What is Orton-Gillingham?

Written by Judy Cowin, Tutoring Coordinator


I am often asked, “What is Orton-Gillingham?”  Parents may have come across the name in their research, heard of a “multi-sensory method”, or received a referral from a psychologist recommending a program such as Orton-Gillingham.


This past year we have embarked on the opening of the Tutoring Center to support students who struggle in reading, math, and executive function skills.  Many of our students come to the center with a diagnosis of dyslexia or a language based disability. Studies have shown the Orton-Gillingham Approach to be effective with these students and others who struggle with reading.


Our trained tutors observe student behavior from the initial assessment to determine the skill level of the student and plan where instruction will begin.  Unlike scripted programs, Orton-Gillingham is flexible so that each lesson is based on the student’s current performance, with continuous feedback and positive reinforcement from the tutor as the students progresses.  We plan lessons based on the individual student to determine if repeated practice is needed or if they are ready to move forward.  Each tutor uses strategies to engage the learner throughout the lesson using multi-sensory techniques (visual, auditory and kinesthetic) to practice and reinforce each new skill.  Students practice “see it, say it, and write it” to strengthen and advance skills.  They may form letters in rice, highlight a sound or blend letters to form words as they engage in practice activities.  They are active learners!


Our Tutoring Center provides O-G tutoring by a staff of teachers and experienced tutors.  Each of our tutors have participated in training followed by months of practicum application under supervision to uphold the fidelity of the Orton-Gillingham Approach.  This process is like an educator’s college coursework culminating in student teaching.


How long will this take?  As one of the approach’s founders, Anna Gillingham, puts it “Go as fast as you can and as slowly as you must.”      


Individual students begin tutoring at their own level, proceed at their own pace and find success as early as possible to become confident and successful readers.


Year-Round School?

Written by Mr. McFarland, Middle Team Teacher

Each year kids (and teachers) count down the last 20 some days of the school year and look forward to summer break. It means something different probably to each person, but it’s important in some ways to everyone. It feels like a finish line has been crossed. Remember how that feels? It feels great!
My writing class was writing persuasive paragraphs recently and one of the topic choices was, “Should schools be year-round?”  I went to some length to explain how the writer, like a debater, needs to be able to reason from both points of view.  That they should attempt to dismiss their own personal feelings and persuade the reader with logic and clear writing. No one chose year-round school!  I couldn’t even tempt them to write from that position. Apparently it’s pretty fixated in the American psyche, or at least here on the Great Plains, that one needs summer breaks. I know I do!

Striving for Greatness

Written by Mrs. Denning, Upper Team Teacher

“The greatest individuals who attain the highest forms of achievement in life don’t sprint toward success, but significance. They don’t run races, build businesses, raise kids, and live lives for themselves; they do these things to make a difference for others. They hold hands, move hearts, give love, and impact lives.” -John O’Leary

I love this quote, and I’d like to think that I’m living the life of a “great” individual. Since childhood I envisioned myself as a supportive and encouraging wife and mother. Then I began working at Horizon in 2004 as a teacher assistant, and I instantly bonded with the students and with the school. I marveled at Mr. Fritsch’s manner with his class of 9 boys and secretly dubbed him the “kid whisperer.” I indeed identified him as a “great” man, and I have since done my best to emulate his example.

That said, I have to admit this has been a difficult year for me. On August 15th, a few hours before parents arrived for our Back to School Night, and the day before the start of the new school year, I was given a pathology report that indicated the presence of breast cancer. I left the doctor’s office that day with 5 more appointments set with 3 different specialists, and the knowledge that I’d also have to schedule several weeks of radiation. I was never particularly worried about my health; instead, my thoughts went to, “How am I supposed to fit all this in AND be the “great” teacher I aim to be?

Incredibly, the months flew by and I managed to get through appointments and treatments, while continuing to plan lessons, grade papers, study O. G. materials, and meet various deadlines. On the home front I occasionally eked in some chores, as well. I did what I had to do, but definitely not with the “greatness” that I had hoped.

