An Introduction to Multisensory Reading Programs


Why are multisensory reading programs important?

Multisensory reading programs are in high demand for students who are not able to learn to read without explicit instruction. The theory behind them is that, by incorporating tactile, visual, kinesthetic and auditory input into the learning process, the students process the information differently than traditional reading instruction. The multisensory approach was designed to teach individuals with dyslexia how to read but can support the literary success of other diverse learners. In talking with many of our families who need support for their students with dyslexia, it seems there is a general lack of knowledge and awareness around multisensory reading approaches. In order to teach multisensory reading, an educator must complete intensive training. Because of the rigorous training required, the number of tutors available to implement these methods can be limited. While there are many multisensory reading programs, the two most common programs known in the  Chicagoland area are Orton-Gillingham and the Wilson Reading System.

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While there are many multisensory reading programs, the two most common programs known in the  Chicagoland area are Orton-Gillingham and the Wilson Reading System.

What is Orton-Gillingham?

The grandfather of multisensory reading programs is Orton-Gillingham. This program pioneered the multisensory reading approach. It was developed in the early 20th century by Samuel Orton, a neurologist and pathologist, and Anna Gillingham, an educator and psychologist. The Orton approach provides a systematic thirty minute lesson offered daily. The lesson includes a three-part drill, teaching a new concept, decoding and learning center activities, red words (Orton’s term for sight words), and comprehension. The wonderful part about Orton-Gilingham is that it is a highly adaptable program that can be adjusted based on a student’s age, motivators, and other specific needs. Orton- Gillingham is a program that is individualized to each student. This approach is a great fit for students who need lots of flexibility in programming to meet their needs.

What is Wilson Reading System?

Wilson Reading System is based on the Orton-Gillingham approach. Barbara Wilson, the founder, was trained in the Orton-Gillingham approach after starting her career as a special education teacher. After her Orton training she started a learning center focused on children of all ages with dyslexia. Wilson is built specifically for students with language based learning disabilities. The Wilson approach teaches word structure systematically and incrementally. Students must master each step before moving on to the next step. The key to this approach is that every student goes back to the very beginning learning word patterns in isolation and continually building their repertoire. The Wilson program is a prescribed reading approach and, to be implemented with integrity to the program as designed, the implementer must follow the program’s specific requirements.

Which multisensory reading program is right for my child?

Many families find that either system works really well for their student! They are both phonics based, multisensory programs so they have more commonalites than differences between them. One major difference is that Wilson is more structured, so it can be a great fit for students who really benefit from high degrees of structure. Orton-Gillingham is more flexible to be modified and implemented depending on the student, tutoring goals, and more.

Key Takeaways

● Wilson Reading System and Orton-Gillingham are multisensory reading programs proven to teach literacy to struggling readers.

● Orton-Gillingham offers a structured approach that allows for adaptation based on student needs.

● Wilson is a systematic approach where student starts at the beginning to ensure mastery.

For further reading, check out our articles on Executive Functioning and ADHD.

About the author:

Chelsea Duffy has her Master in Teaching and is licensed by the Illinois State Board of Education as a learning behavior specialist. She has been working with diverse learners for over ten years and is certified in Orton-Gillingham multisensory approach.

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