Episode 257

Letter Reversal (Mirror Writing) in the Early Years

Recorded by | Run time: 16 min, 29 sec


Here today to talk about letter reversal, or mirror writing, is early years teacher and blogger Holly Mitchell.

Witnessing a student progress through the stages of writing development is one of the most rewarding experiences for an early years teacher. Seeing them move from scribbling to representing their ideas as drawings, to starting to write letters to represent ideas and writing words to show their ideas are all magical stages in a child’s literacy development.

However, it’s natural that there may be a few letter formation speed bumps or obstacles along the way. And one common obstacle that may occur is letter and/or number reversal.

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Mirror Writing Episode Transcript

Bron: Hi, Holly.

Holly: Hi Bron.

Bron: Thanks for coming back in! Now, last time you came in, we talked about guided reading and literacy. I think you’ve done another episode with me as well.

Holly: Yes, we did it on persuasive writing and persuasive books. Okay.

Bron: Okay, cool. So now you’ll kind of our resident early years literacy go-to guest on the podcast. So today we’re going to be talking about letter reversal. Most teachers would have come across this in their time, but sometimes it’s a surprise to parents when they see kids doing it.

What is letter reversal/mirror writing in a nutshell?

Holly: Yes. Well, basically, obviously it’s children when they start to do their writing and they’re reversing some letters or letters. And often if you hold up a mirror to their writing, the letter will look correct. When you look at the mirror, the right formation, which is why it’s also often called mirror writing.

Bron: Interesting, isn’t it? And as a teacher, did you see that often in your class?

Holly: Oh yeah. Quite a lot in the early years classroom. And even when I became a mother, myself and my daughter started reversing it, I did get a little bit of a shock. I was like, “Oh my gosh, why is she not writing those letters correctly?” Then I sort of had to remind myself, no, this is often a common developmental hurdle in the early years. Yeah.

Bron: Yeah. And it’s really great that you, that you say that, that it is a common thing and it can be overcome. So as you were saying, you noticed it with your own daughter and with your students, but what are some of the other behaviours teachers might notice that go along with mirror writing or letter reversals that they can look out for in their classroom?

Holly: Yeah, sure. So obviously you’ll notice the letter reversals in their writing, but there are some other things that students often will do if they are struggling with the formation of letters. So often students who are struggling to work out the difference between, say, for example, the letters B or D they may resort to writing them the capital letters because they’re easier to understand and they can tell the difference between them a lot easier because if you flipped those capital letters, they do look different. Whereas the B and the D lowercase are very, very similar. Also if you’re observing how they form their letters, some students may begin their letters from the bottom, say, for example, the letter, the lowercase F or J they may start the lower case F from the bottom, because they’re trying to work out which way they need to do the hook at the top.

And they also if there’s a letter that has a circle in the letter, they’ll often say, for example, the D they may keep doing the circle and go over a few times. So they might go, I know that the D has a circle, so they start doing the circle, and then they’re like, which side do I need to do that on for the D and same thing with the B? So there are some different sorts of behaviours that you might notice in your students if they are struggling with letter reversal and understanding which way to form the letters.

Bron: Some of those things you would notice are that in writing samples, after they’ve submitted them, and some of those things you would notice as they’re working. So as you’re observing them doing their writing, and some of those things would be obvious in both of those situations. So that’s really great information to have for teachers who are keeping an eye out for this kind of early writing behaviour.

Why do some kids reverse their letters?

Holly: It’s important that as teachers, we understand the reasons behind certain behaviours. So if we imagine a mechanic, if there’s a problem with a car motor, they need to understand how that motor will work before they fix the specific problem.

So as teachers, the way a child’s brain is working, we can work that out through careful observation before looking at how to fix that specific problem. And there’s so much on the internet in terms of why kids do do letter reversal and mirror writing one significant explanation is from a physicist who’s called Mariano Sigmund. So it might be worth listeners to Google that physicist, because he really explains in depth why students may reverse letters through human vision. So it’s really quite interesting.

Also it’s important to understand that children who write with their leters reversed have not been taught to form their letters in this way. So it’s really, really important that they unlearn this subconscious behaviour. And that requires obviously a lot of guidance and support from the classroom teachers and teacher aides.

Bron: Yeah. Sure. Awesome. And now you said that there’s a lot of information on the web regarding mirror writing that teachers can look up, but for our listeners, one of probably our, I think the best results is, is your blog that you wrote on the same topic, because it really relates it to contexts that we recognise. So thank you for writing the blog.

