“The ability to recognize objects from various view-points has advantages in perceiving one’s environment, allowing one to identify a potential threat from many different views…(however) this trait of the object recognition system is disadvantageous for reading….” Blackburne et al., 2014 MIT
When neuroscientists used neurophysiological techniques to study brain-based correlates of letter reversals, they were surprised to find how slowly children’s brains matured into the final adult pattern. Even when children were no longer writing letters backwards, their brains hadn’t matured to final “adult” pattern.
Most researchers working in the area of reversals believe the letter reversal issue is related to how to recognize objects from different perspectives. We can recognize our friend if we’re standing right in front of them, to the side, at an angle from the back, or even calling down to them from a 2nd story deck. If we are being chased by a bear, it’s a good thing if we can recognize it from many angles.
I remember when I was teaching our son his letters and I had asked him to write the letter ‘f’. He paused a bit, and then said – oh yes, it’s a flipped over ‘j’ with line through it….and I thought to myself. Is it an inattentiveness to detail if he recognizes a relationship to the letter ‘f’ and ‘j’ that I hadn’t realized myself?
If we are at once amazed by adults who can spin different objects around in their minds (3D rotation), construct 3d buildings just looking at blueprints, and other marvels seen by stunted 2D minds such as my own, why are we surprised that children may reverse similarly related letters that by convention we are told go left to right?
We also shouldn’t be surprised when gifted and dyslexic college students get tired at their endless writing assignments and will flip the direction of their writing or a letter or two.
One graphic shared is the one below based on the hand positions that form the posts of a bed.
Strategies that align one’s own body map or activate kinesthetic memory help fix the orientation of letters in memory that a student sees.
The b and d bed trick can work because the stems and then the ‘ball’ parts of the letters need to be turned in facing each other in order to form a support for the bed. Air writing the letters in the air (preferably using big movements of the arm) can also activate experiential kinesthetic memory, making it easier to remember when translating the information to small letters on a page. Others may be helped by writing letters on large whiteboards with colored markers. Other multisensory strategies include writing letters in shaving cream, sand trays, or retracing over sand paper letters.
The helpful thing for parents and teachers to be aware of is that the body has different motor maps for small movements of the fingers and large movements of the body or arms. If students have a great deal of finger confusion, then choosing an activity that activates larger muscle groups will be more successful. Laying out large letters in sidewalk chalk that students walk or jump through, may help keep the directions of letters more memorable than repetitive drilling of pencil work.
If children don’t respond to these multisensory strategies, then thinking about the different types of memory can help you develop other ways for students to remember. For instance, relying on verbal memory to describe the movements of making letters will be helpful for students with strong auditory verbal memories and drawing funny pictures with the letters will help those with solid visual imagery. Allow students to work discreetly with an alphabet strip or number line at their desk if it speeds their work and improves reversal mistakes.