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The Sonday System in Action: Part 3 of 12

Tom Guyer


Design features and proven techniques that make the Sonday System the best reading intervention program for students with dyslexia and other struggling readers. 

Mastery Checks  

Whether you are a parent, teacher or administrator, if you work with a reader who struggles with dyslexia, you are most likely aware of Orton-Gillingham based instruction. In study after study, an Orton-Gillingham based curriculum has been identified as the best way to serve these students who struggle to read.

The challenge is that, because Orton-Gillingham historically requires lots of lesson planning and extensive training, it can be difficult to implement. This 12-part series highlights the specific features that help make the Sonday System so effective in serving the needs of students, teachers and administrators – by building a curriculum that does compromise the highly effective Orton-Gillingham approach while making it so anyone can use it to be an effective teacher of Orton-Gillingham. 

With learning activities of all kinds, there is always the question: “How are we doing?” With a skill as fundamental as reading, it’s important to get this feedback frequently. The challenge is doing so in a way that doesn’t slow down the learning process. By building Mastery Checks into each Sonday System unit, teachers receive real-time data to guide daily instructional decisions. 

The Orton-Gillingham approach focuses on two skills: reading and spelling. Student performance in Sonday lessons provides ongoing, informal measures of student progress. For formal assessment of a student’s progress, Mastery Checks are embedded after every three levels. At each Mastery Check, a student must demonstrate the ability to use a specific skill accurately, consistently and with ease. 

With reading, this involves the use of two criteria: accuracy and rate. Before moving on to the next level students must read with at least 90% accuracy. We also ask teachers to note the time it takes each student to read the provided set of words because research has shown that fluency is directly related to comprehension. When students have to work hard to be accurate, rate is compromised, which means comprehension is compromised. 

For spelling, students are required to spell the set of words with 85% accuracy. In this case, there is no time limit, as spelling is less connected to fluency. However, if excessive time is required, we do suggest that teachers consider the need for further instruction within those levels. 

If students meet the mastery criteria for reading and spelling, they are ready to move on to the next level. If they do not meet benchmarks in both areas, the Mastery Checks provide data that teachers can use to take immediate action. If the problem is with reading accuracy, teachers can look at the words missed and reteach these sounds, asking students to trace the word as they re-learn the sounds. If students are reading accurately but aren’t meeting the rate criteria, then fluency is the root cause. Teachers can then go back to the lessons and re-teach sections that more fluency practice. 

Next: Multisensory Components

More information about the Sonday System, its Orton Gillingham lesson plans, its cost-effective teacher training requirements and its simple, multisensory reading intervention strategies for students with dyslexia can be found at

Previous articles in this series:

Part 1: Phonemic Awareness

Part 2: Keeping Students Engaged