I don’t think I was taught phonics in school, or if I was, I didn’t understand it. I can read, albeit at a slow speed, and my spelling is excellent but I’ve struggled with unfamiliar words my entire life. Even in university, I rarely read an entire article or assigned textbook chapter. I often justified this by telling people, “I’m more of a math and science person.” It wasn’t until I found the Orton-Gillingham (OG) training that I realized I was missing all the skills that make reading less of a challenge.
I knew from the beginning of my career as a tutor that I needed to find a structure for teaching language. Math and science are built in sequences. If you understand adding single numbers, the next step is to add double digits. Mastered that? Let’s add larger numbers that require regrouping. However, language instruction can be daunting. There are so many ways to approach early literacy skills and research to prove why each method is beneficial. While searching for a structured language approach to meet my students’ needs, Orton-Gillingham came up several times. OG based programs, like Wilson Reading System and Barton System, were also recommended to me by trusted colleagues. As a result of my previously mentioned lack of phonics understanding, I wasn’t able to confidently choose a system without training.
When I found the Aardvark Reading Program, I was first impressed that it’s Canadian! The subtle differences in spelling or measurement units leave me frustrated with many American products, so this was important. Additionally, the cost was not as high as obtaining the full OG trainer certification and after completing the training videos I would have a complete set of lessons. I jumped in and had my lightbulb moment! These were the reading skills I was missing. Did you know /th/ makes two sounds? Did you know there is a rule for when to spell a word -dge instead of -ge? There is also an effective sequence for teaching these sounds and rules.
This summer, Access Learning ran a summer reading program for 4 weeks. We intentionally kept the groups small so that children could have some one-on-one time if needed. The program included reading, writing, and lots of multisensory activities to practice the sounds or rules we were focusing on that day. Even though we believe in the OG approach and added as much fun as we could, we still expected some resistance from the children to our ‘school like’ environment. Once they learned the routine, all of our students had reading growth and proud moments. We heard from many parents that their children, who resist school, were excited to come to our program.
The Orton-Gillingham multisensory, structured teaching works. I read many blogs and papers before I got to this point and will honestly say I didn’t fully get the hype until I saw the results from our summer program. If you are like me and feel unsure about the information you’ve read or still can’t picture how the program works, please send me an email! I’m happy to share more details so you can decide if OG is right for you, your child, or your students.