Holly: I think I actually, so I think I actually linked some of those research articles in that blog. It’s probably easier to go to our blog. And I’ve got some hyperlinks through there if you need to read up about letter reversal in more depth, if you have got, if you’ve got some concerns with some students in your class.

Is letter reversal a sign of dyslexia?

Bron: Perfect. No worries. That’s awesome. So. Another thing that often crops up when we talk about letter reversal is that it can be sometimes a sign of dyslexia in students. With this in mind, what are some of the things teachers should think about when they’re looking at maybe perhaps hearing from a concerned parent or having concerned for themselves about a student and how do you know if it is going to develop into a diagnosis or whether it is a normal developmental stage?

Holly: Yeah, sure. So I think it’s important to realize that it is a normal developmental behaviour of children who usually between the ages of three and seven. So obviously if you’re doing some work and some activities to help those students not reverse their letters, but it doesn’t seem to really be improving. That may be a sign, particularly if they are over the age of seven and they’re still really struggling with that.

But it’s interesting to note that children who have excellent, fine motor skills can still struggle with learning reversal. So it’s not a fine motor thing.

Both left-handed and right-handed children may struggle. So I think sometimes there’s a common misconception that left-handed children will often struggle more with letter reversal because of the way they, they hold their pencil on the way, but that’s not it’s right-handed children can also struggle with it.

Mirror writing is also a thing for students when they’re reading as well. So for example, the word tip a student might read it as pit. So there’s also that developmental hurdle that they have to overcome.

And not all kids who reverse letters obviously have dyslexia, but it’s important as teachers to have that in the back of our mind. But if they are still struggling after that sort of age bracket, that it may be something that you’ll need to look into further.

Bron: So it can be an early marker, but it’s not necessarily.

Holly: No, not at all. I mean, both my kids reversed, both my children reversed their letters, and I had probably maybe 10 students in my class when I was teaching prep, anything in year one. And even in year two, struggling with it – very common.

Bron: And most of our teachers will recognise how common it is. But if you think about, even when you were saying before, I just want to go back to when you were saying, some kids will run in capitals for this specific reason, when you’re assessing a piece of writing, often they will jumble up their capitals and lowercase letters.

So it’s good to note that this could be one of the reasons that that child is doing that. And it’s not just that they couldn’t think of the, the lowercase letter or they prefer that it’s because it’s a strategy to help them differentiate between those letters.

Holly: Yeah. And in the early years, we know that there’s so much that they have to think about when they’re writing. So it’s not only the letter formations, but it’s remembering capital letters remembering full stops, trying to spell words. So sound representation. There’s so much for them to think about that. A quick little fix, like I’ll just do a capital B because I’m not really sure which way to do the lowercase B something that a lot of children will start to show us.

Holly: Yeah.

How do we assess and monitor letter reversal?

Holly: Okay. So in my class, I would have often do a little bit of a test with my students at the beginning of a term, maybe just to see how they are going with their letter formation as a whole, and that a reversal would come into that. So I provide my class with a piece of paper, and again, this is all in that blog, so I’ll step you through it, but the listeners can go and check it out in the blog if they want more information.

Bron: And I’ll link that in the show notes for them too.

Holly: Cool. And I’d give them pen or a colorued pencil. I wouldn’t give them a lead pencil because I don’t want them to erase what they’ve done. I want them to show their first behaviour. They’re going to first writing behaviour and not worry about it, just keep going. So then I asked the students to write the letters of the alphabet, avoiding using any visual cues or prompts to gain a really good indication of how the students are progressing with their letter formation.

Don’t interrupt the students during their writing. If they start writing a capital M or they’re writing on the wrong side of the page, just let them go. Cause you’re really trying to get an indication of where they’re at.

If some students are finding it too difficult, don’t push them. If they’re really getting upset about it, just leave it because you can include them in a smaller group activity that I’m going to talk about in a minute. So yeah, they’re just finding it too difficult. That’s maybe showing an indication that they are struggling with letter formation, so don’t, don’t push them.

And once you have your samples, group the students who are obviously reversing letters or having troubles into a smaller group and identify them as students who are needing some extra assistance with letter reversal. And then I do, I usually get my teacher aide to come and sit with them, and then they’d do some more sort of finer doing, writing some CVC words or writing the alphabet again in a smaller group setting.

So it’s a little bit less chaotic and a little bit less stressful for them.

What’s your hot tip for assessing letter formation?

Holly: Hot tip is I used to get my teacher aid an iPad and I’d get her to record each of the children when they were writing, because that’s going to show you some of the behaviours as well, because if they’re starting their F at the bottom, you’re not going to know that if you have an example, actually form it.

