Tutoring students with dyslexia

We tutor using The Barton Reading & Spelling System. The Barton System is a simplified Orton-Gillingham based program, designed for one-on-one tutoring of children, teenagers and adults.

The Orton-Gillingham Multisensory Method was developed in the early 1930’s by Anna Gillingham and a group of master teachers. Dr. Samuel Orton assigned Anna’s group the task of designing a whole new way of teaching the phonemic structure of our written language to people with dyslexia. The goal was to create a sequential system that builds on itself in an almost 3-dimensional way. It must show how sounds and letters are related and how they act in words; it must also show how to attack a word and break it into smaller pieces. And it must be a multi-sensory approach, as dyslexic people learn best by involving all of their senses: visual, auditory, tactile, and kinesthetic.

The Orton-Gillingham Multisensory Method is different from other reading methods in two ways: what is taught, and how it is taught.

What is taught:

Phonemic Awareness is the first step. You must teach someone how to listen to a single word or syllable and break it into individual phonemes. They also have to be able to take individual sounds and blend them into a word, change sounds, delete sounds, and compare sounds — all in their head. These skills are easiest to learn before someone brings in printed letters.

Phoneme/Grapheme Correspondence is the next step. Here you teach which sounds are represented by which letter(s), and how to blend those letters into single-syllable words.

The Six Types of Syllables that compose English words are taught next. If students know what type of syllable they’re looking at, they’ll know what sound the vowel will make. Conversely, when they hear a vowel sound, they’ll know how the syllable must be spelled to make that sound.

Probabilities and Rules are then taught. The English language provides several ways to spell the same sounds. For example, the sound /SHUN/ can be spelled either TION, SION, or CION. The sound of /J/ at the end of a word can be spelled GE or DGE. Dyslexic students need to be taught these rules and probabilities.

Roots and Affixes, as well as Morphology are then taught to expand a student’s vocabulary and ability to comprehend (and spell) unfamiliar words. For instance, once a student has been taught that the Latin root TRACT means pull, and a student knows the various Latin affixes, the student can figure out that retract means pull again, contract means pull together, subtract means pull away (or pull under), while tractor means a machine that pulls.

How it is taught

Simultaneous Multisensory Instruction: research has shown that dyslexic people who use all of their senses when they learn (visual, auditory, tactile, and kinesthetic) are better able to store and retrieve the information. So a beginning dyslexic student might see the letter A, say its name and sound, and write it in the air — all at the same time.

Intense Instruction with Ample Practice: instruction for dyslexic students must be much more intense, and offer much more practice, than for regular readers.

Direct, Explicit Instruction: dyslexic students do not intuit anything about written language. So, you must teach them, directly and explicitly, each and every rule that governs our written words. And you must teach one rule at a time, and practice it until it is stable in both reading and spelling, before introducing a new rule.

Systematic and Cumulative: by the time most dyslexic students are identified, they are usually quite confused about our written language. So you must go back to the very beginning and create a solid foundation with no holes. You must teach the logic behind our language by presenting one rule at a time and practicing it until the student can automatically and fluently apply that rule both when reading and spelling. You must continue to weave previously learned rules into current lessons to keep them fresh and solid. The system must make logical sense to our students, from the first lesson through the last one.

Synthetic and Analytic: dyslexic students must be taught both how to take the individual letters or sounds and put them together to form a word (synthetic), as well as how to look at a long word and break it into smaller pieces (analytic). Both synthetic and analytic phonics must be taught all the time.

Diagnostic Teaching: the teacher must continuously assess their student’s understanding of, and ability to apply, the rules. The teacher must ensure the student isn’t simply recognizing a pattern and blindly applying it. And when confusion of a previously-taught rule is discovered, it must be retaught.

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