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Orton-Gillingham is the reading approach that is mostly associated with private tutoring because it works. Some educators have integrated its components into their own phonics programs.
Phonics is taught in an explicit, systematic manner that is effective for all students (dyslexic, struggling, or beginning readers). Connections between sounds and letters are taught in building block fashion for reading, spelling, and the rules. Each skill is mastered before learning new ones. Once children understand the rules, they decode words with consistency on their own without error, which reduces and/or eliminates memorization.
Orton-Gillingham is language-based, cognitive, and intensive. Although it is a structured reading approach, it is not as rigid as some phonics programs. It allows for flexibility by incorporating visual, auditory, and kinesthetic techniques. This component is important because it addresses students' learning differences. Through phonics instruction, children learn skills in a direct, systematic manner while thinking about the process.
Whole language teaching focuses on word meaning and memorization. As words become increasingly difficult and the reading process is more challenging, memorization is inadequate. Whole language often contrasts with phonics-based programs such as Orton-Gillingham. Learning literacy skills is the key to successful reading.
Why Summer is the Most Important Time for Reading Development By Anna Chobor, M.S. Award-Winning Teacher, Literacy/Learning Specialist, and Education Consultant Summer activities for children are often a stark contrast to those during the school year when curriculum and strict schedules are prioritized. Youngsters are focused on the beach, sports, other activities, and having fun with friends. Schoolwork – YUK! It is natural for kids to dismiss thoughts of school, and they certainly deserve a break from demanding curriculums in which expectations are high.
However, there is mounting evidence that some children are more likely to lose valuable skills they have established or lose opportunities to improve vulnerable skills during the summer. It is estimated that summer breaks can result in a loss of up to three months of reading and writing development and overall academic performance. Students often start the school year with less competence than they had the previous spring. This tendency to show skill regression is sometimes called “summer slide” or “summer setback.” One way that researchers have learned about this setback is by observing the amount of growth on repeated assessments during two time periods, fall to spring (the school year) and spring to fall (the summer). Quite often, there is much less growth in the latter.
The manner in which children spend time during the break can have long-term impact on their educational outcomes. Summer months are critical for overall literacy advancement when an early foundation of phonetic skills needs to be enhanced while other content mastered during the school year is reinforced. A daily block of reading practice should be reserved in addition to active summer activities.
It is important that reading material is on or above grade level. A wide variety of written text (including comics and magazines) is helpful in attracting children to read. If kids choose high interest books on their own, they will be proud of their autonomy and become more eager to read. With parental guidance, children may even select challenging books at a higher level. According to the Kids and Family Reading Report (2012), 92% of children easily finish books selected themselves.
When reading is “put on hold” for a few months, it is not unusual for children to experience delayed skill acquisition in school that can result in frustration and perhaps decreased self-confidence. For proficient readers, the school break provides an opportunity to learn increasingly complicated phonics skills and new vocabulary, as well as strengthen comprehension strategies and inferential skills in challenging text. For students with language-based learning challenges such as dyslexia, it is even more essential to read on a daily basis to reinforce skills already learned while being introduced to new ones. Summer is the perfect time for struggling students to gain ownership over literacy and identity as competent readers.
Both competent readers and those who struggle will show significant progress if they work with a private reading specialist. Individualized, high-quality reading instruction during the summer that is consistent with academic goals will most likely optimize the quality and outcomes for students. Students who read more, read better; they also write better, spell better, have larger vocabularies, and have better control of complex grammatical constructions. Enjoyable days during the school break maintain physical health while reading instruction promotes later success in not only literacy but each area of the curriculum.
Why Kids Struggle to Read and Why Orton-Gillingham Works By Anna Chobor, M.S. Award-Winning Teacher, Literacy/Learning Specialist, and Education Consultant English is the most difficult language to learn because of its extraordinary number of sounds. Beginning readers must learn 44 speech sounds (phonemes) that make up words. These sounds are then connected to the 26 written letters of the alphabet and children understand sound-symbol correspondence. Learning to read requires 98% auditory attention and 2% visual identification. Many children who struggle to read have auditory processing difficulties that make it hard to process what the ear hears, such as identifying a single letter sound or recognizing subtle differences in sounds that form words. A child who can interpret sounds may recall their order incorrectly. For example, he or she might say or write “ephelant” instead of “elephant” or hear the number 436 but say 643.
Dyslexia also interferes with the reading process. Some of the signs of dyslexia and auditory processing challenges are similar, but both conditions make it difficult for kids to develop reading and writing skills. Whereas auditory processing issues make it hard to process what is heard, dyslexics have difficulty with reading that can affect spelling and writing.
These signs may be indicative that a child has an auditory processing disorder or dyslexia.
- Has trouble sounding out written words
- Has trouble with spelling, often omitting letters or confuses the order of letters
- Reverses letters (reads “d” as “b” or writes “bog” instead of “dog”)
- Has trouble with rhyming
- Avoids reading aloud
- Can better understand stories that are heard than stories that are read (dyslexia)
- Can better understand stories that are read than stories that are heard (APD)
The Orton-Gillingham Approach was designed in the 1930s to teach reading and writing through phonics in an explicit, systematic manner that is effective for students with language-based challenges such as dyslexia and beginning readers. Skills are taught in building block fashion for reading, spelling, and the rules, and each skill is mastered before learning a new one. Once children learn the rules, they can read and spell words without error while reducing and/or eliminating memorization.
