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Math issues

Is There Such a Thing as Orton–Gillingham for Math?

By Brendan R. Hodnett

My child has issues with math. Another parent told me there’s something called “Orton–Gillingham for Math.” Is this a real thing, and should I look into it for my child?

Brendan R. Hodnett

Special Education Teacher

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, driven by data and personalized.

OG was developed around research on how people learn to read and write, and why some people struggle with it. This approach is designed to be used with direct one-on-one or small group instruction. A number of reading programs for kids with dyslexia are based on OG—and with great success.

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 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.

Numerous studies have shown that multisensory math instruction is good for all learners. It gives kids a broader understanding of concepts. But when you add personalized instruction that builds on each concept, it can really help kids with math issues.

You’ve asked if your child might benefit from this type of instruction. I don’t know your child, or the nature of his math issues. 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. And they don’t have the same evidence of success.

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

About the Author

Portrait of Brendan Hodnett

Brendan R. Hodnett is a special education teacher in Middletown, New Jersey.

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