What research supports Orton–Gillingham?

You may have heard that the Orton–Gillingham approach is the best way to teach kids with dyslexia to read and are wondering if there is research to support that view.

It’s true that the Orton–Gillingham (OG) approach is well-regarded in the field of dyslexia. But there’s no research that supports the claim that it’s “the best” way to teach kids with dyslexia. One of the reasons for the lack of research is the fact that OG is an approach, and not a program of instruction.

Let me explain.

When testing for dyslexia shows a reading issue, there are two types of interventions a school can use. One is an instructional program. The other is an instructional approach.

With a program, teachers follow a “scripted” manual that lays out a defined sequence of skills to be taught in a specific order. Teachers must be trained in the program by the publisher.

Programs may be based on an instructional approach. There are several reading programs that are influenced by OG. They include the Wilson Reading System, the Barton Reading Program, and the Lindamood–Bell Program.

These types of scripted programs can potentially be researched. The instruction is uniform and used the same way for all students. A well-designed study may be able to show positive results for kids who are best suited to the program.

An approach, such as OG, is just the opposite. It’s an intervention that’s individualized to each child. It’s flexible, rather than prescribed, because it’s based on a problem-solving process. That process starts with identifying the child’s learning difficulty. The next step is to develop a plan to address that difficulty.

An approach can offer more flexibility to meet complex needs than a program can. Because it’s not scripted and uniform, however, it can’t be studied carefully in the same way a program can.

That doesn’t mean an approach like OG isn’t highly effective. Some programs that are based on OG principles have been studied and have been shown to have good results.

Teachers who use an approach like OG must have deep knowledge to make decisions on a day-to-day basis. They also must have a good deal of experience applying that approach with students who have varying needs and learning profiles.

If you know about OG, you may also have heard of Structured Literacy. This is an approach that the International Dyslexia Association defined a few years ago. It includes six key language elements that OG and several other approaches use.

A Structured Literacy approach includes teaching the sounds of English and their association with symbols. Each step must be taught explicitly. And teachers must guide students through the learning process to ensure that they master key concepts.

Research does show that students with dyslexia benefit from instruction that has these elements. But as with OG, there’s no specific research into the approach itself.

Despite that lack of research, the principles and methods of OG are known to work. And teachers can adapt them to meet a child’s particular needs. In the end, that’s what really matters — for students to get instruction that addresses their challenges.

It’s important to know exactly what your child is struggling with. Getting an evaluation can show areas of weakness and lead to proper instruction.

Learn how to request a free school evaluation. Find out how reading specialists can help kids with dyslexia. And discover ways to help improve reading skills at home.


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