A different approach to learning language.
After my son was identified as having dyslexia in 3rd grade, I decided to take training classes from Fellows in the Academy of Orton-Gillingham Practitioners and Educators (AOGPE) so I could better understand his needs to better advocate for him. Orton-Gillingham (OG) is an approach to reading instruction developed by Dr. Samuel Orton, a neuropsychiatrist and pathologist, and Anna Gillingham, an educator and psychologist, in the early 20th century. The AOGPE was founded in 1995 by a small group of members from the Orton Society (now known as the IDA) and it is the only organization “authorized expressly to set and maintain professional and ethical standards for the practice of the Orton-Gillingham Approach and to certify teachers and to accredit instructional programs that meet these standards”. (Please note, that in July 2014, the IDA started using the term “structured literacy” as an umbrella term to identify the type of reading instruction based on the Orton-Gillingham approach and which is described in The IDA’s Knowledge and Practice Standards for Teachers of Reading.)
I learned in OG training that dyslexia is a word of Greek origin, with dys meaning difficulty, and lexia meaning words/language and that it falls under the umbrella of language disorders. I also learned that language comprehension and expression problems in young children are often associated with later reading difficulty. Again, I am reminded of the warning from my sons’ speech language pathologist. I also noticed that the OG definition of dyslexia encompasses more than just phonological processing deficits.
The one concept that was stressed during my OG training is that for those individuals with dyslexia, it is language information that is the problem, especially written language, and they need more help in recognizing, sorting, and organizing the building blocks of language for use. The following acronym, STRIPS+A was used as it pertains to language:
- Storage – difficulty getting information into long term memory
- Transferring or applying information from memory to various activities
- Retrieval of information from long term memory
- Integration of information and how the parts fit into the whole
- Pattern recognition
- Sequencing information
- Abstract concepts – difficulty remembering and understanding
Time was spent learning about getting information into the brain through the senses of seeing, hearing, and doing, and how to help the student become more aware of how they learn and the reasons why things are done so the student has an understanding of how the pieces fit together. I learned that for many students with language problems, their files for words are not well organized and they need help in sorting, organizing, and filing words and language concepts in the mental filing cabinets of their brain so they can more quickly and accurately retrieve language based information.
OG instruction involves the explicit and systematic teaching of the approximately 44 phonemes in the English language with their corresponding grapheme. OG instruction starts with the smallest building block, the phoneme, and builds up to the smallest unit with meaning, the morpheme, and also includes the explicit and systematic teaching of decoding, encoding, fluency, vocabulary, comprehension, writing, and thinking skills all expertly woven into each lesson and each lesson builds upon the concepts taught in the previous one.
Another hallmark of OG is the diagnostic and prescriptive nature of these lessons in that the instructor is constantly monitoring the student’s progress and addressing the student’s errors by adjusting the teaching strategies to meet the needs of the individual. This requires considerable training and in-depth knowledge about the structure of language, and it is this type of training that is sorely lacking from the majority of teacher preparatory programs, even those whose focus is on reading.