Decades of research have culminated in a consensus of what is necessary to prevent or remediate reading disabilities (National Reading Panel, 2000; Shaywitz, 2005; Snow, Burns & Griffin, 1998). Evidence has demonstrated that early identification and appropriate instruction which includes a range of research-based components and practices, can prevent or alleviate 70% (Barnes, 2007) to 95% (Greenwood & Abbott, 2001) of potential reading disabilities; “at-risk readers can become both accurate and fluent readers” (Alexander & Slinger-Constant, 2004, p. 244) as quoted by Katherine Davidson in her 2011 thesis – The Research to Practice Gap in Reading Disabilities.
Unfortunately, the research also concludes that there is a huge gap between research and practice. Teachers are not receiving the training they need to deliver evidence-based instruction. Educational practices and policies tend to be guided by philosophical and ideological factors rather than scientific factors (Reid Lyon). Studies show that teachers have limited knowledge on reading disabilities and evidence-based reading instruction; however, the majority feel confident in identifying and instructing students with reading disabilities. This is concerning since we know that informed classroom instruction will only happen with informed well-prepared teachers. Studies have found that interventions that focus on increasing teachers’ own linguistic knowledge or phonology and orthography result in students making greater gains across the year in all reading and writing measures. Uninformed teachers who use “good programs” do not get “good results”. Highly scripted core curricula are not the answer. It cannot replace the expert teaching of highly knowledgeable teachers.
Teachers need and indeed deserve preparation programs and instructional materials that support them in developing expert skills and knowledge of language structure and its application and valid, reliable assessment of reading and writing skills.
Teachers deserve this – and so do our kids.
and Effective Instruction
Reading difficulties are the most common cause of academic failure and underachievement. Learning to read and write is not natural or easy for many- if not most- students, especially those with dyslexia and related language problems. Oral language is hard-wired into our brains but written language has to be acquired through instruction. Although dyslexia and related reading and language problems may originate with neurobiological differences, they are mainly treated with skilled teaching. Informed and effective classroom instruction, especially in the early grades, can prevent or at least effectively address and limit the severity of reading and writing problems. Potential reading failure can be recognized as early as preschool and kindergarten, if not sooner. A large body of research evidence shows that with appropriate, intensive instruction, all but the most severe reading disabilities can be ameliorated in the early grades and students can get on track toward academic success. For those students with persistent dyslexia who need specialized instruction outside of the regular class, competent intervention from a specialist can lessen the impact of the disorder and help the student overcome and manage the most debilitating symptoms.
What is the nature of effective instruction for students at risk? The methods supported by research are those that are explicit, systematic, cumulative, and multisensory, in that they integrate listening, speaking, reading, and writing. The content of effective instruction emphasizes the structure of language, including the speech sound system (phonology), the writing system (orthography), the structure of sentences (syntax), the meaningful parts of words (morphology), meaning relationships among words and their referents (semantics), and the organization of spoken and written discourse. The strategies emphasize planning, organization, attention to task, critical thinking, and self‐management. *
The Orton-Gillingham approach addresses all of these components. While all such aspects of teaching are essential for students with dyslexia, these strategies also enhance the potential of all students.
Teaching reading effectively, especially to students experiencing difficulty, requires considerable knowledge and skill. Teachers who undertake training in the Orton-Gillingham approach are given both the theoretical knowledge and practical skills necessary to provide effective instruction in reading and writing. To be clear, this is not a program or a method – it is an approach to teaching the language as it is, to the child as he/she is. The teacher must understand the language – and that takes study and time and practice.
* excerpt from the International Dyslexia Association – Knowledge and Practice Standards for Teachers of Reading – Executive Summary
The Orton-Gillingham Approach
Orton-Gillingham (known as O-G) is a multisensory, sequential, cumulative, systematic, direct, cognitive approach to teaching literacy that benefits all students but is especially important for those who struggle with language or dyslexia. It may also be referred to as MSL – Multisensory Structured Language. It is the original approach that was the result of a collaboration between neuropsychiatrist and pathologist, Dr. Samuel Orton, and psychologist, Anna Gillingham bringing together neuroscientific information and principles of remediation. The content and practices are time tested and have been validated by research over the past 70 years. It is the basis for many reading programs which you will see being marketed as “OG-based”. However, one of the very strengths of O-G is the fact that it is diagnostic and prescriptive and individualized. The reading programs eliminate this as the lessons are preplanned and scripted which saves time for the teacher but does not allow for an individualized approach at the student’s level and pace. The knowledge of the teacher and the ability to assess a student during the lesson allows for an approach that uses a student’s strengths to address areas of weakness. Each lesson is based on the careful analysis of the previous one – thus being diagnostic and prescriptive.