Saturday, April 9, 2016

Tribute to Anna Gillingham and Bessie Stillman

Tribute To Anna Gillingham and Bessie Stillman

Anna Gillingham, and her good friend Bessie Stillman,  touched lives. They simply did not give up on children. 

Following is an excerpt from introduction to  the publication Remedial Training for Children with Specific Disability in Reading, Spelling, and Penmanship by Anna Gillingham and Bessie W. Stillman.(1960)

In every school there are children who do not learn to read and spell satisfactorily… is too often assumed that any poor reader has a relatively low mentality. When it is discovered that a child of average or high intelligence is not reading, the first reaction is usually reproach—reproach of the child for lack of effort, reproach of the preceding teacher for inefficiency. Thus the college blames the high school for its poor readers, the high school the grammar school, and the last reproach falls back on the unfortunate primary teacher.

Increasingly, however, a conscientious and discerning teachers and anxious parents are realizing that there are intelligent non-readers who try very hard, and that such children present a challenge which customary teachers training does not enable the teacher to meet.

  • Gillingham and Stillman, with the support and active influence of Dr. Samuel Orton, published the first edition of Remedial Training in 1946. The philosophy of reading instruction was altered forever and sections, if not all, of the philosophy they developed is seen today in a variety of programs and basal readers. Gillingham and Stillman are credited with the first integrated program for multisensory visual/auditory, kinesthetic instruction. The key components are:
  • Language-based and simultaneously multisensory
  • Structured
  • Sequential
  • Cumulative (building block thatensure mastery before teaching new material)
  • Cognitive
  • Assessment is based only on material that has been taught
  • Progress constantly observed and recorded
  • All pathways of the brain are activated during instruction

After the death of Bessie Stillman, Anna Gillingham worked closely with Dr. Samuel T. Orton,  for a short period of time, to create the Orton-Gillingham approach. After Dr. Orton's death, continued the work they had begun. 
  For further information on research please refer to the Florida Center for Reading Research.  
To view one contemporary approach to Orton-Gillingham in action, please visit Sara Zelenak's  site Think, Ready, Read

Resource: The Riverside School 

Anna Gillingham
Anna Gillingham (1878-1963) was a well-known  Quaker educator.   Her inventory of papers 1849-1962 can be found at    Friends Historical Library at Swathmore College. She was a teacher, psychologist, and Director of Remedial Teaching in the Ethical Cultural School, New York City, and Punahou School, Honolulu. She was also a Research Fellow in Language Disabilities, Neurological Institute, New York and a consultant to teacher training.

Bessie W. Stillman (1871-1947) was a Remedidal Teacher in the Ethical Culture School, New York City and in Punahou school, Honolulu. She was a prolific author. A list of her works can be found at

 I searched for a verified picture of Bessie Stillman. If any readers know of such a picture, please note a source in the comment section.

Dr. Samuel T. Orton (1879-1948) was a physician who pioneered the study of learning disabilities. It was his hypothesis that children who had not suffered brain injury had not established hemispheric dominance. 

A listing of books available on the Orton-Gillingham method can be found at Amazon

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