Orton-Gillingham vs Structured Word Inquiry

Anna Gillingham
Anna Gillingham

Research tells us that any good program for dyslexia should be an Orton-Gillingham based program.  But, what is Orton-Gillingham?

Dr. Samuel Orton
Dr. Samuel Orton

The Orton-Gillingham Multisensory method is not a program, but an approach to teaching literacy.   The approach is named after two pioneers in the field of readng research,  Samuel T. Orton and Anna Gillingham. Samuel Torrey Orton (1879-1948) was a neuropsychiatrist and pathologist.  Anna Gillingham (1878-1963) was an educator and psychologist.  Encouraged by Dr. Orton, she compiled and published instructional materials as early as the 1930s which provided the foundation for student instruction and teacher training in what became known as the Orton-Gillingham Approach.

As brilliant as Orton and Gillingham were in their time, the teaching of reading and spelling continues to move forward as new understanding takes the place of old.  Reading instruction has had a phonological emphasis for more than 50 years, but in the English writing system, morphology, etymology, and phonology all work together to organize the English language. Phonology matters, but only when it is studied within a morphological framework.  As I have continued to learn, I have changed my approach toward more of a Structured Word Inquiry approach.  Some people may balk that this is not Orton-Gillingham, but ask yourself if Anna Gillingham would have expected her ideas to remain the same, or would she, like other scientists, have welcomed new knowledge and information.

For a wonderful essay on this topic from the fabulous linguist, Gina Cooke, please read the article: Is It OG? (http://www.dyslexiatraininginstitute.org/blog/structured-word-inquiry-og-dyslexia/).

Traditional CONTENT of Orton-Gillingham approach vs Structured Word Inquiry:

Phonemic Awareness:  Both O-G and SWI teach phonemic awareness.  Traditional O-G practices phonemic awareness as a preliminary study to reading, and often uses outdated information as to what phonemes are and how they work in our language.  SWI incorporates phonemic awareness into everyday reading instruction.  Phonemes, represented by graphemes, cannot technically occur outside of a word.  Phonemes are pinpointed by the graphemes (written letters and letter combinations) in our words, so SWI begins with the study of words phonemic awareness at the same time.

Phoneme/Grapheme Correspondence: Both O-G and SWI work with Phoneme-Grapheme correspondence.  Since the original O-G manuals were written, linguists have developed a deeper understanding of these relationships.  Most O-G programs are outdated in their understanding of phoneme-grapheme correspondence.  SWI attempts to the latest information, understanding that this study is always growing and changing.

Syllables: Tradiditional O-G study relies heavily on dividing words into syllables.  Modern linguistics tells us that English is a stress-timed, rather than a syllabic, language.  Syllables in English can be counted, but their division is artificial and imprecise.  Dividing words into syllables often mask the morphemes, the primary unit of meaning.  Therefore, DYScover learning reserves the teaching of syllable division on an as-needed basis.  We will never mislead a student into thinking that it is a precise science, but occasionally a handy trick.

Probabilities and Rules Traditional O-G teaches “rules” and “exceptions.”  SWI practitioners know that many of the popular O-G rules are just not orthographically sound.  O-G, for example, spends a lot of time teaching about TION and SION word endings.  This results in a complex set of rules with many exceptions.  SWI teachers know that there is only an ION suffix which greatly simplifies understanding.  We also know that there are no “exceptions.”  There is only understanding.  Words evolve.  Our language has evolved into its present state because it makes sense and it works.

Roots and Affixes:  Traditional O-G covers roots and affixes, but without a clear and linguistically sound definition of either.  SWI works with bases (English has bases, Latin had roots!) early and often.  It is a foundation of the structure of our language and a cornerstone of SWI.

Linguistics/Morphology:  Most O-G programs spend some time at advanced levels on linguistics and morphology.  DYScover Learning knows that research supports teaching morphology at the youngest ages and that morphology instruction helps the struggling learners the most.  Therefore, linguistics and morphology are the cornerstone of our practice.  It is not reserved for just advanced students, but is taught from the very beginning of study.

Grammar and Comprehension:  True reading implies comprehending what is read.  The purpose for reading is comprehension.  While comprehension is a part of any reading program, SWI begins all word study with the question of meaning.  This includes the study of grammatical parts and suffixing conventions.

Traditional METHODS of Orton-Gillingham vs. Structured Word Inquiry:

Personalized: Both O-G and SWI recognize the needs of individual learners.  SWI takes that one step further by making attempts to incorporate student interests into the very words they study.

Multisensory: Both O-G and SWI use multisensory techniques..

Diagnostic and Prescriptive:  Both O-G and SWI are diagnostic and prescriptive- that is, the instructor monitors student understanding and designs lessons based on what is learned.

Direct Instruction:  This is where O-G and SWI diverge greatly.  O-G  uses direct-instruction, a teacher-led form of instruction.  SWI uses inquiry-based instruction.  Students and teachers pose questions, form hypotheses, and investigate.  While both methods have positives, we believe that students are more engaged in inquiry instruction, and therefore learn more and at a deeper level.

Systematic, Structured, Sequential, Incremental and Cumulative:  This is another area where you may see differences.  While both methods have basic principals that must be taught, SWI does not believe that learning always is or needs to be a sequential process.  We repear and revisit, go off on tangents, etc.  We engage the students in learning where, when and how they are ready.  We believe that curiosity is the best motivator, and that you can actually learn to run at the same time as you learn to walk.

Synthetic and Analytic: Both O-G and SWI use synthetic and analytic techniques.  SWI, however, always strives to use scientifically accurate techniques as used by those who study linguistics.

Emotionally Sound:  We believe that SWI provides a more emotionally sound form of instruction because the teacher and student embark on a learning journey together, with curiosity leading the way!




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