Enhancing Student Outcomes Through Evidence-Based Teaching Strategies

Posted on Thursday, June 6th, 2024

by Deanna Ferrante, Director of Communications

Enhancing Student Outcomes Through Evidence-Based Teaching Strategies


Since its founding in 1962, a hallmark of Stephen Gaynor School has been the individualized, multi-sensory, evidence-based approach at the core of the school’s curriculum. Evidence-based practices are backed by rigorous, high-standard research, replicated with positive outcomes and backed by their effects on student outcomes. They provide specific approaches and programs that improve student performance. (Source: Vanderbilt University Special Education Resource Project)

Using evidence-based teaching approaches provides numerous benefits, from improving student outcomes and meeting educational standards, to enhancing teacher professional development and building trust within a school’s community. By relying on proven strategies, schools can ensure they are providing the highest quality education and continuously improving their practices to meet the needs of all students. Specific evidence-based approaches at Stephen Gaynor School include:

  • Phonics instruction using the Orton-Gillingham Approach (OG)
  • Hochman Writing Program
  • Yale RULER Program for Social-Emotional Learning
  • Universal Design for Learning (UDL)
A teacher conducting a phonological awareness drill using the Orton-Gillingham approach
A teacher conducting a phonological awareness drill using the Orton-Gillingham approach

Phonics Instruction Using the Orton-Gillingham Approach

Stephen Gaynor School has used components of the Orton-Gillingham approach since its founding. According to the school’s Co-Founder Yvette Siegel-Herzog, “I was taught OG at Columbia, and I then taught OG to children. We incorporated the elements of OG along with other multisensory approaches from the very beginning, though our execution was more eclectic back in those days.”

Orton–Gillingham is a structured literacy approach. The Orton-Gillingham Approach is derived from two sources: first from a body of time-tested knowledge and practice that has been validated over the past 80 years, and second from scientific evidence about how individuals best learn to read and write. It involves the idea of breaking reading and spelling down into smaller skills involving letters and sounds, and then building on these skills over time. The approach explicitly teaches the connections between letters and sounds, and is particularly effective in teaching those with dyslexia.

Stephen Gaynor School uses an individualized and multisensory approach throughout all subject areas, and the Orton-Gillingham approach is a natural fit, since the approach uses sight, hearing, touch, and movement to help students become confident, fluent readers.

Gaynor’s Orton-Gillingham Instructional Program was officially accredited by the Academy of Orton-Gillingham Practitioners and Educators in 1996, and was re-certified in 2022. As such, the school is an Organizational Member of the Academy and a member of the Academy’s Council of Accredited Programs — the only school in the New York metropolitan area to be so certified.

At Gaynor, the OG approach is integrated throughout the curriculum and community. One of the ways in which the school ensures this community-wide approach is through intensive teacher training and mentoring during the school’s Summer Institute for teachers that precedes each academic year. Over the past ten years, we have been fortunate to work with Ann Edwards, an OG Fellow with the OG academy, to provide training and certification for our teachers in reading. In addition, the school also offers a two-day intensive OG training for new parents each fall to learn about the approach and see firsthand how their children are learning to read using Orton-Gillingham while at school.  

As an example of how Orton-Gillingham is incorporated into the curriculum, students learned about the six types of syllables and their characteristics through a multisensory activity known as “Syllable Town.” Gaynor reading specialists explicitly teach the six syllable types as part of their Orton-Gillingham instruction because the syllables represent the overarching structure of the English language. Vowels can be tricky for students, so this activity provided them with a kinesthetic strategy to find out what the vowels say in a given word. In one lesson teaching two of the syllable types — open and closed — the students created multisensory houses and placed them in Syllable Town. The houses demonstrated what happens to a vowel sound when the door of each house goes from being closed to open. Based on the syllable type, the vowel sound is either short or long.

A multisensory classroom activity (a "writing machine") using elements of the Hochman Writing Method
A multisensory classroom activity (a “writing machine”) using elements of the Hochman Writing Method

Hochman Writing Method

Building on the reading success provided through the Orton-Gillingham Approach, Stephen Gaynor School’s writing program is based on the Hochman Method introduced by Dr. Judith Hochman in the early 1990s. Hochman’s methodology rests on explicit, carefully sequenced instruction, building from sentences to compositions. The Hochman Method is not a separate writing curriculum but rather an approach designed to be adapted to and embedded in the content being taught in any subject area and at any grade level.

Students with language-based learning differences benefit greatly from scaffolded and explicit instruction, and this is particularly important when it comes to the nuances of writing. Written language is a vital skill for academic, career, and social success. 

Using the elements of the Hochman Method, Stephen Gaynor School’s writing program includes systematic instruction from the sentence level to the multi-paragraph level, with an emphasis on how oral language connects to writing. As an example, Lower School students learned to solidify and demonstrate their grasp of sentence-level writing concepts through the metaphor of a popcorn machine, brought to life in a multisensory lesson. To begin, students created simple sentences with a “Who does what” format, which they learned were the “popcorn kernels” because they hadn’t been expanded yet to create popcorn.

Then, the students went over the different details, or ingredients, that they could add to a sentence to make it into a popped piece of popcorn. Students added elements to the popcorn kernels like When (oil), Where and Why (salt), and punctuation to season their sentences, and turned the machine on to start their “writing process.” After cooking in the writing machine, the kernels of sentences then turned into complex-sentence “popcorn.”

