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Unveiling the Difference: The Science of Reading vs. The Orton-Gillingham Approach

Updated: Sep 10, 2023

Reading is a magical journey that opens doors to knowledge, imagination, and countless adventures. But behind the scenes, there's a science to it that guides how we teach reading effectively. Two terms you may have come across in the realm of reading instruction are "the Science of Reading" and the "Orton-Gillingham Approach." In this blog, we'll explore the key differences between these two concepts, shedding light on their unique roles in the world of literacy.


The Science of Reading: The Foundation of Effective Instruction


Let's start by understanding what the "Science of Reading" entails. In essence, it is a comprehensive body of research that explores how humans learn to read and the most effective ways to teach reading. The Science of Reading draws on findings from cognitive psychology, linguistics, neuroscience, and education to inform reading instruction practices.


Here are some key principles of the Science of Reading:


1. Phonological Awareness: This refers to the ability to recognise and manipulate the sounds of spoken language. Research has shown that developing strong phonological awareness skills is a critical precursor to successful reading.


2. Phonics: Phonics instruction focuses on teaching the relationships between letters (graphemes) and the sounds they represent (phonemes). It helps students decode words by sounding out the letters.


3. Vocabulary and Comprehension: Effective reading instruction goes beyond decoding words. It includes building vocabulary and comprehension strategies to help students understand and engage with the text.


4. Evidence-based practices: The Science of Reading advocates for the use of instructional methods and materials that have been proven effective through rigorous research.


The Orton-Gillingham approach: A Specialized Reading Program


Now, let's delve into the Orton-Gillingham Approach. Named after its creators, Dr. Samuel Orton and educator Anna Gillingham, this approach was originally designed to address the needs of individuals with dyslexia. Over time, it has evolved into a comprehensive and structured reading approach that incorporates many principles of the Science of Reading.


Key characteristics of the Orton-Gillingham approach include:


1. Multi-sensory Instruction: It emphasises engaging multiple senses (sight, hearing, touch, and kinesthesia) to reinforce learning. This multi-sensory approach is particularly beneficial for students with dyslexia.


2. Structured and Sequential: The Orton-Gillingham approach uses a carefully structured, sequential curriculum that starts with the most basic phonological skills and progresses to more complex language patterns. It ensures mastery before moving on.


3. Individualized Instruction: Recognising that each learner is unique, this approach tailors instruction to meet individual needs and adapts to the student's pace of learning.


Distinguishing Between the Two


While the Science of Reading provides the over-arching framework for effective reading instruction, the Orton-Gillingham approach is a specialised, structured reading approach that aligns with the principles of the science of reading. Here's how they differ:


1. Breadth vs. Specificity: The science of reading encompasses a wide range of research and principles related to reading instruction, whilst the Orton-Gillingham Approach is a specific approach designed to address the needs of struggling readers, particularly those with dyslexia.


2. Universal vs. Targeted: The Science of Reading informs reading instruction practices for all students, including those without reading difficulties. On the other hand, the Orton-Gillingham approach is typically used with students who require targeted support in reading.


3. Research vs. Application: The Science of Reading is primarily a body of research and principles, whereas the Orton-Gillingham approach is a practical, hands-on approach that applies these principles in a structured manner.



In the world of reading instruction, both the Science of Reading and the Orton-Gillingham approach play essential roles. The Science of Reading provides the evidence-based foundation for effective instruction, whilst the Orton-Gillingham Approach offers a specialised, structured approach to support students with dyslexia and struggling readers.


As educators and parents, understanding the difference between the Science of Reading and the Orton-Gillingham approach is a powerful tool in our quest to support students and children with dyslexia. It allows us to make informed decisions about appropriate teaching methods tailored to their unique needs.


The Science of Reading equips us with a broad knowledge base that encompasses the fundamental principles of effective reading instruction. Armed with this understanding, we can advocate for evidence-based practices in our schools, ensuring that all students, especially those with dyslexia, receive the support they deserve.


On the other hand, the Orton-Gillingham approach provides a structured and specialised roadmap to navigate the complexities of dyslexia. It gives educators and parents a tangible tool to work with, offering a systematic approach that can make a world of difference for struggling readers.


By recognizing when and how to apply these two concepts, we empower ourselves to become advocates for our students and children. We can collaborate with educators to ensure that appropriate teaching methods are in place and that each learner's unique needs are met. We can also provide targeted support at home, reinforcing the skills and strategies our children are learning in the classroom.


In essence, by understanding the distinctions between the Science of Reading and the Orton-Gillingham approach, we become better equipped to create a supportive environment where students and children with dyslexia can thrive. Together, we can unlock the world of reading for these individuals and set them on a path to a lifetime of knowledge, success, and joy.

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