Dr. Samuel Torrey Orton, a neuropsychiatrist who specialized in language related deficits, used multisensory techniques in the 1920’s at his mobile mental health clinic in Iowa. Dr. Orton Gillingham uses the multisensory approach to reading. Dr. Orton felt that kinesthetic – tactile reinforcement of visual and auditory letters could correct young children’s predisposition to reversing letters. Dr. Orton taught children adaptation skills, such as making a vertical line and then making the circle for the letter b. Dr. Orton taught the reverse method for the letter d. Anna Gillingham, a teacher and psychologist who studied under Dr. Orton, based her alphabetic method on Dr. Orton’s theories. The multisensory techniques were combined with teaching English structure. This included the sounds (phonemes), meaning units (morphemes) like prefixes, suffixes, roots, and spelling rules. The name Orton and Gillingham was a result of structured, multisensory, sequential techniques devised from the combination of their theories.
The multisensory approach combines visual, auditory, and kinesthetic, modes of learning in learning to read. When connections are made through several pathways, more of what the child learns is retained. Orton Gillingham teaches children to link sounds with a written word. Children connect the sound and letter with how they form the letter. A child will be introduced to a letter. The child will trace, copy, and write the letter while repeating the sound the letter makes. The teacher may utter the sound while the child writes the letter. Children learn to read and spell phrases using this learning program. Sight words, tracing, and phonics are combined so the child acquires more avenues for learning.
There are 42 basic sounds and letters that are taught one at a time. Word decoding on a daily basis equips a child with the skill set to decode any word rather than sight-reading. Sight reading is a laborious process that requires a child to memorize a massive amount of words. Memorization is the main component during sight-reading as no decoding process is present. The multisensory approach used in the Orton Gillingham approach is a key ingredient to the program’s success. Many programs teach children in a cookie cutter design. Modern classrooms contain many different types of learners. They may be auditory, kinesthetic, tactile, or visual. Inclusion has created differentiated classrooms where innovative forms of reaching students without dumbing down work are necessitated.
Recent research suggests that students who have difficulty learning a second language have weaknesses in their oral native language. Thus affecting their performance within an English language environment, these weaknesses affect the comprehension of phonetic, syntax, and semantics. Dyslexic and other learning disabled students may be affected by the same weaknesses. Orton Gillingham is a great alternative to English immersion programs that are prevalent within the learning community at the present time. If a child cannot decode letters they will inevitably have difficulty reading, whether they are learning disabled, learning English as a second language, or is in early grade school and presently learning reading skills. In closing, the writer hopes they have addressed the basic concepts that validate the positive self efficacy that Orton Gillingham can promote within the classroom. As learned in class, children learn through skills they have already been introduced to. The long-term goal of a student is to assist them from the learning to read stage to the reading to learn stage. Metacognition must occur for a child to reach the reading to learn stage. The learner must gain an awareness of background knowledge, skills, and deficiencies and be cognizant of how these affect their learning. Students who acquire the skill to relate information in texts to previous knowledge are more successful readers than those who don’t.
Metacognition is developed through becoming proficient in reading. Children must become competent in comprehending the structure of words, eventually comprehending the meaning behind the word itself. The Orton Gillingham reading program takes the child beyond memorization and teaches comprehension and strategizing tools that will continue to lead a child, no matter what their learning style may be on the path to reading success.