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9 Questions About the Orton-Gillingham Approach Answered!

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If you’ve only recently heard of Orton-Gillingham, you may have questions about the principles and approach.

We are both, Emily and Casey, structured literacy specialists trained in Orton-Gillingham and Orton-Gillingham-based programs. 

In this post, we’re addressing some common questions we see and hear being asked about Orton-Gillingham. We answer these questions from the perspective of interventionists who work with the dyslexic population. However, we understand that OG-based instruction can also be supported in the typical or general classroom.

It’s important to note that the OG principles include both the academic and the emotional wellness of the child. We plan to dig into some of the misunderstandings and misconceptions that are often shared on social media platforms and in conversations.

For more about the Orton-Gillingham approach, check out these past episodes of the Together in Literacy Podcast:

Here are nine of the most common questions we see and hear being asked about the Orton-Gillingham approach:

1. Is there just one training program for OG?

No. There are many accredited and approved structured literacy training programs. Not everyone chooses the same program. Some educators will choose more of an overview program while others may go for something more in-depth, requiring a practicum. There are even some online options. There are also multiple different levels of training, ranging from classroom training to therapist or follow level.

Choosing which is best for you will require some reflection on what you need right now and your ultimate goals.  

For a full list, visit the International Dyslexia Association's website and view their list of accredited and approved structured literacy training programs.

2. Is Orton-Gillingham a program?

No. Orton-Gillingham is an approach. No one company or person owns the name "Orton-Gillingham."

This can be confusing for those who are just becoming familiar with the approach. Because OG is an approach and not a program, there are certain things all those trained in OG will do the same, but also some things that will be different. What ties us all together, though, is that we all follow the Orton-Gillingham principles at the core of what we do.  

There are programs that are designed and developed around the Orton-Gillingham principles. 

3. Do all of those trained in OG  follow the same progression and scope and sequence?

No. This will vary based on a few things:

  • Where the educator has trained. Different organizations may have different suggested progressions that you follow with your students
  • The needs of the child you are working with. The Orton-Gillingham approach is both diagnostic and prescriptive and this will look different for each student based on his/her needs. 

4. Aren’t OG and structured literacy just phonics?

No, but phonics is one of the elements. OG and structured literacy are so, so much more.

Structured literacy describes effective reading instruction that is vital for students with dyslexia but is also beneficial for all.

This includes:

  • Phonology
  • Phonemic awareness
  • Sound-symbol correspondence
  • Work with syllables
  • Morphology
  • Syntax and semantics.

OG supports all aspects of language development. It is so much more than just phonics.

5. Isn’t “multi-sensory instruction” just using sand, paint, and foam to trace letters?

No. Multi-sensory instruction incorporates seeing, feeling, hearing, and touching. Though we use those senses, it doesn’t mean that we have to be using them with sand, paint, or shaving cream. 

Multi-sensory instruction also heightens a child's awareness of things like proper mouth formation when we’re teaching sound production. It's really quite in-depth. We know that multi-sensory instruction works because it strengthens neural pathways in the brain. 

For a deeper discussion of the importance of engaging multiple senses while learning, check out our interview with Dr. Erica Warren about working memory.

6.  Isn’t structured literacy just for kids with dyslexia?

No. A structured literacy approach will benefit the majority of the kids in your classroom. As the saying goes, “It helps most and harms no one.”

We have known for years from studies that OG has helped many kids and adults with dyslexia become readers. Now we’re finding out from even more research studies that the things we’ve been doing with children with dyslexia also benefit people who do not have dyslexia. 

7. Is structured literacy in a classroom boring?

If you've sat in a structured literacy classroom, you know that it is a fun and lively environment where kids are excited about being able to read. We don’t love things that are hard for us, but we do love when things make sense. Structured literacy provides the pieces for kids to make sense of language. 

In an OG lesson, children are active in the lesson and the learning. The idea that OG is dry and boring is a misconception.

8. Why haven’t there been any peer-reviewed research studies done on the efficacy of OG?

This is because OG is an approach. It follows a set of principles that are prescriptive and diagnostic. What one student needs will not look the same as what another student needs.

Because of this, it is not possible to have a peer-reviewed research study. In order to conduct a peer-reviewed research study, all students in a cohort would need to follow the exact same lesson plan structure and format in each lesson, which would not be prescriptive and diagnostic for each student in that cohort and thus not follow OG principles. 

9. Does OG follow a speech-to-print model?

Speech-to-print is a phrase you’ve likely been hearing about recently. In most OG-based programs, it is not one or the other. Most OG-based programs will include both speech-to-print and print-to-speech approaches.

Special Gift for You

From Emily - Sign up for The Literacy Nest email list and receive a 15% coupon for purchase from The Literacy Nest Store. 

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For more detailed answers to each of these questions, check out our latest episode of the Together in Literacy podcast. If you like what you hear, don’t forget to rate, leave a positive review, and subscribe!

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