The strength of Stephen Gaynor School’s program is the way in which the elements of the Hochman Method are connected throughout the curriculum, not just in explicit writing instruction, but in writing for history, social studies, and science classes. The cross-curricular aspect of this approach ensures that students are able to apply what they have learned to real-world situations.

A RULER Mood Meter is used during a movement break
A RULER Mood Meter is used during a movement break

Yale RULER Program for Social-Emotional Learning

While OG and the Hochman Writing Method are evidence-based approaches for inside the classroom, it has become increasingly evident that students, particularly those with learning differences, can benefit from dedicated social-emotional learning (SEL) instruction. SEL instruction gives students a toolkit of emotional and social skills critical for naming and managing their emotions and building healthy relationships with peers and colleagues. During the 2016-2017 academic year, Gaynor’s psychology department conducted extensive research into evidence-based SEL approaches, and ultimately chose the RULER Approach to Social and Emotional Learning, developed by Marc Brackett, David Caruso, and Robin Stern at Yale University.

The psychology team selected RULER for its whole-school approach due to its focus on positive social, emotional, and cognitive development. The program is rooted in social intelligence theory and research on both child and adult development. It is recognized by the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) as a SELect program because of its strong evidence base. It has been shown to reduce behavioral issues and enhance emotional intelligence and academic achievement.  

RULER stands for:

  • Recognizing emotions to obtain valuable information about themselves and their environment
  • Understanding the causes and consequences of emotions to predict behavior
  • Labeling emotions to describe feelings precisely
  • Expressing emotions to communicate effectively and in socially appropriate ways
  • Regulating emotions to promote learning and personal growth, including healthy relationships

Research has shown that as the classroom climate becomes more supportive, students’ academic performance can improve and they can show greater interest, enjoyment, and engagement overall. The program integrates into all content areas including language arts, social studies, math, and physical education. 

Since the rollout of the RULER program, the school’s hallways and classrooms prominently feature the four-colored grid of the Mood Meter as well as classroom charters. According to the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence, the Mood Meter helps both students and educators become more mindful of how their emotions change throughout the day and how their emotions in turn affect their actions. Students learn that it is acceptable to be anywhere within the quadrants, but also learn how to regulate these different emotions. 

Examples of student choice and interest surveys, elements of Universal Design for Learning
Examples of student choice and interest surveys, elements of Universal Design for Learning

Universal Design for Learning (UDL)

The three evidence-based approaches above are focused on direct student instruction. Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is a more general framework for designing curricula to reach and teach all learners, and recognizes learner variability as the norm. According to cast.org, a nonprofit organization dedicated to forwarding the tenets of UDL, “Universal design for learning (UDL) is a teaching approach that works to accommodate the needs and abilities of all learners and eliminates unnecessary hurdles in the learning process. This means developing a flexible learning environment in which information is presented in multiple ways, students engage in learning in a variety of ways, and students are provided options when demonstrating their learning.”  UDL incorporates neuroscientific research to inform the design of environments that support, and are accessible to, all learners.

As a goal of the 2017-2021 Strategic Plan, Stephen Gaynor School committed to developing UDL approaches to instructional planning across clusters and subject areas. Faculty and administrators worked together to identify UDL learning tools that support instruction and reinforcement. 

The ultimate goal of UDL is to foster independent, expert learners who are purposeful and motivated, resourceful and knowledgeable, and strategic and goal-directed. Techniques used at Gaynor to encourage purposeful and motivated students include incorporating student choice into lessons, conducting interest surveys, providing transparency into lesson or unit objectives, and building coping skills and strategies. To encourage students to be resourceful and knowledgeable, teachers can provide vocabulary word walls, and create thinking maps. Examples of techniques to encourage strategic and goal-directed learners are sentence starters, manipulatives, rubrics, individualized goals, and managing information and resources.

Stephen Gaynor School teachers and specialists incorporate the principles of UDL across age and ability levels and throughout the curriculum, from math to social studies to science. 


Since its founding in 1962, Stephen Gaynor School has committed to supporting the unique strengths of bright children with language-based learning differences. The individualized approach pioneered by our founders, Dr. Miriam Michael and Yvette Siegel-Herzog, continues to form the backbone of our curriculum and informs the way in which the school is responsive to innovations in the science of teaching and learning.

The school’s use of the Orton-Gillingham Approach for phonics, the Hochman Method for writing, the Yale RULER Program for social-emotional learning, and the Universal Design for Learning (UDL) framework underscores its commitment to delivering a holistic and evidence-based education. These methods ensure that each student not only masters essential academic skills but also develops the social and emotional intelligence necessary for lifelong success.

By integrating these approaches throughout its curriculum, Stephen Gaynor School creates a supportive, engaging, and flexible learning environment. This environment empowers students to thrive academically, socially, and emotionally. As the field of special education continues to evolve, Stephen Gaynor School remains at the forefront, demonstrating that with the right support and strategies, every child can succeed.

This article is reposted from Stephen Gaynor School’s LinkedIn newsletter, Unlocking Potential. To be alerted to future editions of our newsletter on LinkedIn, please click the link below!

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