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Today, practitioners still use many of the ideas of Orton and Gillingham and Stillman. These practices have come to be referred to as the Orton-Gillingham Approach. Basically, the Orton-Gillingham Approach is a phonics-based, multisensory method using the visual, auditory, and kinesthetic modalities for reading- decoding and spelling instruction.

Grace Fernald. Fernald was another figure associated with a multisensory approach to reading disabilities. As part of her rationale, she provided a brief history of the use of the kinesthetic modality to teach reading, including references to Plato in the third century B.C. Horace in 65 B.C., Quintilian in 68 A.D., Charlemagne in the 8th century, and Locke in the 17th century (Fernald, 1943).

Fernald differed from Orton and Gillingham, however, in her opposition to a phonics-based emphasis on sounding out letters and words. Instead, she emphasized reading and writing words as wholes.

Fernald actually predated Orton with respect to advocating for a multisensory approach to reading disabilities. In 1921, she coauthored an article describing remedial treatment of six cases of students with reading disabilities at the University of California–Los Angeles (UCLA) Clinic School (Fernald & Keller, 1921). Fernald and Keller developed what came to be known as the VAKT (visual-auditory-kinesthetic- tactual) method, which is composed of five stages. First, the teacher asks the child to pick some words that he or she would like to learn. The teacher then writes the word on the board, and the child says the word to him- or herself and traces the letters with the first two fingers of the dominant hand. Once learned, the teacher erases the word and the student writes the word, saying the syllables. The second stage is the same as the first except sentences are used rather than individual words. In the third stage, the child selects a book he wants to read. The student and teacher work through the book, one paragraph at a time. Words the student has not already learned are exposed through an adjustable slit in a piece of cardboard. If the student is unable to read the word, the teacher reads it aloud, and then the student says the word and writes it without looking at the copy. If the student still has problems writing the word, the teacher writes it and the student learns it as in the first stage. In the fourth stage, the slit is widened to include phrases, and the exposures are so brief that the student is not able to read word by word. After achieving recognition of the phrases, the child reads the entire paragraph to himself and reports on what he read. In the final stage, the teacher has the child read alone.

Over the years, the UCLA Clinic School expanded and by the early 1940s there were about 20 children admitted each academic year, with an additional 60 to 80 cases seen in the summer. Students received intensive instruction in basic school subjects, with a focus on reading instruction. In 1943, Fernald authored Remedial Techniques in Basic School Subjects, in which she summarized work in the clinic as well as in “experimental” classrooms established in the public schools, some of which contained a high concentration of children for whom English was a second language (Fernald, 1943).

Fernald kept extensive records on the progress of the students. Although lacking control groups, she reported notable gains for reading, spelling, penmanship, foreign language, and arithmetic. In addition, she reported follow-up data for many of the students, which were equally impressive. Whether Fernald’s results warrant the following assertion she made in the preface to her book is arguable, but it is interesting to contrast her confident optimism with some of the present-day lamentations about the ineffectiveness of special education:

Since no abilities are required for the mastery of reading, writing, and arithmetic which are not already possessed by the ordinary, normal individual, it seems obvious that there is no such thing as a person of normal intelligence who cannot learn these basic skills. The follow-up records of our cases over a period of years show that the application of established psychological principles makes success in the fundamentals possible for any normal individual. (Fernald, 1943, p. v.)

Marion Monroe. Having served as Orton’s research associate for his mobile clinic, Marion Monroe tried out his methods along with the methods of Fernald and Keller. While in Iowa, she developed diagnostic tests and used the results to guide instruction. Using a combination of kinesthetic tracing techniques and sound blending, she reported success with 29 children with reading disabilities (Monroe, 1928).

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