Orton Gillingham vs Reading Recovery: What’s the difference?

Last Updated on October 3, 2023 by Editorial Team

Reading is the cornerstone of education, serving as the basis for all other forms of learning. However, learning to read can be a difficult undertaking for some kids. The Orton Gillingham and Reading Recovery programs are two of the most well-known methods for teaching struggling readers. 

Despite having the same objective of assisting students to become better readers, each program has its own techniques and approaches, and their approaches to teaching and general philosophies vary. Discover which program would be the greatest fit for your struggling reader as we compare and contrast Orton Gillingham and Reading Recovery.

Evolution and progression of Orton-Gillingham and Reading recovery approaches

1. Orton Gillingham History and Development

As stated in many quotes, pathologist Samuel T. Orton, who treated patients with adult brain injury, set up a mobile clinic to assess underachieving youngsters who were recommended by teachers. He discovered that several of the pupils who had been referred simply had reading issues while having IQs that were near, normal, or above average.

To address this problem, Orton developed the idea of “multi-sensory” instruction. Later, he teamed together with psychologist and educator Anna Gillingham to develop the Orton-Gillingham approach. In order to teach sets of 70 phonograms, single letters, and letter pairings that represent the 44 distinct sounds found in English, Gillingham developed a methodical and organized technique. The strategy reduced the number of words in a language that a youngster had to memorize to just those that weren’t phonetically based.

Orton Gillingham

Students may readily produce meaningful syllables using the sequential, alphabetic-phonetic, multi-sensory Orton-Gillingham technique. This method integrates kinesthetic, visual, and auditory learning techniques to aid individuals with reading impairments in learning to read. The approach has proven effective and is still often used to assist kids with dyslexia and other reading problems in strengthening their reading ability.

2. Reading recovery history & development

For English-speaking children aged five or six who have the lowest reading achievement following their first year of school, Reading Recovery is a discredited short-term intervention strategy. For instance, a referral to a Reading Recovery program might be acceptable for a kid who, after a year in school, is unable to read the simplest of books or write their own name. The intervention entails rigorous one-on-one classes with a tutor using the Reading Recovery technique for 30 minutes a day for a period of 12 to 20 weeks.

In the 1970s, Marie Clay, a teacher from New Zealand, created Reading Recovery. Clay established reading as a message-getting and problem-solving activity and writing as a message-sending and problem-solving activity following extensive studies of early readers. Clay proposed that both tasks included relating unseen oral language patterns to audible symbols. Since research has revealed the strategy to be ineffectual, it has come under more and more scrutiny in the twenty-first century.

Differences between Orton-Gillingham and Reading Recovery

Two methods of teaching reading that are often applied in the educational profession are Orton-Gillingham (OG) and Reading Recovery (RR). Both strategies strive to aid struggling readers in strengthening their abilities, but there are some significant distinctions between them.

1. Method of instruction: Many books state how OG is a phonics-based, methodical, organized, and explicit approach to teaching reading. It emphasizes teaching pupils how to decipher words as well as the sounds and grammar of the English language. RR, on the other hand, is a one-on-one intervention program that seeks to assist students who are having difficulty with reading and writing by offering them individualized teaching and assistance.

2. Target audience: Students with dyslexia or other learning problems that impair their ability to read are frequently treated with OG. Contrarily, RR is frequently utilized with first-graders who are having trouble with reading and writing.

3. Time commitment: While RR is an intense intervention that is often taught for 12 to 20 weeks, OG is typically taught over a longer period of time, frequently spanning several years.

4. Teacher preparation: While RR may be taught by any qualified teacher, OG needs specialized training for teachers and tutors to become accredited in the technique.

5. Price: Due to the specialized training needed for instructors and tutors, OG is sometimes more expensive than RR.

Pros and cons of Orton-Gillingham

Pros of Orton-Gillingham:

  1. Strategy is systematic and structured and has been proven to be successful with pupils who have dyslexia and other learning impairments.
  2. Emphasizes the development of phonics and decoding abilities, which are essential for successful reading.
  3. Highly customized and adapted to the requirements of each learner.
  4. All ages of pupils may utilize it.
  5. Teachers and tutors who have received training in the method can apply it in a variety of contexts.

Cons of Orton-Gillingham:

  1. Many tools and resources need specialized training, which may be costly and time-consuming.
  2. Might be challenging to apply in a situation with many children in a classroom.
  3. For pupils who have difficulties with comprehension or other reading-related skills, this method might not be successful.
  4. Time-consuming and may call for many sessions each week.
  5. Due to the price and lack of qualified teachers, it might not be affordable for many pupils.

Pros and cons of Reading Recovery

Reading Recovery

Pros of Reading Recovery:

  1. Gives struggling readers intense, specialized help.
  2. Enhances kids’ self-worth and confidence by assisting them in achieving success in their reading and writing.
  3. Can be swiftly put into practice, and students usually show improvement after a few weeks.
  4. A wide range of kids, even those who may not have learning difficulties but are merely having trouble with reading and writing, can benefit from it.
  5. Can be used in a school environment with no impact on the general curriculum.

Cons of Reading Recovery:

  1. Can be pricey, especially if used extensively.
  2. Requires both instructors and students to put in a lot of time.
  3. For kids with significant learning difficulties or other underlying disorders that impair their ability to read and write, this method might not be helpful.
  4. Due to price and availability, some students might not be able to access it.
  5. Strongly relies on individual assistance, which might not be possible for schools with minimal resources.