Bron: So video clips of them?

Holly: So clips of that smaller group, which has shown to give you even more indication as to what their behaviours are and how you could possibly help them with those letter reversals. So I used to do that at the beginning of each term, and it was really interesting to see how much they improved as well.

Bron: That’s a great tip. I love that idea of videoing them while they’re working really good way of doing observations.

Okay. So let’s talk about some other practical activities that teachers can do with their students and incorporate into their daily teaching program to address letter reversal with their students. So yeah, there are a few practical things you can take us through please.

Holly: Yeah, sure. I think a lot of these activities that most early years teachers are doing in their classroom anyway, but it’s really good to have that letter reversal in the back of your mind and those kids that might be struggling with letter formation. So obviously lots of handwriting practice. I mean, the more practice you can do with the letter formation, the better and repetition is key that’s with everything.

And we have a huge range of handwriting, activities and resources on the website that might also help the listeners if they are looking at some more handwriting activities.

What are the best activities to help students with letter formation?

Bron: Yes. And if I just type handwriting into the search field, there’s a collection there that will apply.

Holly: Yeah. I think even if you search “letter formation” as well, and even narrows that down further into those really key handwriting activities that would help fantastic. The other thing is visual cues. Another aspect of course, with anything, but in particular letter formation that can help students in the class. And it can also help the teacher. If there is one student who is struggling with a particular letter, if you’ve got it up on the wall, ready to go, you can say, remember we start here and we go around this way. And again, we have heaps of them on the website.

We’ve got some really cute letter formation, rhyme posters which for the lower, for the lowercase letters as well, which you could go over with your students and get them to say the rhyme and that can then help them when they’re trying to work out which way to write the letters. Yes. And the other thing of course, is desk plates having it right there in front of them. So if they are not sure they can quickly have a look at their desk with the letters, the lowercase letters there, so it can help them with that.

Bron: That’s perfect. And we actually have some new desk plates coming out for back to school. So I keep an eye on the website for those, because Holly has worked with the designer, which designer is doing them?

Holly: Pru.

Bron: Gorgeous. So those will be absolutely beautiful and coming out sometime between now and January.

Yeah. So that’s awesome. I love all of those ideas.

Holly: Sorry. I do have more. So I always got more!

Bron: But wait, there’s more!

Holly: Obbviously hands-on sensory letter formation activities as well in the early years, classroom is hugely beneficial. The activities can help kids remember the proper formation by practicing writing the letter in a variety of fun ways with their hands. So some ideas are, I think a lot of earliest teachers will know all these using shaving foam and getting the kids to write the letters in the shaving foam, creating the letters using Play-Doh creating the letters, using buttons and rocks using large sidewalk. Chalk on cement, just reinforcing.

It’s better to do that in a smaller groups. Yes, you can be there or a teacher aid can be there so that you can make sure they’re starting the letter in the correct spot. Really important, or to have a visual cue on the desk for them as well. If they’re just practicing one letter having that letter formation posted there. So they know which way to start, where to start and which way to go. Yes.

Bron: Perfect. I love those. And they’re really great for those tactile sensory learners that many, many children are in those very early years.

Holly: So it just gives them something I guess, fun and exciting to do in a different way to do it. And just repetition, all the, all of those, the lots of handwriting, the visual cues, the hands-on learning. It’s just really just keep going. Keep, keep going.

Bron: Yes. Alright. So Holly, just before we get going for today, I just want to get your last thoughts on letter reversal in young children.

What is the main takeaway from this episode for our listeners?

Holly: I think as early years teachers, it’s important to continue to monitor those students. So once you’ve done that the assessment idea that I mentioned earlier, just keep monitoring those students who you’ve identified that are struggling letter reversal. And obviously as mentioned, it’s completely normal developmental behaviour, letter reversal, and seen in children in the ages up to seven.

However, it can be a sign of dyslexia. So it’s sort of something that, yep, it’s normal, let’s try and help these students. Let’s guide them. Let’s support them, let’s try and help them. But if it’s getting up into that sort of seven, eight, and they’re still really struggling with just might be something that they’ll need to have a check-in on. Yep. Perfect.

Bron: Awesome. Well, thank you so much for joining me today to talk about letter reversal. It’s such a fascinating topic. Yeah.

Holly: To me, it is. It really is. And I remember when I first started teaching, I was just like, Oh my! I told them which way to do it, but my children did it. Yeah.



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