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Letter Reversals and What It Means

Letter Reversals and teaching printing

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Letter Reversals Parents and teachers often raise concern when a child reverses letters or words. b's instead of d's, tac instead of cat and so on. The truth of the matter is that most beginner readers/writers will make reversals, it's not all that uncommon. Many myths surround the children who make reversals such as, the child is learning disabled, the child has some type of neurological dysfunction or the child will become dyslexic. Dyslexics often have many reading/writing errors including reversals so this theory is difficult to prove. However, very little research has been done regarding the matter of reversals. It is not uncommon or unusual to see Children 4,5,6 and even 7 years of age making letter and/or letter reversals. There may be a need for some concern if a child continues with letter reversals or mirror reading/writing into and beyond the 3rd grade. Letter/word reversals are for the most part due to a weak memory or the lack of enough previous experiences.

Note some of the current research findings:

Early theories suggested poor visual pattern discrimination or recognition, but were not supported by careful research [see Vellutino (section II) for review].

Crowder, R. and R. K. Wagner (1992). The Psychology of Reading: An introduction. 2d ed. Chapter 2. New York: Oxford University Press. Description of how the eye functions during reading, including discussion of the validity of "speed reading" claims.

V.A. Reversal Errors
Among the lay public and educators, the impression persists that the key characteristic of dyslexia is visual reversal errors (e.g., was for saw; b for d). Apparently such errors are not unusual for beginning readers whether or not they have more serious reading difficulties.

Liberman, I. Y., D. P. Shankweiler, C. Orlando, K. Harris, and F. Bell-Berti (1971). Letter confusions and reversals of sequence in the beginning reader: Implications for Orton's theory of developmental dyslexia. Cortex 7: 127-42.

Classic paper that studied, and rejected, the claim that reversals of letters and letter sequences are the defining characteristic of poor readers.

What can you do?

Most teachers have discovered that there's no magic cure for children who display reversals in their reading or writing. Some of the best strategies to use include: help the child develop a habit. For instance, the word dog begins with a d and they have tails. Therefore the 'stick' is his tail and comes after his body. Use some dot letters to help the child, there should be pictures to accommodate the dot letters. When working on a d dot letter, make sure the picture of a dog accompanies the dot letters. If the child has a freckle or mole on what hand or the other, use that freckle to remind him/her that it always points to the stick/circle part of the letter. The good news, is that most of the letter reversals will go away once the child uses cursive writing.

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