I often hear homeschool parents talking about getting frustrated with one Orton-Gillingham reading program and switching to another. I also hear parents saying how their kids did better with one program or another. Have you felt this way? Have you wondered when or if to switch Orton-Gillingham reading programs?
All Orton-Gillingham Reading Programs Work
As a general answer, I say that every Orton-Gillingham (OG) program I have seen is fairly similar. Learn what Orton-Gillingham is here. When I did my Orton-Gillingham training, it was made very clear that OG is an approach to teaching reading, not a program. There are many programs that incorporate the elements of the OG approach.
You can read more about what elements of the OG approach are here.
Research has shown over and over again that the OG approach is the most effective way to teach kids with dyslexia to read. Your kids will learn to read with any of these programs if used with fidelity and consistency – meaning you’re following the directions carefully and teaching your kids at least three times per week.
The reason some kids take longer to learn to read is not that the program isn’t effective, it’s because the child is more than likely more profoundly dyslexic.
There are degrees of dyslexia – mild, moderate, or profound.
The degree of severity is related to the degree of auditory or visual processing weakness, the degree of working memory weakness, and the degree of executive function weakness.
Learn more about the processing and memory weaknesses here.
More profoundly dyslexic kids will need more time to learn to read and may need more intense reading instruction than those who are less severe.
Read more about our experience teaching profoundly dyslexic kids here.
The reality of teaching reading to kids with dyslexia
Dyslexic kids learn to read at all different ages with the factors of age, the severity of their dyslexia, and methods used being the main variables.
Another important thing to be mindful of is what I call ‘middle school magic’. I’m not the only one who recognizes this phenomenon. Many kids who reach the middle school years 11-14 are more able to retain and apply the rules of reading (spelling is often still a struggle) and appear to suddenly be able to read.
So whenever I hear a parent say something like, “I switched to this reading program and my child took off with reading!” I ask, “How old were they?”
More times than not, the child is in middle school. There is no program that I know of (and I have tried a LOT of programs over my 25 years teaching my own kids with dyslexia) that causes a child to suddenly take off.
That being said, there are some reasons why a parent may legitimately want to change their reading program.
Reasons to change Orton-Gillingham reading programs
The child is resisting the instruction.
There are different reasons for a child to resist reading instruction.
Learning to read is hard for kids with dyslexia and no one loves doing things that are hard.
If your child is shutting down or becoming highly stressed when it comes to reading instruction at home, they will have trouble learning. The research is clear that stress has a hugely negative impact on learning.
Learn more about anxiety and dyslexia here.
If your child is resistant to reading instruction, it may be a good idea to switch programs. However, before switching your Orton-Gillingham reading program ask yourself the following questions:
Are you moving too fast? One of the main causes for kids to shut down over learning is because it is too difficult. They are confused, overwhelmed, and unable to articulate their feelings.
Does the program seem ‘babyish’ to your child? Some kids are highly sensitive to what they perceive as being babied.
Are you stressed when it comes time to teach? Is teaching your child overwhelming to you? Do you come to the table with a smile and prepared to teach? Or are you as stressed as they are?
Do they feel the program is tedious and boring? While OG reading instruction is by nature detailed and intense, it doesn’t need to be tedious and boring. Can you add games, let your child teach you, or offer rewards for finishing?
Another reason your kids may be resisting is that they could be nearing the tween or teen stage of development when kids are just naturally more grumpy and irritable, not to mention resistant to their parents’ instruction on many things.
In this case, if reading instruction is becoming a big source of stress, I recommend doing whatever you can to hire an experienced dyslexia tutor. This can make an enormous difference for everyone by taking the burden off of the parent.
Learn how and when to hire a dyslexia tutor.
The child isn’t making ‘quick enough’ progress.
As I said before, there is a wide age range for when kids with language-based learning difficulties learn to read. There are also different stages of reading. You may have a child who is able to decode reasonably well but lacks fluency. You may have a child who is beginning to read more fluently but for whom spelling is still a big challenge.
In general, however, if I see a child entering the middle school years grades 6 through 8 who is still reading at a very low level say first to second grade, I recommend hiring an experienced dyslexia tutor. An experience dyslexia tutor has more tools in their toolbox, more strategies, and can relieve a lot of pressure off of your relationship with your child.
What is my child’s reading level?
If you’re not sure what your child’s reading level is, try this quick reading assessment.
Directions for the Reading assessment
If he or she makes 0-1 mistakes on a word list, you can consider them “independent” at that level.
Two mistakes indicate that this level is “instructional,” or about where the child needs to be taught.
Three mistakes, however, indicate that that level is too high and would likely frustrate your child.
Knowing your child’s reading level can help you determine how effective the program you are using is and how much progress they are making.
To change or not to change?
The beauty of homeschooling is that we have the freedom to teach our kids methods and curriculum that work. Can you change your reading curriculum? Of course! Should you change your reading curriculum? That is entirely up to you!
This post is meant to guide you in making the best decision for your family.
More posts on Orton-Gillingham reading programs
What is in an Orton-Gillingham reading lesson (with free lesson planner)
Best Orton-Gillingham Resources
A Comparison of the Top 4 Orton-Gillingham Reading Programs for Parents
The struggle is real!! We are on level 4 of Barton. This is the most boring curriculum. Supplement games are expensive (card games are very hard to hold in your hand) and my burn out level is 10 after taking 2 months off. I’d hire a tutor in a second if there was one around but I live in a very rural area. Thank you for all of your information. I so appreciate you!
Thanks for taking the time to comment. You’ll get there, mama!
Online tutoring can be an option, too! And there are many add-on games that are inexpensive or even free. Feel free to contact me through my FB page or email for my free guide to getting started with Barton, my free list of legit, non-sales, work-from-home ideas, & tips for slicing up Barton!
Excellent advice! After working with my dyslexic boys for the past 11 years, I agree with what you have written here! I will say, some programs are more incremental than others, and for a more profound dyslexic, these slower programs seem to work better. I also liked what you said about other issues such as working memory. I have found this to be a huge issue in “breaking through” for some of my boys.
Another reason to switch is to give a child needed repetition without then feeling like they are failing by redoing the same work over again. We used three different programs with my child to get the added repetition that she needs. Logic of English for example recommends redoing a level of a kid isn’t ready for the next level and they have lots of games and activities to make it different and interesting but my kid would be devastated if she saw me picking up the same book after she worked so hard to finish it. So instead we do a new program at a similar level. Getting the same information in a slightly different way also helps her understand and remember better.
That is a great point! I never thought of that. 🙂
Great post, and I agree, middle school magic is real! Experienced this with my oldest son as well. Still lots of difficulty with spelling but reading has skyrocketed for him since the age of 12. Seems so long ago now when I thought he might never learn to read! Thank you for the real and encouraging advice you provide.
Thanks for taking the time to comment Liz! I remember wondering if my kids would ever learn to read. Now they are all reading. Our work isn’t finished yet. We’re moving on to spelling and writing now!