When Orton-Gillingham Wasn't Enough

Orton-Gillingham wasn’t enough for my students. I spent years following programs with fidelity, creating individualized lesson after lesson, game after game, and thousands of activities. Here’s how I made OG actually work for me and my students.

Orton-Gillingham has long been touted the “gold-standard of reading instruction” and for good reason...

Many programs that follow the Orton-Gillingham approach have produced really strong decoding (single word reading) gains for dyslexic students and struggling readers when other approaches were not successful.

Orton-Gillingham (known widely as OG) is an approach, not specifically a curriculum, that was created by Samuel Orton (a renowned neuropsychiatrist) and Anna Gillingham (an educator and pyschologist) nearly a century ago when they recognized the profound impact that working with students in a structured format could make. This structured format focused on teaching students how to work from the sound level, to the syllable level, to the word level, to the sentence level. A key component was that this instruction had to combine visual, auditory, and kinesthetic learning (multisensory instruction) to help form stronger neural connections.

And from there, the Orton-Gillingham reading approach was born.

Many programs followed this structured and systematic approach and gave it their own twists and variations. Some of the popular Orton-Gillingham programs include:

Wilson Reading (Wilson Language),


Orton-Gillingham Academy,

Take Flight,

Lindamood Bell,

Barton Reading and Spelling,


Multisensory Reading & Spelling…

the list goes on and on.

When I started out in this field, shifting from working purely as an Assessment Specialist (psychometrist if we want to get fancy) where I worked alongside psychologists, I became enamored with this approach that I heard so much about.

When I was told to go and take two weeks off of work (unpaid) to go attend a series of Orton-Gillingham training programs, I jumped all in. I wanted to be a part of the solution for these kiddos that I had seen time and time again, whose reading and spelling scores were just abysmal in spite of strong other academic and cognitive skills.

So I went, and I learned, and I was overwhelmed but I was told to jump in anyway. There wasn’t time for fear in my fast-paced environment. Just put together your own lesson plans, follow the word lists, once you get through all of the 44 sound patterns in the English Language (is there 44 or 46?!? nobody seems to agree) your students will have everything they need in their toolbox to be successful.

I was elated.

And for years, I followed the scope and sequence, I followed the word lists, I created hundreds of games and activities (so that my students would get individualized review and I wouldn’t be bored), I administered the OG Approach (with fidelity I might add) and my students word reading and spelling grew by leaps and bounds. And so I was even more elated. I saw not only raw score growth but also Standard Score growth (meaning that not only were the students growing in their reading and spelling but they were closing the gap that held them consistently behind their peers).

And so I jumped fully aboard the Orton-Gillingham bandwagon.

Until my students came back to me, a year to two years later…

And I realized for the first time that I was completely missing the mark. All those gains they had made in their reading and spelling hadn’t maintained over the years, or if by some miracle they had, they weren’t generalizing their reading and spelling from all the word lists into real reading. They told me they didn’t use those skills anymore because they weren’t working with me anymore…that reading we did together wasn’t real reading.

Um, what?

They didn’t always have the language skills, or comprehension strategies, or the self-monitoring ability to recognize when they were making mistakes and all the work we had done seemed to have disappeared.

So I went back to the drawing board.

I started researching all the differences between the well known Orton-Gillingham programs. What worked well with this curriculum? Why did this OG practitioner swear on this piece of the lesson and others swore on that? Why did this program follow this order of instruction and that program follow something else? And I started digging into the research to find that surprisingly there weren’t as many studies as I had thought supporting the efficacy of one OG program over another. And what I started to realize was that we were swapping out one “one-sized-fits-all” approach for another.

I made it my mission to create a responsive approach that followed the research.

For years, I spent nights, weekends , the majority of my days putting together and tweaking all of the Orton-Gillingham based, most popular reading programs.

And so for years, I spent nights, weekends, the majority of my days putting together and tweaking these programs. I had different programs literally all over my office.

I mean what kind of #hotmess is this?!?!

I had the CDs, and the binders, and the books, and it felt like this…for years as I poured through the good, the bad, and the ugly. As I tried different things with different students to see who responded to what and why, I started to wonder if there really was a way to synthesize all of this.

And I finally came up with the approach we use now in our clinic.

And it’s been life changing for me, for our team, for our students. It allows responsive instruction without creating individual lesson plans for every single student because we are able to pick and choose the pieces that each student needs based on their individual strengths and weaknesses. It’s like the Choose Your Own Adventure Books I used to love as a child. And it works…because replacing one “one sized fits all” approach with another doesn’t. You need to find a way to incorporate what the research says which we talked about in last week’s blog with a responsive student specific approach, and I think by golly we’ve found it…at least it works for us, for our students, those we support…

So to the dreamers, the crazy ones, the “non-fidelity following” misfits…here’s to you -

Because if you’re recognizing a gap in your curriculum - don’t for a minute think it’s because the publishers know more than you…you know your students, you go fill the gap, or come along with us and we’ll fill it together.

If you are finding yourself on the “Hot-Mess-Express” we talked about above, we would love if you joined us for our free, online training “7 Steps to Reading Intervention that Works.” >> Click here to learn more <<

In this training we will describe exactly what we realized when we started digging into what worked for the most popular reading programs and what didn’t, as well as how we climbed out of the rabbit hole of “OG based literacy instruction” and created an #OGbutbetter program that actually worked. >> Click here to sign up <<

Corey PollardComment