when they can be spoken rather than written. Apps on their iPads allow words and sentences to be recorded as written text. Another example is that children who need to organize their thoughts graphically, can do so on an iPad more easily than with the limited resources in a traditional classroom. Assistive technology allows our children to better reach their at or above average intellectual potential.
It’s also important to realize that children today are growing up in a technology dominated world. Adapting to technology at an early age will better prepare them for the future that lies ahead.
Our 1:1 technology program has provided each student with their own device. Since its implementation in 2013, we’ve seen dramatic improvements in our students’ learning through enhanced multisensory lessons.
How can parents best support their child’s learning?
Tips for supporting learning at home
- Encourage your kid(s) to read aloud daily; make it fun!
- Implement structure. Try and get your child on a routine. For example, set a certain time to do homework, eat dinner, and go to bed.
- Ensure your child is getting plenty of sleep and a well-rounded diet.
- Know that when the day is done, your child’s energy is spent and they need time for play. It’s important not to overload your child’s schedule with after school activities. To allow for play time, Fletcher assigns minimal homework compared to traditional schools. The homework that is assigned is mainly repetition of what they learned in class and they are simple exercises; they are intended to be easy enough to be done alone and aren’t too strenuous.
Tips for technology use at home
Know the important difference between creative time on a device and consumption/passive time on a device. Limit the latter and encourage any time on the device to be creative -- homework, reading exercises, etc. Always monitor their activity!
Other basic tips and tricks parents can use to communicate with their child based on their specific learning style
- It’s important to know how your child learns. This will allow you to recognize and acknowledge their strengths.
- Constantly look for opportunities to teach self-advocacy.
- Be sure to teach digital citizenship around your child’s use of technology. Always be aware of what your child is doing on their device and teach him/her what is appropriate and what isn’t. This will greatly reduce chances of cyber bullying and other victimization by peers.
- Attend Rankin Institute events! General workshops as well as specific workshops (focused on one particular type of LD) are offered throughout the year that will help you to understand your child’s learning difference. All are hosted by experts in the field of LD. These workshops are also a great opportunity to meet and get to know other parents who have children with LD! Click here to view our list of upcoming workshops!