January 4, 2023

PPS Adopts New Program to Teach Reading; Teachers Embrace Orton-Gillingham Method

RAMPING UP THE READING: Princeton Public Schools is introducing a new, more intensive reading approach in all the district’s elementary schools. Teachers will participate in 30 hours of training in the multi-sensory Orton-Gillingham approach, with “systematic teaching around phonological awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension skills.” (Photo courtesy of Princeton Public Schools)

By Donald Gilpin

In an initiative aimed at effectively meeting the needs of all its youngest students, Princeton Public Schools (PPS) has adopted the Orton-Gillingham (OG) approach to the teaching of reading.

This past fall PPS trained more than 20 of its elementary school staff members in OG methods, a multi-sensory, structured, sequential approach to reading instruction, and the district will offer training this summer to all kindergarten and first grade teachers.

“This is wonderful news for our early learners,” said PPS Superintendent of Schools Carol Kelley. “Learning to read is the key to attaining academic success, and by incorporating Orton-Gillingham techniques into our program we will help all of our students achieve their full potential. This boost to our early elementary program aligns perfectly with our goal of supporting the needs of early learners, age 3 to grade three.”

Using OG enables districts to reduce the number of students who read below grade level or need Individualized Educational Plans (IEPs) or other academic supports, PPS noted in a recent press release.

New Elementary Education Supervisor Sarah Moore, who is a Level-5 Orton-Gillingham master instructor and a certified Orton-Gillingham school district trainer, described the OG approach and the district’s plans for its revamped reading program. “The OG approach is multi-sensory in nature,” she said. “It ensures that multiple learning pathways (auditory, visual, and kinesthetic) are activated as students are learning. The OG approach emphasizes highly explicit and systematic teaching around phonological awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension skills.”

She noted that the new program would be more intensive in order to support early literacy acquisition for students and that the OG approach would also be brought into grades three to five, where students would be studying morphology and etymology. Teachers will be participating in 30 hours of training in preparing to implement the OG approach.

Moore has led the training at PPS and is the author of many journal articles on structured literacy practices. She has trained more than 500 teachers in the OG approach to teaching reading.

“The feedback from the Orton-Gillingham training this fall has been tremendously positive, and our interventionists are already using the program and strategies with students and reporting very strong results,” said PPS Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction Kimberly Tew.

She added that the OG method significantly improves students’ ability to read and their ability to “read to learn” when studying other subjects.

PPS recently received OG accreditation from the Institute for Multi-sensory Education, “a coveted designation that fewer than a dozen districts in the country receive,” according to the PPS press release.

“If you can help students early, the data shows that you dramatically reduce the number of students who read below grade level,” said Tew. “If you can provide early targeted interventions, 86 percent of students will not require any academic interventions. But if you wait until after the second grade, there is a big drop and only 36 percent of students do not need future interventions.”

Moore, who worked as supervisor of literacy and intervention in the Robbinsville Public Schools before coming to PPS last August, described impressive results from the introduction of the OG approach in Robbinsville. “We saw students reading on grade level go from approximately 45 percent to over 80 percent,” she said. “The national average for students reading on grade level by fourth grade is 33 percent, according to the most recent NAEP data.”

In addition to incorporating OG into the elementary program, this spring PPS will be moving to Early Bird, an early literacy screener from Harvard University and Boston Children’s Hospital, which identifies students who need additional reading support before deficits can occur.

Along with the OG training for all kindergarten and first grade teachers this summer, PPS will be introducing a “new structured literacy block” that will incorporate phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension study.

Elementary teachers are already enthusiastic in adapting to the new approach, said Moore. “We trained our first round of PPS teachers in OG through the Institute for Multi-sensory Education this fall, and there was a tremendously positive response. We’ve also had several other local school districts reach out to coordinate having their teachers trained in Princeton with our staff,” she added.

Moore is looking forward to ongoing progress for Princeton elementary schools in the teaching and learning of reading. “At PPS we are embracing best practices by aligning our tiered systems of support, providing teachers with in-depth training, revamping our universal screening processes, and bringing in our new structured literacy block,” she said. “We are very proud of the exciting work happening here and can’t wait to provide further updates as the rollout happens.”