Joanna Brown Transforms Orton-Gillingham Reading Tutoring

Joanna Brown Transforms Orton-Gillingham Reading Tutoring
Photo Courtesy: Joanna Brown

By: Maria Williams

Joanna Brown was a somewhat aimless twentysomething living in New York City when she realized that teaching kids to read was her life’s goal. “I began working as a private reading specialist,” Brown reminisces. “I always liked to be on the move, bringing my backpack full of Orton-Gillingham tutoring materials to different neighborhoods throughout the day.” 

“It was in 2019 that I started thinking about expanding my reach,” she shares, reflecting on the pivotal moment when the seeds of The Reading Guru were sown. “I began experimenting with teaching a few of my Brooklyn students remotely over Zoom.”

Little did she know that this experiment would soon become a lifeline for students worldwide amidst the upheaval of the pandemic. “That experiment quickly became a means for survival when the pandemic hit in March 2020,” Brown explains. “Of course, the pandemic had many stages, and I struggled to respond to the changing attitudes related to COVID-19 precautions.”

While others scrambled to adapt, Brown found herself uniquely prepared for the challenges that lay ahead. “While other teachers were scrambling to figure out how to translate their lesson plans over the computer, I was weirdly prepared for the thing nobody was prepared for,” she recalls with a hint of resilience in her voice.

Navigating through uncertainty, Brown’s vision for The Reading Guru crystallized, driven by a passion for making quality literacy education accessible to all. “Over the course of the next two years and a move back to my hometown of Denver, my business went through various forms until I established The Reading Guru in its current form in 2023,” she recounts, highlighting the resilience and adaptability that defined her journey.

The Reading Guru quickly evolved to meet the changing needs of students, offering in-person tutoring in Denver and remote sessions across the globe. However, behind this seamless transition lies a meticulous process aimed at ensuring high standards of quality and effectiveness. “Our tutors go through an extensive screening process before they are hired,” she explains. “We look for teachers who have years of teaching and working as interventionists and extensive Orton-Gillingham training and experience working with dyslexic students.”

Central to The Reading Guru’s approach is the Orton-Gillingham method, a gold standard in teaching phonics and spelling to struggling readers. “OG is explicit, multisensory, structured, sequential, diagnostic, and prescriptive,” Joanna emphasizes. “Students learn all letter sounds and concepts in isolation, pulling apart sounds and syllables to create whole words.”

“Let’s face it, English is a difficult language. It is filled with pronunciation and spelling exceptions, which are really just signs of the evolution of language over thousands of years. In addition, English has absorbed so many words and word parts from other languages that have completely different spelling and pronunciation rules. It is no surprise then that children struggle with all of these inconsistencies.”

She adds, “Schools are required to move on from concepts quickly regardless of whether each student has mastered them. One of the main benefits of OG tutoring is that we are teaching at the speed the student learns, not moving forward because of arbitrary learning timelines.” 

Yet, beyond the pedagogy lies a profound commitment to fostering a supportive environment for both students and tutors alike. “Our tutors are what make our company incredible,” Brown asserts. “We do the marketing, sales, advertising, invoicing, and initial scheduling with clients so that our teachers can spend their time creating lessons and teaching.”

She emphasizes the importance of attracting and retaining highly experienced tutors. “During the interview process, I explain to prospective tutors that their skills and their time is invaluable,” she asserts. “Many of our tutors have spent their entire career in the classroom working with large groups of students at a time.”

In a landscape marked by soaring costs and accessibility challenges, The Reading Guru is both accessible and affordable. A recent national study conducted by the organization sheds light on the average costs of high-quality reading tutoring across the United States, revealing significant variations from city to city.

“The findings demonstrate the significant costs for Orton-Gillingham tutoring overall, and major differences in the cost of tutoring services between different metro areas,” Brown observes. “Many reading tutors we contacted were completely maxed out – no available slots for new students.”

As The Reading Guru continues to expand its footprint nationally, Brown remains committed to empowering students with the gift of literacy. “There is a great need for remote and in-person tutoring because, unfortunately, many schools do not have the resources to serve students who are struggling with reading. There is a range of quality among public and private schools throughout the country, and we hope to serve those students who are not getting the extra help at their schools. I would love to keep expanding the company so we can continue to serve students nationally and internationally,” she envisions.

She acknowledges the challenges faced by students with severe reading anxiety or motivation issues and underscores the importance of building trust and fostering a supportive environment. “The most important thing our tutors do to help ease students’ anxiety about reading is to gain their trust within the first few sessions. Learning how to read requires making mistakes! Kids want to please adults, and they often believe that by making mistakes while reading and writing, they are letting adults and themselves down.”

Brown’s methods, deeply rooted in the Orton-Gillingham approach, exemplify a commitment to tailored instruction. “One of the cornerstones of OG is how individual sounds are taught,” she explains. “Imagine a child is learning the sound /a/ like apple. The student will learn the specific handwriting pattern associated with this letter and then form the letter in writing with a pen, whiteboard marker, sand, shaving cream, paint or other tactile materials.”

Brown once again emphasizes the multisensory nature of Orton-Gillingham, leveraging various senses to facilitate learning. “Multisensory means that students use their various senses in order for new concepts to stick,” she elaborates. “Each time a student learns a new concept they use sight, hearing, movement, and touch.”

In addition to her instructional methods, she places a strong emphasis on creating a supportive environment for both students and tutors. “I believe strongly in creating work/life balance and encourage our teachers to set parameters to when and who they will work with, not the other way around,” she affirms. “I also want to make sure tutors have a supportive work environment and have open communication with me if they are struggling with particular clients.”

Through her holistic approach to literacy education, Brown continues to inspire and empower students to overcome challenges and embark on a journey of lifelong learning.

To learn more about The Reading Guru and its new study, visit


Published by: Khy Talara


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