After simple sounds are learned and paired with corresponding letters, various combinations are taught:
- Digraphs (2 consonants that make 1 sound: sock, feather, cheese, sang, shark)
- Diphthongs (2 vowels that form 1 vowel sound: point, toy, rain, sauce, moon)
The examples above are only a tiny portion of the depth of Orton-Gillingham instruction. Although this approach is intensive and structured it allows for flexibility by incorporating visual, auditory, and kinesthetic techniques to meet specific needs of all children. It is the approach that is most commonly used by private reading specialists.
Most likely, students who struggle with reading and writing after second grade have been taught incorrectly in kindergarten and first grade. Instead of using a phonics-based approach, perhaps “whole language” was taught. Advocates for whole language believe that spoken and written language are similar, and should be learned the same way, “naturally.” Children “discover” how to read and spell on their own. They are encouraged to use context clues (pictures or words surrounding an unfamiliar word in a sentence) and “guess” the relation to the new word and what it may say. This is a problem in later grades when text becomes more complicated and words become increasingly challenging. Memorization no longer works, and students are unable to decode vocabulary because they have not learned the rules. They often become frustrated and try to avoid reading completely.
Through the whole language approach, young children are taught “transitional or inventive” spelling in which all errors are acceptable. They are told that “conventional” spelling will be taught in third grade.
An example of transitional spelling follows.
Kpn Pall tol hz cru fl sdm a ked. Takr dun. The submarine sek to the osn flor. But tha yr saf. (Captain Paul told his crew full steam ahead. Take her down. The submarine sank to the ocean floor. But they were safe.)
The whole language concept is a coping mechanism and not a strategy for learning to read, while direct phonics instruction builds a strong foundation of early literacy skills as children build self-confidence and reach their highest potential.
Beyond School Admissions: How to Instill a Lifelong Love of Learning for Real World Success
By Anna Chobor Award-Winning Teacher, Literacy/Learning Specialist, and Education Consultant
Beginning at birth children are like “sponges,” absorbing everything in their environment. Their minds are filled with soaking up as much information as possible, constantly and effortlessly. This is the beginning of a lifelong process in exploring the world with an innate sense of wonder and eagerness to learn.
Children who use their natural curiosity and hunger for knowledge will cultivate a lifelong love for learning. When they are internally motivated to know about things of interest, children will enthusiastically ask how, what, and why. They will become self-disciplined and confident. As a result, they will take initiative and develop strong academic skills.
A love of lifelong learning can help gain acceptance into selective schools and colleges – the ethical way. Just as parents want their children to get into an excellent college where they will excel, colleges have needs too. They want students who reflect the institution’s priorities (although each one differs).
In addition to having good grades and test scores, students who help to enhance a strong sense of community with their strengths are desirable. This is where a love of lifelong learning can be instrumental in gaining acceptance into schools of choice. Students who cultivate their authentic interests are passionate about learning and are hardworking. These assets are valued by schools who believe in building a strong educational environment through students with a diversity of talents.
It is important for parents to ask themselves what kind of model they want to be for their children. They may think they are communicating the message that being a good person is what is most important. However, if kids are “pushed” into schools that do not meet their personal academic goals, they may hear “achievement, achievement, achievement” instead of “be a good person” or “follow your dreams.”
Let us ponder a love of learning and its relationship to the recent 2019 college admissions scandal, Operation Varsity Blues. This scheme involved wealthy parents of high social status who cheated and bribed top college officials and others to accept their unqualified children. After investigations, federal prosecutors discovered the scandalous ways in which students would gain acceptance into targeted colleges: exam proctors were bribed to alter entrance test scores, coaches were bribed to choose unqualified athletes, and elite colleges were offered substantial donations. At least 50 people have been charged in connection with this scheme, with nearly 33 parents facing felony counts of conspiring to commit honest-services fraud. Consequences for many of these individuals are prison and/or monetary fees. Some have already lost lucrative employment due to termination or resignation. The children are emotionally distraught. The aftermath of this illegal and immoral scandal is still evolving, and one wonders how its outcome will affect future college applicants (and educational institutions).
Perhaps some families do not seriously consider the fact that higher educational institutions are bound by morality and laws. They may see its governing rules as conditional and depending on convenience. Although a small percentage of schools may move students toward graduation because they realize that today’s students are future donors, many unqualified individuals who are accepted to college as a result of bribery will find it difficult to finish their degrees.
Will children be happy and productive when enrolled into schools that are not the right fit for their intellect and passion, or will they thrive when viewed as confident young adults who aim to fulfill personal goals? It is important for parents to decide what is really best for their children’s future.
Through almost 30 years as an accomplished educator, I have found that it is important for parents to just pause and listen to their children’s wishes and trust that highest academic potential will be reached through a genuine love of learning and a focus on individual strengths. It is essential for parents to help children cultivate "ethical character” and reduce "achievement-related stress.” Let them pursue and reach their true dreams and school acceptance will be a process of alignment rather than judgment.