With a longer school day, medication that makes me sleepy (and moody), follow-up appointments, physical therapy, and more deadlines, I still struggle to do more than just get by. How am I to make a positive impact on others’ lives, particularly those in my home and work families?

This just may not be my “greatest” year in regard to lifting others up or making a difference in their lives. However, this may be the year I’ve most experienced the greatness of others. There have been so many things that have touched me and encouraged me, there’s no way I can list them all. My brother’s Tuesday night phone calls, simple chores done by my husband and son, and messages from my daughter are but a few that I can recall.

Greatness and love hasn’t just shown up in my personal life; it has shone through at Horizon as well. Younger staff with small children are successfully managing the difficult task of balancing work and family life. Colleagues are eager to share wisdom and resources, mentoring others in their areas of expertise. Maybe even greater are the notes and words of encouragement among the staff. The support among colleagues at Horizon is so empowering!

And it’s not just the adults. Our students, the ones who I strive to be “great” for, demonstrate greatness every day. I defy anyone to spend a day in my classroom and leave feeling downtrodden. I am greeted enthusiastically each morning, given fist bumps, and told me such gems as, “I think of you just like family, Mrs. Denning.” I see greatness in the way students treat each other, as well. They are the kind of people who jump up to help when someone drops or spills something, and they are quick to come to someone’s aid when they are hurting.

Students have also given me numerous heart-warming notes and gifts this year, including
drawings, hand-made crafts, and yummy chocolates. This doesn’t even begin to cover all the great things my students have done for me or others. They uplift me in some way every day.

Very recently my students also exhibited greatness by working together to help others. On March 31st my class, along with Mr. McConnell’s, served at City Union Mission’s food warehouse and were given the tasks of cleaning and organizing. Each student jumped to task, working diligently until it was finished. I don’t remember a single word of complaint the entire day.

While my experience hasn’t magically made me a better person, or made others great, it definitely opened my eyes to the greatness that has been there all along.

Strategy for Success: Understanding Textbooks

Written by Ms. Olinger, Middle Team Teacher

Learning strategies work well with our students as it gives them a concrete way to move through a specific skill. Traditional classrooms often use textbooks, and students must be familiar with the organization and the tools contained in the text.  A strategy that I teach in my Content class, HOVER, gives students a preview of a chapter or reading selection. After mastering the strategy, the student will be able to use the learning aids provided in the textbook and its features to both gain information and facilitate further study of the chapter content.


Such aids as headings, learning objectives, vocabulary, review or study questions, pictures, diagrams, graphs, and charts are investigated in this strategy. This survey helps direct attention toward the most important information contained in the chapter and gives a detailed framework as the student becomes familiar with the key terms used in the chapter.


Each step is a separate pass through the chapter or reading selection. Layering your learning; building the foundation.

Here are the steps:

  • H- Headings:  Read through all the headings and subheadings turning each heading into a question.

    This helps to activate your thinking. Think about how the headings provide an outline or framework for the chapter information.

  • O- Objectives:  Find and read through the objectives.

    Objectives serve as the road map to keep the student on course. They are statements about what learners should be able to do AFTER they read the text. Reading the objectives BEFORE you start helps you focus on the information the author considers most important; what you are expected to know. Depending on the text, objectives can be listed in the front of the chapter, in a separate study section, or a guide given by the instructor.

  • V- Vocabulary:  Read the key words to familiarize yourself with the new vocabulary. Read the words around the vocabulary word to find and read the definition.

    The key terms used in most textbooks are crucial to understanding the information discussed in the chapter. Familiarity with the key terms BEFORE you start to read them in context will facilitate your learning. Vocabulary words are often bolded or can be found in a special word list at the beginning or end of the chapter. In some textbooks, they are found in the margins along with the definition.

  • E- Enrichment Features:  Read the caption with each enrichment feature as a way to familiarize yourself with the chapter contents.

