Walker’s introduction to IMSE’s Orton-Gillingham came about when she made the transition into her role as a special education teacher at an elementary school.
But first, she needed to figure out exactly how she would approach teaching her new students, especially in one critical field: literacy.
She started asking around and came across a term she’s never heard before: Orton-Gillingham.
After doing some research, Walker said she contacted a school administrator, who then reached out to a reading center where the method was being used. The center confirmed the method worked, and soon teachers from multiple schools in Walker’s school corporation came together to attend a training from the Institute.
By the week’s end, Walker said she felt more prepared than ever.
“I left that week’s training and my brain was just about ready to explode with all the new information I had learned,” she said.
She began implementing it into her instruction and seeing results among her students. And, in Indiana, students must pass the state’s IREAD-3 test by the end of third grade, or typically they aren’t permitted to proceed to fourth grade — making Walker’s impact from IMSE’s Orton-Gillingham instruction more critical than ever.
For at least one young student, the new methodology has yielded profound results: his ability to read jumped from 22 words-per-minute to more than triple at 79 words-per-minute in just 13 months.
“His confidence is great,” Walker said. “He volunteers to read, he never would have done that in the past.”
His story began in first grade, when teachers noticed he was reading at a pre-A level, below where his abilities should have been for his age.
By second grade, the boy had only slightly improved to read at a mid-kindergarten level. And, with only a year left before he was expected to read at a fourth grade level, he was in dire need of improvement.
So in February 2017, the two started working together. For 45 minutes each day, Walker would work with him, arm-tapping out words, using blending boards and using straight, explicit phonics instruction to make major breakthroughs — all things she learned from her Orton-Gillingham training with IMSE.
Slowly, he worked his abilities up. While he didn’t pass his IREAD-3 assessment initially, Walker said her student wanted to go to summer school and make another attempt — something he never would have had the confidence or desire to do prior to using IMSE’s Orton-Gillingham methods. Now, not only was he seeing improvements in his skills, such as reading and spelling, but he was taking pride in himself, she said.
Her student took the test again and received a much higher score. Today he is a fourth-grader.
“This kid would have never wanted to do that before Orton-Gillingham,” Walker said. “And he’s constantly saying, ‘Mrs. Walker, can we do another test to see how many words I can get this time?’ He loves coming to my room for his Orton-Gillingham lessons.”
Instead of shying away from difficulties in learning to read, her student now embraces the challenge, asking for harder words and pushing through until he can read them.
“When I first introduced the syllable technique to him, he kept saying, ‘Give me a harder word, give me a harder word’ — and I couldn’t stump him with any of the words because of the syllable division technique,” Walker said.
Recently Walker’s student was working on an NWEA test when he came across a word that at first he was unsure of.
“I gave him a pencil and paper and I said, ‘Do your syllable division or finger-tap it, you know it,'” she said. “Twenty seconds later he said, ‘Is it: differently?’ And I just looked at him and said, ‘Mmm-hmm!’ I am just such an advocate for Orton-Gillingham, I love it.”
It was the combination of straightforward instruction, mixed with multi-sensory reading and dictation techniques that Walker credits with breaking down barriers for her student. By May 2018, he was reading almost 80 words-per-minute.
“It’s just been the straight blending board, the straight phonics of it,” Walker said. “The forming each letter and learning how to pronounce each letter, that he didn’t get in any other setting, except Orton-Gillingham.”
Walker said she uses the Orton-Gillingham training she received from the Institute for Multi-Sensory Education with a total of five students, all who have a range of learning and language differences, and who have Individualized Education Plans — though Walker said she would encourage all teachers to use IMSE’s Orton-Gillingham method if they wish to help their students achieve literacy.
For her part, Walker said she took IMSE’s 3-hour online refresher course in order to keep her skills sharp, and she hopes that more schools will invest in a program that has worked so well for her.
“I would encourage teachers who do not see progress soon, by first grade, to try Orton-Gillingham,” Walker said. “Even if you just use small parts of it, such as the blending board or the finger-tapping, I would say to use those even in the general education classroom. If I can transform just one life, then it’s all worth it.”