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The Orton-Gillingham approach is a multisensory phonics technique for remedial reading instruction developed in the early-20th century. In the US, it is promoted by more than 15 commercial programs as well as several private schools for students with dyslexia and related learning disabilities.
Orton and Gillingham
Samuel Torrey Orton (1879–1948), a neuropsychiatrist and pathologist at Columbia University, studied children with language-processing difficulties such as dyslexia. Together with educator and psychologist Anna Gillingham (1878–1963), he created techniques to teach reading, which integrate kinesthetic (movement-based) and tactile (sensory-based) learning strategies with teaching of visual and auditory concepts.
In 1935, Gillingham, with her long-time collaborator Bessie Stillman, published the Gillingham–Stillman manual, Remedial Training for Children with Specific Disability in Reading, Spelling and Penmanship. This is now known as the Orton–Gillingham (O-G) method, "a multisensory phonics technique for remedial reading instruction."
The Institute of Education Sciences (the independent, non-partisan statistics, research, and evaluation arm of the U.S. Department of Education), describes the approach as follows: "Orton-Gillingham is a broad, multisensory approach to teaching reading and spelling that can be modified for individual or group instruction at all reading levels. Teaching sessions are action oriented with auditory, visual, and kinesthetic elements reinforcing one another. The approach targets persons with the kinds of language processing problems (reading, spelling, and writing) associated with dyslexia."
According to Rose and Zirkel, O-G programs typically "use a multisensory approach to teach basic concepts of spelling, writing, and reading and continually build upon mastered skills." Variants of O-G "have taken the form of more than 15 commercial programs and several private schools for students with disabilities." 
Research on its efficacy
In 2000, the National Reading Panel included the Orton-Gillingham method in their study, "Teaching Children to Read: An Evidence-Based Assessment of the Scientific Research Literature on Reading and Its Implications for Reading Instruction." The Panel supported the significance of offering classroom instruction in phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension.
The Florida Center for Reading Research reported in 2006 that it was unable to identify any empirical studies examining the efficacy of the approach specifically as described in Orton-Gillingham training materials. Thus there was no direct research evidence to determine its effectiveness, although there are a variety of studies of derivative methods that incorporate aspects of Orton-Gillingham in combination with other techniques.
An overview of all reported studies of Orton-Gillingham derivative methods, such as Alphabetic Phonics or Project Read, revealed only a dozen studies with inconsistent results and a variety of methodological flaws. Despite these conclusions, the article does provide a detailed overview of the available research, which viewed most favorably would show some evidence of benefit from classroom use of OG methods with first graders, and use in special education or resource room settings with older children with learning disabilities.
According to a review of the literature in 2008, its efficacy is yet to be established.
In July 2010, a US Department of Education agency reported that it could not find any studies meeting its evidence standards to support the efficacy of Orton-Gillingham based strategies.
- Rose, Tessie E; Zirkel, Perry (December 7, 2018). "Orton-Gillingham Methodology for Students With Reading Disabilities" (PDF). Journal of Special Education. Retrieved March 28, 2020.
As several reviewers have pointed out, the research studies to date have not sufficiently validated the multisensory component that is the core of O-G programs (Moats & Farrell, 1999; Sanders, 2001), nor have they provided scientific support for its effectiveness (Ritchey & Goeke, 2006). The purpose here is not to demonstrate the effectiveness or ineffectiveness of O-G programs, but to reveal the gap that persists between professional advocacy for O-G and the need for scientifically based and peer-reviewed research.
- "How a Class of 1900 alumna influenced dyslexia research". Swarthmore Bulletin. 2019. Retrieved March 26, 2020.
In 1929, Gillingham met neurologist Samuel T. Orton, a pioneer in the field of learning disabilities, and soon after joined him on a research fellowship. Gillingham collaborated with Bessie W. Stillman to turn some of Orton’s ideas into practical form with the Gillingham–Stillman manual, also known as the Orton–Gillingham method, a multisensory phonics technique for remedial reading instruction.
- "Unbranded Orton-Gillingham-based Interventions, What works clearinghouse, July 2010".
- Langengerg, Ph.D, Daniel. "Teaching Children to Read: An Evidence-Based Assessment of the Scientific Research Literature on Reading and Its Implications for Reading Instruction" (PDF). National Reading Panel. Retrieved 26 May 2016.
- Hughes, S. (10 February 2014). The Orton-Gillingham Language Approach - A Research Review (PDF). p. 7. Retrieved 26 May 2016.
- "Orton-Gillingham Approach" (PDF). Florida Center for Reading Research. Retrieved 2007-05-23. Cite journal requires
- Ritchey, K.D.; Goeke, J.L. (2006). "Orton-Gillingham and Orton-Gillingham Based Reading Instruction: A Review of the Literature". The Journal of Special Education. 40 (3): 171–183. doi:10.1177/00224669060400030501.
- Turner, III, Herbert M. (June 2008). "This systematic review empirically documents that the effectiveness of Orton-Gillingham and Orton-Gillingham-based reading instruction remains to be determined". Evidence-Based Communication Assessment and Intervention. 2 (2): 67–69. doi:10.1080/17489530802037564.
- "What Works Clearinghouse Intervention Report: Orton-Gillingham-based Strategies (Unbranded)" (PDF). US Dept of Education. July 2010. Retrieved March 28, 2020.
Orton-Gillingham is a broad, multisensory approach to teaching reading and spelling that can be modified for individual or group instruction at all reading levels. Teaching sessions are action oriented with auditory, visual, and kinesthetic elements reinforcing one another. The approach targets persons with the kinds of language processing problems (reading, spelling, and writing) associated with dyslexia.