What do you mean Orton Gillingham is emotionally sound?
When I look back on my career as an OG practitioner I can count on one hand, with fingers left over, the number of students who didn't like tutoring. Sure, sometimes they put up a little fight, however, once the lesson begins things change. I’m pretty proud of that, I bet most good OG tutors can say the same thing. How is that possible? Most kids coming to us are not huge fans of school. What makes sitting with us different?
Let’s think about a child who has a reading disability. What is their day like at school? Typically, I can say they work many times harder than the “normal” student. They tend to be always anticipating the next thing that will happen in class, just to have a jump on it. They cower low into their seat hoping the teacher doesn't call on them. Often they count ahead to see which paragraph will be theirs when the class is reading orally. They practice that paragraph over and over in their head, never listening to the students before them. Imagine the fear they feel when they discover they were off by one passage. The humiliation they feel soon turns to feelings of failure as they stumble through the text. Papers that they truly did their best on come back from the teacher looking like a red pen exploded on them, with comments like,”Try harder” or “Don’t be so messy”. Night after night they memorize the spelling words, only to completely bomb out when the review test comes containing the words from the past few weeks. Unfinished assignments and failed tests equal to missing recess or freetime. The punishment doesn't seem to equal the crime. Days of this turn to weeks and then years of the same self-doubt and anxiety. Sometimes they give up, resorting to thoughts of, “I’m stupid, why should I care”. This causes many of them to act out. I know this is a fact. This was my life. By the time I was in middle school I gave up. I was convinced I was dumb. From that point on I didn't care. It was my way to self-preservation. I have dyslexia.
Learning about Orton Gillingham was life-changing. I now could give students something that was taken from me, my dignity. We offer safe spaces to make mistakes and learn from them in a gentle way, no red pens, no public humiliation. Words like no and wrong are replaced with, let’s try that again, and followed with eliciting questions to teach metacognitive skills. It doesn't matter what grade you're in, we work with you right where your skills are. We praise the student and acknowledge reading and spelling is hard. We go at their pace, we teach to automaticity. Students are actually taught the rules of the English language. I don't mean “when two vowels go walking…” I mean actual factual things, like, -ck is used after a short vowel! Time is taken to show you how to form letters so your papers don't appear messy to the classroom teacher with the red pen addiction.
Sometimes students are spent from their day, we sense that. We ask them about their feelings, we listen. We listen a lot, often we are the only ones who really get how hard it is and that being the class clown or checking out is often the only way they can make it through the day.
We do sympathize with the classroom teacher. They have to juggle upwards of 30 students; they can't possibly give everyone exactly what they need. So we do what we can to give our students positive experiences. We spell at their level. We have them read orally, but this time it is at their level, too. Eventually reading is fun. I have had parents tell me with tears in their eyes, “I found her curled up with a book.” There is no greater joy to an Orton Gillingham tutor than to see our students reading.
Reading unlocks the world. Being able to spell unlocks the possibility of sharing our thoughts and ideas with the world. Imagine the power that gives our students.
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