    Enrichment features increase your interest and enrich the understanding of the chapter information. Enrichment features include:

    • Illustrations, cartoons, and diagrams
    • Tables, graphs, charts and maps
    • Marginal notes or summary statements
    • Sidebar articles and case studies

      By looking at the enrichment features BEFORE the in-depth reading, the student reduces the likelihood that he/she may be distracted by the graphics when reading in-depth. The learner will be able to refer to the graphics at an appropriate time during the reading.

  • R- Review Questions: Locate and read the review questions.

    The purpose of reading review questions at this stage of study is NOT to answer them, but to gain a sense of what information is most important. Look for the open-ended or short answer questions. Multiple choice, fill-in-the-blank, and true/false are NOT recommended for this purpose since they include distractors that may confuse the learner.  Review questions may be found at the beginning or end of the chapter, in an accompanying study guide or provided by the instructor.


Using this preview strategy gives the learner a systematic way to gain key concepts and vocabulary while building the foundation to facilitate further study of the chapter contents.


Building a Better Volcano

Written by Mr. McConnell, Upper Team Instructor


Early in February, my Earth Science class learned about the forces that produce volcanic eruptions. This presented an opportunity for a classic high school science demonstration, the baking soda and vinegar volcano. Though, despite its popularity, I dislike this demonstration. Beyond superficial similarities it has nothing to do with volcanoes. A baking soda and vinegar volcano is powered by a chemical reaction evolving carbon dioxide, but a real volcano is a driven by convection. So I set to work on making a better volcano model and putting an end to the old flawed model.

The premise was simple, but the execution was much tougher than I expected. At its most basic, I needed a vessel filled with solid wax and a way to heat it. As the wax melted, it would expand. The liquid would then exceed the volume of the vessel and overflow the top.


My first experiment used a 1L Erlenmeyer flask of wax partially submerged in boiling water. The wax began to melt from the bottom up and before it could break its way through to the surface it sprung a leak in a hairline fracture. Not quite what I wanted, but very similar to a volcano’s side vent.


The second attempt used a 500mL flask which could be more completely submerged in the water. Again it began to melt, but the pressure grew too quickly. The side of the beaker blew off like a tiny Mount Saint Helens.


The classes last and most successful eruption, used a canning jar with a hole in the lid. I rose the temperature of the water very slowly. For three hours the wax soaked and melted. Finally, the eruption began. Tiny wax bubbles crackled on the lid as the last air was forced out by the pressure of the wax. The upper team students each came to the classroom as the liquid wax escaped the lid and pooled on the surface. Eventually though, the pressure distorted and lifted the entire lid off of the jar.


Demonstrating the slow and powerful forces that shape our earth are tough to present in a small and safe way. My miniature Kilauea has room for improvement, and I may revise it more in another year of Earth Science. However, I think that making a better volcano matters because flawed analogies lead to flawed understanding. For students to understand a process correctly, it needs to be presented as realistically as possible.​


Process Over Product

Written by Ms. Bardwell, Arts & Extracurricular Coordinator


Unlike music, where talent is passed on through genetics, art is developed over time with lots of practice. Along with developing fine motor skills, art students also learn how to see. It is the learning to see that takes children from painting trees with brown trunks and big green blobs for leaves to rendering them as an architectural wonder with thousands of shades of brown, grey and green in their barks and individual leaves of varying hues of green.


While most schools embrace curriculums that lead the students to study famous artists, Horizon Academy focuses more on the artistic process. Rather than paint a picture like Monet, the students will instead explore how watercolor moves on wet paper.  


Through the process of exploration and discovery, students are able to test the limits of different media. There is no pressure to end up with a “good” picture, sculpture or pot. Instead we focus on the experience that took place in its creation and then the response that the work evokes from its viewers. Is it funny? Does it show movement? Does it show emotion? Or, is it just fun to look at?


