The Science Behind Orton-Gillingham: Why It Works

When it comes to effective literacy education, the search for impactful teaching methodologies is on the rise. A popular approach that is helping educators everywhere address all instructional tiers is the Orton-Gillingham (OG) approach. Based on the science of reading (SoR), OG is a widely recognized methodology focused on a systematic, sequential approach that utilizes multimodal instruction for teaching reading and spelling.

Understanding Orton-Gillingham: A Methodology Rooted in Science

Developed in the early 20th century by Samuel T. Orton and Anna Gillingham, this structured, multisensory approach has become synonymous with effective remediation for individuals with dyslexia and other reading challenges.

At its core, the Orton-Gillingham methodology recognizes that language is a complex system and tailors instruction to the unique needs of each learner. The evidence-based approach focuses on teaching students the connection between phonemes and graphemes through the use of auditory, visual, and kinesthetic pathways. Using multiple pathways to teach and review concepts helps solidify the connection between what students hear, say, see, and write.

Orton-Gillingham isn’t just a methodology; it’s a testament to the power of research-driven strategies in unlocking the door to literacy for every individual, regardless of their learning profile. As we delve into the intricacies of Orton-Gillingham, we discover a methodology that not only stands the test of time but continues to evolve, grounded in the ever-advancing landscape of scientific understanding in literacy education.

Neurological Alignment: It Starts in the Brain

The magic of OG lies in its alignment with the brain’s neurological processes. The evidence-based approach focuses on teaching students the connection between phonemes and graphemes through the use of auditory, visual, and kinesthetic pathways. Using multiple pathways to teach and review concepts helps solidify the connection between what students hear, say, see, and write.

Multisensory Learning: The Key to Success

At the core of OG is its multisensory approach. Engaging multiple learning pathways simultaneously—visual, auditory, and kinesthetic—ensures a deeper, more comprehensive understanding and retention of language concepts. Learners who hear, see, write, and speak a word or phrase create stronger neural connections, reinforcing learning and retention.

Consistent Corrective Feedback and Individualized Instruction

One of OG’s hallmarks is its adaptability. OG focuses on a prescriptive-diagnostic teaching methodology. OG-trained educators diagnose their students’ academic abilities and/or limitations, then prescribe an appropriate course of action through tailored lessons to suit each learner’s unique strengths and challenges. With an emphasis on corrective feedback, students must master each skill before they move on to the next. By identifying specific areas of difficulty and employing targeted strategies, OG fosters a supportive learning environment where students can thrive.

The Efficacy of Orton-Gillingham in Practice

Its integration of neuroscience, personalized instruction, and multisensory techniques signifies a progressive stride toward inclusive and effective literacy education. Numerous success stories stand as a testament to the transformative power of the Orton-Gillingham approach. Students who once struggled with reading, spelling, and language comprehension have deveoped confidence and proficiency through this method. By building a solid foundation in phonemic awareness, morphology, orthography, semantics, syntax, and more, learners equipped with the power of OG are sure to become more adept readers and writers. 

Check out IMSE Impact Structured Literacy Professional Development and begin your journey toward unlocking the potential of every learner and revolutionizing literacy in your classroom with Orton-Gillingham.

What Is the Science of Reading?

Literacy is a fundamental human right connected to all learner’s future outcomes. A student’s entire education relies on whether or not they are a proficient reader. When it comes to literacy instruction, it is our educators who we depend upon to be well-equipped to take on such a significant task.

The Science of Reading is a large body of research on the science behind reading. This conclusive, empirically supported research provides us with the information to understand how we learn to read, what skills are involved, how they work together, and which parts of the brain are responsible for reading development. 

This body of research encompasses years of scientific knowledge and shares contributions from experts and key stakeholders from relevant disciplines. These disciplines include, but are not limited to:

  • Education
  • Special Education
  • Literacy
  • Neurology
  • Psychology

From this research, we can identify an evidence-based best practice for teaching reading: Structured Literacy.

Science of Reading expert David Kilpatrick stated, “We teach reading in different ways; they learn to read proficiently in only one way.” The Science of Reading provides evidence backed by the science of how we best learn to read. 

The Science of Reading helps us understand the cognitive processes essential for reading proficiency. It describes the development of reading skills for both typical and atypical readers.


The Science of Reading and Orton-Gillingham

Orton-Gillingham is a long-standing, evidence-based multisensory instructional approach to teaching reading that is now reinforced by more modern research from the Science of Reading. Orton-Gillingham strongly emphasizes systematic, explicit, diagnostic phonics instruction so that students understand the hows and whys behind reading.

Reading difficulties are highly preventable for young, at-risk students if they are approached correctly. Studies demonstrate the efficacy of intensive phonics instruction, including phonemic awareness training, decoding strategies, and opportunities for repeated practice. Efficient orthographic mapping is achieved through intervention in these skills, ultimately leading to success. 

Phonics empowers our students. By memorization of the sounds of just ten letters, students are able to read:

  • 350 three-sound words
  • 4,320 four-sound words
  • 21,650 five-sound words

The Science of Reading illustrates that educators need to secure phonics as the primary approach to reading and, in turn, prepares students to become fluent and independent readers for life. The Science of Reading proves that we do not learn to read differently. With the help of Orton-Gillingham instruction, every student can access the same knowledge and skills to become a good reader.