The Orton-Gillingham approach: What is it?

“To learn to read is to light a fire; every syllable that is spelled out is a spark.” – Victor Hugo

When children are navigating their educational journey, it’s crucial they become proficient readers by the end of third grade. Why? Because beginning in fourth grade, children must read to learn other subjects, such as math, history, science, etc. Since our founding in 2017, ALLMemphis has greatly impacted over 2,300 students from local, Title I schools, as shown in our last full year of data prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. Kindergarten students showed a 48% increase in proficient readers; first grade students showed a 31% increase in proficient readers; and second grade students showed a 28% increase in proficient readers. We attribute our impact to the way we’ve taken the previously exclusive Orton-Gillingham approach and made it accessible to all Memphis learners. In case you’re unfamiliar with the Orton-Gillingham approach, let us explain!

How it came to be

The Orton-Gillingham approach, developed by neuropsychiatrist and pathologist Samuel Orton and educator and psychologist Anna Gillingham, has been in use for almost 100 years. The method takes a multi-sensory approach to reading and focuses primarily on the needs and proficiency level of individual students. 

How it’s used

Instructors using the Orton-Gillingham approach must be specially trained to take it on in their classroom and are encouraged to do so in small groups of students. The approach explicitly teaches the connection between letters and their sounds, ultimately encouraging both the decoding and encoding of words and syllables. It uses multi-sensory techniques to stimulate sight, sound, movement and touch to further deepen the sound/symbol connections.

Orton-Gillingham is geared toward the specific needs of a singular student, making it a direct, structured and personalized way of learning. Instructors teaching the method are encouraged to evaluate students each step of the way – then, they tailor instruction based on their observations.

How ALLMemphis implements it

Knowing that the Orton-Gillingham approach ​​has historically been exclusively used in communities of affluence, ALLMemphis adapted it to the realities of Memphis’ Title I schools, making it accessible to all learners. While it’s true that atypical learners may need specific accommodations and special interventions that an approach like Orton-Gillingham can provide, ALLMemphis believes that this approach can apply to anyone learning to read – no matter their age, race, gender, socioeconomic status, etc.

At ALLMemphis, we are confident that the goal of obtaining a fully literate community cannot happen if we don’t provide our teachers with the proper tools to succeed. Memphis is filled with wonderful teachers who want to see change, and our team is here to coach and guide them along the way. ALLMemphis equips teachers, literacy coaches, classroom instructors, and the like with Orton-Gillingham training, and we continue to support them throughout the implementation. In addition, we collect data weekly to ensure continuous improvement in student reading proficiency.

With our unique coaching methods and top-notch curriculum, ALLMemphis works day in and day out to empower our city’s teachers to make significant and impactful strides in their students’ educational journey. Is your school interested in learning more about our approach which will help your teachers – and, in turn, your students – excel? Contact us today.