Learning to read is one of the core skills taught when a student first starts going to school. However, not every student learns the same way or at the same pace. At Community Christian School in Stockbridge, Alicia Petry, the school’s literacy specialist, has introduced students and teachers to the Orton-Gillingham method. She is the only fully trained and highly qualified Orton-Gillingham instructor on the southside of Atlanta, and she has seen lots of success since beginning to roll out the program at the school four years ago.
“We started with just a handful of students the first year and introduced it to grades K-2 in the second year,” said Petry. “Now we are a well-oiled machine. We can identify and remediate students who may struggle with reading and don’t let them fall too far behind.”
Petry describes the Orton-Gillingham method as “phonics on steroids.” Students learn the 44 sounds of the English language, all eight types of syllables, and all six ways to divide multisyllabic words. They learn proper letter formation, how to decode a word, and how to spell it. Unlike memorizing sight words, students in the program learn why words are built the way they are and can ultimately read any word.
“The method works for all students, regardless of ability,” said Petry. “It will supercharge a student who already has some reading skills, but can also be beneficial for those with dyslexia or are learning English as a second language.”
Kindergarten students at Community Christian School get the foundation. They learn letter sounds and handwriting and start to learn the rules of the English language. In first grade, the students often experience the biggest growth and feel they can read common words by the end of the year. By second grade, they are tackling multisyllabic words and are learning roots, prefixes, and suffixes. In third grade, they are no longer learning to read but rather reading to learn.
Petry has the faculty’s full support, and the school has started to see the benefits. Struggling readers get the help they need early on, and many of the students begin enhancing their reading comprehension earlier as well. The foundations that are established will continue to pay off as they advance into higher grades and deal with more advanced material.
“English is a living language, and many people bring their culture into a vocabulary that is constantly changing,” said Petry. “The skills our students learn through this method help them tackle challenging words and build confidence that will pay dividends for years to come.”
By Mike Boylan