As of today, I am officially OG certified, yeah! I wanted to share my overall experiences with the OGOA and encourage you to learn more and become certified, too.
What is Orton Gillingham?
Orton Gillingham is “a direct, explicit, multi-sensory, structured, sequential, diagnostic, and prescriptive way to teach literacy.” In my experience and opinion, it is the gold-standard for teaching explicit phonics. It is also the framework and foundation upon which the majority of successful and popular universal phonics programs and products are built. The OG method falls best in the “intervention” camp. It is not a program with universal materials meant to guide instruction across grade levels. It is not aligned to grade level standards or chronological age, but instead presents a well-researched, developmental progression of skills as a road map for any and all learners; simply diagnose where a learner falls on the road map, and begin intervention at that point. It’s best-suited for one-on-one instruction, and can be adapted for small groups.
As you would assume with an intervention, it’s utility comes into play when traditional instruction isn’t going well and a student exhibits difficulty in reading, writing, and/or spelling. As you may be aware, “dyslexia is an unexpected difficulty in reading in an individual who has the intelligence to be a much better reader... Dyslexia is also very common, affecting 20 percent of the population and representing 80– 90 percent of all those with learning disabilities” (The Yale Center for Dyslexia & Creativity). Students with dyslexia (and yeah, thats 1 in 5 of your students!) deserve an approach that is designed to meet their neurodivergent learning needs.
The Orton Gillingham Approach was designed by Samuel T. Orton and Anna Gillingham. Dr. Orton, a neuropsychiatrist popularly considered the ‘father of dyslexia research,’ and Ms. Gillingham, a psychologist and gifted educator, combined forces to create a methodology that would guide readers in sorting, recognizing, and organizing elements of language in a multi-sensory progression that builds upon strengths while introducing new concepts.
Why choose Orton Gillingham?
As I mentioned before, OG is referred to as an approach, a framework, or a method. You’ll see products like Lexia and Sonday share that they are “OG-based/aligned.” When I see this, I know I’m going to have a positive experience with a quality product.
The OG approach is effective and unique in its multi-sensory approach. Students with dyslexia and reading difficulties have an inefficient network system in their brain that sends language on the scenic route instead of directly where it needs to go for processing. These students can’t just rely on visual memory to recognize and read words (and NO amount of flash card rehearsal is going to help!). They need muscle memory, such as the OG tapping method, and a multi-sensory approach of seeing, saying, hearing, and touching the word, in order to anchor the word to their more efficient brain network systems.
The Orton Gillingham approach is also very explicit in the ways they teach patterns and language rules to learners. You’ll find yourself talking about linguistic features you never even knew existed. If you were a person who easily learned to read (as most teachers are…) then you probably have a brain that is not dyslexic, and is in fact very efficient at analyzing language for patterns. You don’t need to know and memorize each and every “rule” – your brain just picks it up after repeated exposure and use in context. Think about how your brain automatically knows to double the ‘L’ if I asked you spell the nonsense word “grell.” Students with dyslexia need more explicit language learning in order to make sense of reading. Through training, you’ll learn about the 6 syllable types (really! there are 6!), the multiple sounds a vowel makes (long, short, and schwa!), and many many fun spelling patterns (H-brothers, soldier rule, FLOSS rule, etc.).
The OG Approach is also very innovative and thoughtful in the way in which new material is introduced to students. First of all, every sound or concept gets a key word to help students anchor it into their memory. The unique system of spiraling includes beginning each lesson with old review (material from 2 lessons ago) and new review (material from the last lesson), as well as incorporating all prior learning into cumulative activities. Students learn skills in isolation, but then have application experiences such as blending, decoding, encoding, and fluency and automaticity practice with a decodable text. Throughout the entire lesson, you are taking notes for what needs to be retaught next time, as well as reteaching on the fly and recycling miscues so students get a second chance to experience success. Students are expected to memorize and repeat concepts and rules, and they have multiple opportunities throughout the lesson to rehearse and repeat as it becomes fossilized.
If you accept the premise that 1 in 5 of your students has dyslexia, and the majority of your striving readers need a different approach in order to efficiently and successfully learn to decode language, then you know you need an OG approach to help your students.
Once you sign-up for Orton Gillingham Online Academy, you’ll be invited to join their Moodle site. You’ll want to print out a few things at the onset (they’ll let you know what is best to print, and what you could save digitally for later – don’t go hog wild and print it all!). I downloaded and printed the course materials, practitioners notebook, and phoneme cards. I bound the course materials and practitioners notebook into a spiral book, and I printed the phoneme cards on card stock for durability. In the appendices, you’ll also get access to all of the lesson plans made beautifully into digital / virtual google slides and powerpoint presentations.
Not surprisingly, all elements of the online training are designed to align to the same principals and accommodations we would offer to striving readers. You’ll have access to everything you need to learn in multiple forms, from visual to video. And to cater to different learning styles, you’ll have a variety of checkpoints and activities to self-monitor and demonstrate your own learning. Across 14 Modules, you’ll take a pre-test to activate your prior knowledge, complete a few scavenger-hunt type assignments to check your knowledge of the materials, complete a midterm and final exam, and complete video observation of an actual OG lesson. This step is so key, because not only are you seeing a model of what your own final submission is going to look like, but you are also going to use the very same rubric to critique them as will be used to assess your work.
The estimation is that the coursework will take you about 30 hours. I found this to be generally true, however I already had a very strong linguistics background and experience in teaching several other OG-based programs. I imagine if this is newer to you, you’d want to watch the sample lessons several times and go more slowly. I am positive you can complete this over a trimester or semester if you put in a few hours a week and keep to a schedule. Leave time before the end of your term in order to select a student and record yourself leading a lesson with them, which is a requirement for certification. If you wait until summer, you might just be calling in a favor from a neighbor or colleague in order to get your recording done 😉
I do think the course is something that should be done slowly, over many weeks, in order to give yourself time to learn and digest. You won’t be able to start teaching with the OG materials until you’ve been “certified,” nor will you want to, because the instructors want to make sure you’ve got good footing and strong instructional practices before you get too far with a student.
If you are taking this course hoping that it will teach you ALL of the things you need to know about phonics and spelling, then you might be a little disappointed. The academy is there to teach you the approach, and to help you acclimatize to the instructional practices and the materials. The best and only way that you will learn all you need to know about phonics is through actually teaching the lessons to a student. I’ve found that to be true of all programs and methods I’ve encountered over the years.
Bottom Line – if you have the time and means to get certification, I would wholeheartedly recommend it. You’ll increase your knowledge of linguistics and phonics instruction, and you’ll become more attuned to the learning needs of your students (especially those 1 in 5 that are probably getting overlooked or undiagnosed for dyslexia!). You’ll learn new ways to reach students, and hopefully give up on visual flash card drills once and for all. Even if you don’t wind up using the OG approach with your students, at least you will have a solid framework and understand of what a highly-effective, research-based, multi-sensory approach to phonics instruction should look and feel like.
The Yale Center for Dyslexia & Creativity – Yale School of Medicine. Yale Dyslexia. (n.d.). Retrieved May 6, 2023, from https://dyslexia.yale.edu/