Karina McLachlain, who worked with me in London, has moved to Australia and has sent this letter describing her work with a young pupil.
Hi Mr Bald,
I had a mum bring her son from Mudgee yesterday for tutoring. This is a 1 hour 45 minute drive from Dubbo. He has problems similar to the pupil we worked with in London. He has difficulty with the irregular words, not so much with phonically regular words.
Although Fernald and yourself only use tracing with non-readers I decided to use the tracing method with him for the tricky words. I asked his mum to bring a list of words that he has trouble reading and spelling on a regular basis. The ones he brought were words like were, where, there, though etc. His mother said that no matter how many times he reads those words or tries to remember them, he can't do it.
I followed the tracing method as best as I could from the descriptions from the book and journal article. Once he traced a word several times, I took the word away and asked him to rewrite it without copying and he was able to do it. I also asked him to close his eyes and try to remember the sight of the word and spell it for me from memory and he was able to do it. After that I wrote the words in a grid like you do and asked his mother to check the words with him each day to see if they had been stuck in memory. If not, I asked her go back to the beginning and follow the tracing method for any word when his recall was poor. This is something that Fernald mentioned doing for some children. I don't anticipate that most words will need to be taught more than once from the beginning, but Fernald mentioned that some children took a while to catch on and then something 'clicked'.
The boy also has fine motor skills problems and very messy writing. Before beginning the tracing method this lesson, in past lessons I was working with the boy on beginning cursive writing. I gave his mother some exercises to get his arm flowing across the page and then started with letters and joins. Then when we had enough letters to make some of the tricky words, we began tracing some of the words on his list. At first I guided his hand, then let him do it himself. After that I rubbed it out and asked him to write it out in cursive script. It worked well. Then I asked him to read it in print, which he did. Then I asked him to close his eyes and spell the word aloud, which he also did.
Everything is going well at the moment and the mother is pleased. As we go on with tricky words, I will be explaining the irregularity of the language in the way that you do and link similarly irregular words together. Once we have covered a sizeable chunk of tricky words, so that they no longer present a big stumbling block to his reading, I thought about getting a programme that specialises in fluency, as his reading is slow, even when the passage is mostly phonetic.
I'm quite happy with the Fernald method and using your refinements as well. This means that I can deal with more reading problems than the ones that Orton Gillingham programmes deal with. O-G do not have a good grasp of how to teach irregularity, so are very good for phonic dyslexia, but not so much for surface dyslexia.
I'm very grateful to you for recommending that I become familiar with Fernald's work. I think that all teachers of reading should be required to learn her methods.
Thanks and kind regards,