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Wingate training teachers in OG, providing clinic to help young Union County readers

by Chuck Gordon


Greyson Bebber was about 3 years old when his parents realized he was struggling in preschool.

“He wasn’t picking up on letters and numbers like his classmates,” says his mother, Glenda Bebber, Wingate’s associate vice president for campus operations. “But you also had a lot of people saying, ‘Oh, he’s a boy. He’ll catch up. Don’t worry about it.’”

Greyson didn’t catch up, at least not without some intervention. The Bebbers wound up sending him to a private Catholic school in Mecklenburg County where teachers had been trained in Orton-Gillingham, a highly structured, multisensory approach to the teaching of reading that was developed in the 1930s, initially to help children with dyslexia. Greyson, who has dyslexia, dysgraphia (a disorder that affects writing), and a math learning disability, attended the school from third through sixth grades, and today he’s a capable high-schooler, a solid student who simply processes information differently than many of his peers.

“When he started at the Catholic school he was not reading on a kindergarten level, and when he left he was reading on grade level,” Bebber says.

There are quite a few Greysons out there – some studies suggest that one in five students has dyslexia to some degree – but few public-school teachers have been trained in Orton-Gillingham (OG). And not all parents have the resources available to get outside help for their children.

Tutor helping student with reading

Wingate University is working to provide some of those resources. Thanks to a grant from The Mebane Foundation, Wingate is offering local elementary-school teachers an intensive, four-week OG training session this summer. Then, throughout the academic year Wingate will host multiple reading clinics each week where those teachers can put their training into practice. The grant pays for a program director and a graduate assistant, in addition to supplies and snacks. Importantly, it will allow for five teachers to receive the training for just $300 (down from the normal $1,300), and teachers will get paid $15 an hour to tutor in the clinic.

“Just like student teaching, you have to be observed a certain number of times,” says Dr. Melanie Keel, associate professor of education. “But if you can do that and get paid, that’s a huge bonus.”

The OG approach stresses structure, sequence and reinforcement, and students must master one area before moving on. Teachers use a variety of sensory methods to help students learn to read (and to make the repetition palatable): painting letters, writing in sand, using hand motions, playing games, and much more. “Lots of sensory things, so you’re not relying on just one brain pathway,” Bebber says. “You can use different ways to process information.”

The clinical part of the equation is essential, because OG works best when it is tailored to individual students. Putting the approach into practice as part of the training forces teachers to adapt what they’ve learned to a student with a unique set of needs. Bebber stresses that Wingate’s program stands out because tutors develop individualized lesson plans and are then observed and given feedback.

“We teach you how to use it, and how to use it with the person who’s sitting in front of you,” Bebber says. “It’s not just a concept.”

Another piece of the puzzle

The OG training and clinic are years in the making. More than a decade ago, Bebber, looking to get some assistance for Greyson, discussed his situation with Linda Stedje-Larsen, at the time the director of Wingate’s Academic Resource Center. Stedje-Larsen pointed Bebber toward some helpful resources, and the pair also talked about the need for OG-trained teachers in the public schools and discussed ways to make it happen.

The University started offering a summer reading clinic five years ago, led by Wingate students, and last fall that offering morphed into a year-long, once-a-week after-school clinic on the Wingate campus. During the 2022-2023 academic year, the clinic will be conducted by both current elementary teachers and Wingate education students. The OG training is open to Wingate elementary-education students, but the offer is expected to be taken up primarily by current elementary teachers.

Even if they are not OG trained this summer, Wingate students will still be involved with the clinic, working with the same students each week. They will implement methods they learn in classes taught by Keel, who over the next two years will undergo training in LETRS (Language Essentials for Teachers of Reading and Spelling), thanks to a grant from North Carolina Independent Colleges and Universities.

LETRS incorporates some aspects of OG. Training teachers in both could have a huge impact on all students.

“Typically in the past, OG has been mainly used for students with dyslexia, but what we’re finding is it’s good for all students who miss things,” Keel says. “Using LETRS in the classroom and then adding Orton-Gillingham on top of that can hopefully close the gap for students who need that extra support.”

Eventually, Keel and Bebber would like to see OG implemented as part of Wingate’s teacher-education curriculum, a move that could make Wingate education majors even more attractive to potential employers. Not to mention the going rate for OG-trained tutors ($50-100 an hour).

Until then, Wingate is at least doing its part to serve the community in a foundational and important area of learning.

“We’re like the third piece of the puzzle,” Keel says. “The parents, the teacher, and we can be the third piece.”

May 25, 2022