Art is a lifetime pursuit and if we allow ourselves to compare our work to others, including famous dead artists, it is easy to get discourage, define oneself as “not good” at art, and quit. Someone once described making art as the one place you can lose yourself and find yourself at the same time. This is what we nurture at Horizon Academy.


Play to Learn

Written by Mr. Isenmann, Middle Team Teacher

Education and fun. What comes to mind when you think of those two words together? Before I became a teacher, those words conjured memories from PE class. Each day I’d pray for Coach Hummel to utter those magical words: “Today we’re playing dodgeball.” Dodgeball–a glorious game where you can both punish your enemies and flirt with cute girls by pegging them in the back of the head with a foam ball (at least, that’s what my adolescent mind thought).  


It’s easy to remember the fun I had in PE, not so easy for all of my other classes. My academic experiences usually involved listening to lectures, answering textbook questions, or completing seemingly endless streams of worksheets. The only time we did a “fun” activity was usually to celebrate a holiday or the end of a quarter–a reward for all of our hard work, I suppose. We were allowed to have fun after the learning had occurred. I think this is backward. You should have fun so that you’re better able to learn.

Research has shown that learning and happiness, in fact, complement each other. I’ve seen TED talks, read articles, and listened to podcasts that all explained how the human brain functions much better when it’s happy. What better way to be happy than to have fun? This is why I deliberately seek to make my instruction as engaging as I can.


Lately, the instruction I’ve spent the most time adapting for fun has been the Orton-Gillingham (OG) approach. I won’t go into detail about what OG is, however, I will say that repetition is a crucial aspect to the approach. I wanted to create a way to make repetitive practice fun, so I created Q-Slap.


Q-Slap is a game where each player has answer cards and competes to be the first player to slap down the correct card, earning a point. I’ll give a more in-depth example to help illustrate the game.


If we were reviewing the six syllable types (closed, open, vowel team, consonant-le, bossy-R, and silent-e) the students would each have six cards, each with one of the aforementioned syllable types. I would then place down a slip of paper with a random word on it. Let’s say the word is “turtle.” As soon as I lay the word down, the students would look through their cards and determine which syllable types are present in turtle then slap the card(s) face down. Once everyone has made their guesses they reveal their answers (consonant-le and bossy-R). Whoever guesses the answer correctly first gets the slip of paper which represents one point. The player with the most points at the end of the game wins. Simple, right?


Q-Slap has been a success for me these past two years. My middle schoolers often ask to play, which tells me it’s working since middle schoolers are rarely eager to do much of anything! It gives them what they need academically–repetition–along with what they need emotionally–reward.


The next time you plan a lesson or activity for a young person, think about mixing in a little fun. This doesn’t necessarily mean you have to play a game. You could simply reward them for answering a certain number of questions correctly or team students together to answer the questions with whiteboards in a competition. No matter the assignment, if you take the time to consider a student’s emotional investment, you’ll be rewarded for your efforts.

Going for the Gold

Written by Coach Chamberlain, Physical Education & Sports Coordinator

Last year, we began a new tradition in PE at Horizon Academy, the Olympics. Held twice a year, before winter and summer break, the Olympics are a great way to build team camaraderie, discuss sportsmanship, and add a little friendly competition to PE.
Each classroom is assigned a country. Classes then spend 10-15 minutes discussing some fun facts about their designated country. This helps students understand and learn more about other cultures. We then spend three weeks participating in multiple Olympic events. Some of the favorites include bobsledding, water polo, curling, and an obstacle course (gymnastics).
Teams earn points based on how their countries finish in each event. Results are announced each day to keep students up to date with the most accurate data. This spreadsheet is kept in a highly classified file that can only be accessed by the Olympic Committee. This ensures there is no tampering with results, and no collusion takes place.
As the PE Teacher, I would say the most rewarding part of the Olympics has nothing to do with the results or points earned, but rather with seeing students interact with their classmates in such a positive way. During many events, while one student is competing, the other students are jumping up and down cheering on their teammate. We also talk a lot about good sportsmanship towards the opposing teams, and how important that is during athletics.
At the end of the three weeks, we have a “Closing Ceremony,” in which individual and team awards are handed out. We play some Olympic music, and have a fun time before heading into winter or summer break!


