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What is Structured Literacy?

Updated: Nov 3, 2021

There are different methods for learning how to read and write and many of these can be called a number of different names. You may have seen our page on the Orton-Gillingham approach and how it is the foundation of the way we recommend learning language skills. Or you may have heard of different reading curricula such as the Wilson Reading System, Neuhaus, or the Pride Reading Program. In addition, you may have heard that language needs to be taught in a Multi-Sensory way combining hearing (auditory), touch (kinesthetic), and sight (visual) together to learn language. The terminology and the recommendations can be confusing.

In July 2016, the International Dyslexia Association, polled their members, parents, and teachers and coined a brand new term which they called "Structured Literacy" to describe all the programs and methods that teach language in similar ways. To be clear, calling programs "Structured Literacy" was not meant to replace the other names but to be a larger umbrella term that included them all. So when we recommend Orton-Gillingham based programs for students with dysgraphia, we are recommending Structured Literacy.

Structured Literacy requires explicit, clear teaching of each concept. Language must be taught in a specific order where the learning builds and it also must be taught in a multisensory way. The focus is on phonics, decoding, and meaning, not learning whole words. Importantly, teaching should be individualized to the student and their needs.

In this way, the core elements of language are taught including: phonology, sound-symbol association (phonemes and graphemes), syllables, morphology (morphemes and meaning), syntax (grammar and sentence structure), and meaning and comprehension.

There is currently no evidence that one Structured Literacy or Orton-Gillingham based program is more effective than another. However, it is clear that these types of programs are better for those with dysgraphia or dyslexia -- as well for many other students struggling with language skills.

We highly encourage everyone with writing difficulties to try to learn language through Orton-Gillingham / Structured Literacy approaches, whether through school or at home. We will continue to bring you new resources to help throughout the coming year.

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