What does research state for both?

The Orton-Gillingham approach is a structured and systematic method of teaching phonics that is designed to help students with dyslexia and other learning disabilities improve their reading and writing skills. The approach involves breaking down words into their component sounds and teaching students to recognize and decode these sounds.

The research study[1] is an article by Tom Nicholson titled “Orton-Gillingham approach – what is it and is it research-based?” which was published in the LDA Bulletin in May 2011. The article provides an overview of the Orton-Gillingham approach to teaching reading and writing, discusses the research on the approach, and evaluates its effectiveness.

Apart from the fact that the OG approach has various reading programs, The Reading recovery program has the most significant effect on discontinued students on measures designed for the program. A meta-analysis[2] was conducted on 36 studies of Reading Recovery (RR), which is a tutorial intervention designed to improve the literacy skills of low-performing first-grade students.

The meta-analysis found positive program effects for both discontinued and not discontinued students on outcomes tailored to the program and standardized achievement measures. The researchers found no evidence suggesting that the observed effects could be entirely explained by factors resulting from methodological flaws, such as regression artifacts. The study challenges conventional belief and provides evidence for the effectiveness of the Reading Recovery program.

Which is better for kids with LD?

Despite the fact that both programs have been proven to be successful for students with learning impairments, they each take a distinct approach and could be more beneficial for particular learner types. While Reading Recovery may be better suitable for kids who struggle with fundamental reading abilities but do not have a diagnosed learning disability, Orton Gillingham is often advised for individuals with serious reading issues or dyslexia.

The optimal strategy for each individual kid will ultimately depend on their unique requirements and the suggestions made by their education team. In order to decide what is ideal for each kid, it is crucial to engage closely with educators and other professionals who have received training in these programs.

Table of Comparison

CriteriaOrton GillinghamReading Recovery
GoalImproves pupils’ reading, writing, and spelling abilities in particular for those with dyslexia and other specialized learning challenges.
Follows a one-to-one teaching approach, designed to provide individualized instruction tailored to each child’s specific needs. The approach emphasizes problem-solving strategies and the use of cues from meaning structure, and visual information.
MethodologyUtilizes a systematic, multi-sensory phonics approach. Instruction is based on three main components: direct instruction, multisensory approach, and systematic and cumulative lessons.Follows a one-to-one teaching approach, designed to provide individualized instruction tailored to each child’s specific needs. The approach emphasizes problem-solving strategies and the use of cues from meaning, structure, and visual information.
Instructional FormatCan be offered in a one-to-one setting or in small groups, which allows for more individualized attention.Exclusively one-on-one, 30-minute daily lessons, with the child’s progress closely monitored.
Target PopulationSpecifically designed for students with dyslexia or other reading difficulties. However, the principles of the Orton-Gillingham approach are now often incorporated into general classroom instruction.Primarily targets first-grade students who are struggling the most with reading and writing, regardless of whether they have a specific learning disability.
Duration of InstructionThe duration of instruction can vary greatly, typically lasting several months to a few years, depending on the student’s individual needs and progress.The program is designed to be short-term, with the goal of bringing students up to the average reading level for their grade within 12 to 20 weeks.
Teaching MaterialsUses explicit, structured, and sequential phonics-based materials, often including flashcards, letter tiles, and workbooks. Lessons are tailored to the individual student’s needs.Utilizes a wide range of children’s literature, including leveled books and storybooks, to make reading a more enjoyable and meaningful experience for children. Additionally, children write their own stories and read them, further enhancing their understanding and fluency.

Note that while both approaches aim to improve reading skills, they differ in their methodology, instructional format, target population, and emphasis on specific skills. Orton Gillingham is a systematic, multi-sensory approach that emphasizes phonics, spelling, fluency, and comprehension, while Reading Recovery is a one-to-one teaching approach that aims to accelerate reading progress in children with limited emphasis on phonics and spelling. Additionally, Orton Gillingham typically requires more extensive training for instructors compared to Reading Recovery.


To sum up, both Orton Gillingham and Reading Recovery are research-based reading intervention programs that might be useful in assisting children with learning difficulties in developing their reading ability. However, the decision between the two will be based on the particular requirements of each student.

While Reading Recovery may be better suitable for kids who are having trouble with fundamental reading abilities but do not have a recognized learning disability, Orton Gillingham is often advised for students with dyslexia or major reading challenges.

At the same time, it is often compared to other programs like Lindamood Bell, Barton Reading Program, and even Willson Reading Approach. In the end, the choice should be taken after consulting with educators and other experts who have been educated in these programs and can offer advice based on the particular requirements of each kid.


  1. Orton-Gillingham approach – what is it and is it research based. (n.d.). https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Tom-Nicholson/publication/343626683_Nicholson_2011_-_Orton_Gillingham_approach_-_what_is_it_and_is_it_research_based_-_LDA_Bulletin_43_No_1_May/links/5f34b26f299bf13404be776a/Nicholson-2011-Orton-Gillingham-approach-what-is-it-and-is-it-research-based-LDA-Bulletin-43-No-1-May.pdf
  2. D’Agostino, J. A., & Murphy, J. A. (2004). A Meta-Analysis of Reading Recovery in United States Schools. Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, 26(1), 23–28. https://doi.org/10.3102/01623737026001023

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