See more photos from the 2016 Winter Olympics!

Cross-Content Calendar Time

Calendar time is critical in any elementary classroom, and Mrs. Maloney’s class is no exception. This is a great opportunity for students to build life skills and reinforce academic skills that they are learning throughout the day.

Mrs. Maloney’s class follows this daily calendar routine:

  1. Day of the week. A student places the date on the calendar and then determines what day of the week it is, what day was yesterday and what day tomorrow will be. The class reads aloud what month it is, what month came before and what will come after.
  2. Asking a calendar question. A student draws a question out of a cup that someone in the class has to answer. Here are some examples:
    1. “What month comes before April?”
    2. “How many months are there?”
    3. “Name the third month of the year?”
    4. “What season comes after summer?”
    5. “Is Halloween a month, season, or holiday?”
  3. Writing what day of school it is. Using the hundreds, tens, and ones place, a student writes how many days of school there have been.
  4. Counting what day of school it is using straws. Straws are placed in the ones pouch until there are ten straws that are then bundled and moved to the tens pouch. Students all count the bundles together and can visually see how ten ones becomes a ten and ten tens become one hundred.
  5. Counting what day of school it is using money. A coin is added to the “piggy bank” for each day of school. Students group pennies into nickels and nickels into dimes, reinforcing their knowledge of coin values and demonstrating grouping. Once they learn about quarters they will add those into the mix.
  6. Tally what day of school it is. On the tally chart, a student marks a tally for the day of school. The class then counts by 5 to determine how many days of school there have been.img_6050
  7. Track the weather. The meteorologist looks outside and determines what the weather is like today, then graphs it. The whole class reads the weather together.
  8. “How much money is in my pocket?” Mrs. Maloney writes a dollar amount on the board and asks a student to read it. She then asks what types of coins she has in her pocket. Students offer up a few different combinations until the right combination is found.

Each day students are practicing number sense, grouping, place value, graphing, weather, categorizing, sequencing, counting money, the days of the week, months of the year, and public speaking. This daily 20 minute session is invaluable to reinforce skills across so many different content areas.

Mock Election

Written by Ms. Jones, Upper Team Teacher

It’s a presidential election year, and the U.S. Government Class is learning first hand how the political process works through a mock election.   To avoid controversy, the candidates are using representative pseudonyms and have created their own political parties as follows:


  • The People’s Party: Lisa Seymore and Augustus Goode
    • Campaign Manager – Alfred Dunn
    • Campaign Slogan – “Respectful! Responsible! Reliable!”

  • The Realist Party: Rose Power and David Packer
    • Campaign Manager – Jon Justice
    • Campaign Slogan – “Success Begins With Us!”


Before campaigning and before an election can be held, the candidates first had to complete the important task of registering their constituents – the students and staff of the Horizon Academy community.   The school community was divided into districts, and each student registered 2-3 districts.  Prior to voting on November 8, each registered voter will receive a voter registration card, which must be presented at the polling place.


After voter registration was complete, the student candidates launched their campaigns by passing out flyers and greeting the student body as they arrived at school.

The candidates have also posted campaign ads (Power Packer Ad,  Seymore Good Ad) on the Horizon Academy YouTube Channel.   After watching the ads, students were asked to take a poll created by the Media/Technology class.   The data collected from the poll will be used to determine or predict who is favored to win the election.


The candidates will also participate in a Town Hall Mock Debate on November 3.  Members of the Horizon Academy community have been selected to ask questions of the candidates during the debates.  The questions cover a range of topics that are of national concern.  At the end of the Mock Debate, participants will be given an exit poll to determine whether or not the debate influenced their choice of candidates.


The Mock Election will culminate on Election Day, November 8, when students and staff cast their vote.   Stay tuned for the election results, which will be posted on our Facebook page!