Is there such a thing as Orton–Gillingham for math?


This question comes up often — and there’s a lot of confusion about what the term even means.

Orton–Gillingham (OG) is a style of instruction that focuses on certain features. They are: multisensory, structured, step-by-step, data-driven, and personalized.

OG was developed based on research about how people learn to read and write, and why some people struggle with it. It’s designed for direct one-on-one or small group instruction. A number of reading programs for kids with dyslexia are based on OG.

Now educators are using this type of instruction with kids who struggle in math. (It’s important to note that the research behind OG didn’t involve math instruction or math learning.)

When a program is described as “Orton–Gillingham Math,” it generally refers to a multisensory approach. And it follows a progression of “concrete-representational-abstract.”

All that means is that kids first learn new math concepts using hands-on materials (concrete). Then they move on to drawing or using pictures (representational). The last step is converting the information into numbers and symbols (abstract).

Kids who struggle with math often have trouble making sense of the abstract — the numbers and symbols. This OG-type instruction helps kids connect what they learn through their senses to numbers and symbols.

Studies have shown that multisensory math instruction helps kids understand math concepts more broadly. But when you add personalized instruction that builds on each concept, it can really help kids who struggle with math.

You’ve asked if your child might benefit from this type of instruction. I don’t know your child, or the nature of his trouble with math. But for most kids who struggle with math, the answer is yes.

Just bear in mind that the OG approach was designed to address difficulties with reading. It’s based on research involving reading and writing, not math. Programs described as Orton–Gillingham math instruction haven’t been around as long as OG reading interventions have. 

As you’re investigating math intervention programs, here are some features to look for:

  • Multisensory

  • Data-driven

  • Direct connection between previously learned and new material

  • Immediate feedback

It’s also important to read reviews of the program. See how popular it is with families and teachers, and how long it’s been in use. There’s no guarantee these programs will improve how kids do in math. But they definitely have benefits for many kids with math difficulties.


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