by Andrew Blair
Starting this week at Riverside School, nearly two dozen teachers have switched roles and become students.
Visiting teachers, parents, and educational professionals have come from all over Virginia and there are two from Florida. They have gathered in this small hamlet of North Chesterfield, Va., to learn the dynamics, logistics, and mechanics of the Orton-Gillingham Approach. Most of the attendees, known as ‘trainees,’ will use the information gleaned to take back to their school to potentially aid and empower classroom children who are dyslexic.
Bottom line is that the trainees, with a major assist from mentor and lecture teachers who are leading the courses, are hoping to improve the lives of kids battling the moving target that accompanies dyslexia and similar language-based learning differences. The 10-day, 60-hour course is conducted by The Riverside School O-G Training Institute, which is accredited by the Academy of Orton-Gillingham Practitioners and Educators (AOGPE). Successful completion of the course is one part of becoming an Associate Member certified by the aforementioned Academy.
The sessions, though, are not for the faint of heart and the process for certification is rigorous. The multifaceted instruction entails a lecture portion that, in part, deals with the brain, assessment, phonology, the structure of language and how to teach it, morphology, handwriting, reading comprehension, as well as how to write and implement an O-G lesson plan.
In addition to the 45-hour lecture portion, there are daily readings, discussions, demonstrations, videos, and hands-on practice of multisensory procedures and strategies.
“In general, we try to be interactive when teaching trainees,” says lecture teacher and O-G Fellow Cynthia Davis, the Language Fundamentals Supervisor at Riverside.
Trainees also spend one-on-one time under the direction of a mentor teacher. As a part of the ‘real-life’ sessions, officially known as the ‘Applied Practice’ portion, trainees use their knowledge to teach a dyslexic student while being observed by their mentor teacher. Later, mentor teachers provide feedback to trainees, aid in helping trainees develop a lesson plan, and prescribe next steps. The Applied Practice part comprises 15 hours.
In addition to Mrs. Davis, the other teachers are: O-G Fellow Nancy Spencer, the former Language Fundamentals Supervisor at Riverside; Charice Myers, a classroom teacher at Riverside and an AOGPE Certified Member; Leda Spencer, an O-G Fellow-in-Training at Riverside, and Robin Hegner, an AOGPE Certified Member.
All five teachers strive to teach trainees to the point of mastery. The group of trainees is primarily comprised of public school teachers who have a desire to help children, but most, if not all, lack adequate resources.
“There are varied reasons why teachers take this course, but mostly because they find that they need more tools in the tool belt to be able to meet their children’s needs—and the materials that they’ve been given and the training that they’ve been given by their counties aren’t enough,” Mrs. Davis says. “Folks are beginning to understand that the O-G Approach is the approach of choice for the dyslexic learner, so they want to learn it.”
The impact of the course is seemingly felt each day among all involved.
“I have been wanting to do this course for a long time and am getting a lot out of it,” says Cindy Conca, a teacher at Phillips Elementary School who also tutors students privately. “I work with students 5 years old and up who have run into problems, particularly with reading. I am hoping to use the information from this course as an asset.”
Despite some long and arduous days and probably a little brain overload mixed in, teachers will take home a gift. There is no known cure for dyslexia, but their accumulation of information on the O-G Approach and ability to apply it correctly will undoubtedly make them more effective teachers. The best part is when the O-G Approach is taught correctly, students who are willing learners have a chance to overcome dyslexia, a learning disability, and improve their lives forever.
That’s quite a reward.