Dr. Samuel T. Orton

The term “Orton-Gillingham”, or “O-G”, refers to an approach to teaching, rather than a set program. The Orton-Gillingham Approach grew out of the work of Dr. Samuel Torrey Orton (1879-1948) and Anna Gillingham (1878-1963). Dr. Orton, a professor of neuropsychiatry and neuropathology at the Neurological Institute of Columbia University, was a pioneer in focusing attention on language differences by bringing together neuropsychiatric information and principles of remediation. As early as 1925, he had identified the syndrome of developmental reading disability, separated it from mental defect and brain damage, and offered a physiological explanation with a favorable prognosis. Anna Gillingham was a gifted educational psychologist who worked with Dr. Orton. Ms. Gillingham trained teachers in this remedial approach to teaching students with dyslexia and compiled and published instructional materials with Bessie W. Stillman.

The Orton-Gillingham approach, first introduced in the 1920’s, is still widely in use today across Canada, USA and world-wide as not only an approach for remediating language-based learning difficulties, but as evidence-based reading and spelling instruction for all students in mainstream education. 

Many years ago, as Samuel Orton contemplated the condition then referred to as reading blindness, no one could image the complexities of dyslexia, brain processing, and reading acquisition as we know them today. Dr. Orton nevertheless achieved a great triumph. His appreciation of the phonemic deficits in his patients helped him shape a strategy that today is the foundation for all best practices in reading instruction. By solving reading’s most difficult problem, he provided guidance that reaches beyond the world of dyslexia to improve the reading skills of all struggling readers.
— H.Malchow & R. Smith, 2016
Anna Gillingham

Specifically, letters which represent the single sounds of familiar speech are presented to the student, then immediately synthesized into words that carry meaning. By introducing the letters simultaneously through hearing, seeing, and feeling, the student’s weaknesses are lessened by integrating all of his learning pathways. This multisensory approach helps to ensure automatic memory which is so difficult for those who lack natural facility in language learning. Progress is made by going from the simple to the more complex tasks, building in much reinforcement, and proceeding as fast as possible but as slowly as necessary to master the basic elements. Careful pacing, structured but not programmed procedures, and a sequential presentation combining reading, writing, and spelling will help the student succeed.

The structure of the approach often helps to organize the student’s general way of learning and working. Its logic helps him where his memory fails and when he encounters unknown words. Its step-by-step progression leads to a sense of mastery and competence.


Images used with permission from the International Dyslexia Association

If you are interested in becoming an OG Practitioner, click here to find out more about the Orton-Gillingham training that REACH Learning Centre offers.