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Sonday System and Orton-Gillingham Lessons: Helping Kids Break the Code in Reading


When Jennifer Needham’s first-grade son was having trouble reading, she was surprised to find her master’s in education didn’t adequately prepare her for the challenge. Not a good feeling.

“I started working with him at home and we did vision therapy for a while. I don’t think it hurt, but for my son more was needed. I’d never heard of Orton-Gillingham lessons, but I knew I needed to figure it out,” she said. “I did a lot of research and found the Sonday System right away but kept researching and eventually came back to it. The Sonday System fit the science of teaching reading, and I was willing to learn.”

Jennifer worked with experts at Winsor Learning who trained her to use the program and Orton-Gillingham lessons effectively. It worked better than she hoped it would, giving her son exactly what he needed to catch up with his peers. In fact, Jennifer was so sold on the program that she used her training to open a tutoring business out of her home for six years.

Four years ago, she returned to teaching full time — bringing the Sonday System and other Orton-Gillingham lessons with her to the classroom. The successes she’s seen in that time are remarkable. After a year with the Sonday System one student went from the 8th percentile in the fall to the 89th percentile in the spring, she recalled. Parents have sent her emails with progress reports, telling her how former students are now on the Honor Roll. One student just won academic awards and exceeded expectations on the MCAs for reading and math. And this year Jennifer’s son, who she first started tutoring in grade school, graduated with distinction from high school.

“The Sonday System helps fill in the gaps,” she said. “With mastery checks, kids are able to move as fast as they can go and as slow as they need to go, and they don’t move on until they’re ready. When they get it, they really start to fly.”

For Jennifer and her students, the experience has revolutionized both teaching and learning. “The students like it because it’s predictable. We give them the tools they need to understand reading with explicit instruction they’re able to apply. We give them a code, so they know how to understand the meaning of a word,” she explained. “In education, we’re not trained to teach this way. But learning how to use an explicit, multi-sensory phonics program has changed my way of teaching. It’s changed me. It’s helped hundreds of my students learn to read. That’s why I teach it exactly as it’s laid out. I don’t change a thing because I know it works.”

Learn how our Sonday System or other Orton-Gillingham lessons can help your students break the code by clicking here.