The Ultimate Teacher’s Guide to Letter and Number Reversals

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I am so happy to have Anne-Marie Morey from the BayTreeBlog.com as a guest blogger!  I absolutely LOVE Anne-Marie’s blog and she’s my go-to gal for issues relating to dyslexia.  After reading her post, be sure to visit her blog and download her FREE Workbook for Letter Reversals!!  The link is included below!

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 The Ultimate Teacher’s Guide to Letter and Number Reversals

Have you ever worked with a student who reverses her letters?  Maybe you’ve seen something like this before?

reversalsbord

Chances are good then that you’re as frustrated over reversed b/ds and p/qs as your students are.  My students get so discouraged when they’ve finally cracked the reading code, but they still struggle with letter reversals.

Unfortunately, there is minimal research on the subject and there are even fewer educational resources.  Interest in reversals has waned because research has shown that literacy problems arise primarily from weaknesses in phonological awareness.  No one seems to want to even to talk about reversals now that it has been demonstrated that visual processing issues do not cause dyslexia.

Yet, for a small subgroup of children, reversals remain a real and lasting challenge (Brooks, Berninger, &Abbott, 2011).  For the students who make many reversals, it’s harder for them to read and express their ideas in writing.  Research backs this up:  individuals who make letter reversals self-report feelings of psychological stress (Brooks et. al., 2011).

Luckily, research has now revealed that children who persist in making letter reversals share a few key characteristics:

  • Children with dyslexia are more likely to make reversals (Brooks et. al., 2011).
  • Reversals appear to be associated with working memory deficits (Brooks et. al., 2011).
  • Reversals may be related to deficits in the left occipital-temporal region that lead to both phonological and visual processing deficits (Dehaene, 2009).
  • Letter reversals are common for young writers.  Occasional reversals are typical up through age 8.
  • Not all children who reverse letters have dyslexia.

Here’s the good news- by pinpointing working memory deficits as the cause of letter reversals, we can target intervention.  Specific techniques can help prevent letter reversals before they start, and they help children who produce reversals overcome this challenge (Brooks, 2003).

5 Ways to Help Prevent Letter Reversals

1.  Prioritize Handwriting Instruction

Quality handwriting instruction appears to reduce the overall incidence of letter reversals (Berninger et. al., 2006).  Just as great phonemic awareness instruction in early grades can lead to later successes in reading and writing achievement (Byrne & Fielding-Barnsley, 1995), early handwriting instruction leads to long-lasting benefits in writing composition skills.  Research on writing is unequivocal: students who have handwriting instruction are less likely to make reversals (Berninger et. al., 2005).  They’re more likely to become capable writers in the years and decades to come (Graham, 2010).

Handwriting Cklistbord

To download this free Handwriting Instruction Checklist just click the following link:  Handwriting Instruction Checklist

2.  Provide Visual and Verbal Cues

Research has pinpointed one element of handwriting instruction that seems the most powerful in preventing reversals- verbal and visual cues.  Verbal cues are precise, specific directions to form letters and numbers.  They help students remember the sequence of strokes.  They are most effective for kindergarteners or children with severe handwriting challenges.  This instruction even seems to help with letter recognition (Berninger et. al., 2006)!  Once children enter first grade, visual cues seem to be even more effective.  Children study a model of the letter that includes numbered arrows.  These arrows show the child the sequence and direction of each stroke in the letter.  Children then cover up the model and reproduce the model from memory.  For children who reverse letters, this method is the only research-based method proven to “reduce reversals substantially” (Berninger et. al., 2006).  This is a sample activity page with visual cues from the Eliminating Letter Reversals Workbook:

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The Eliminating Letter Reversals Workbook is available for FREE at Bay Tree Blog.

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3.  Introduce Letters in Specialized Groups

Hands down, the easiest way to prevent letter reversals is to modify the sequence in which letters are introduced to new writers.  Rather than introducing letters in alphabetical order, introduce letters by the type of stroke (Berninger, & Wolf, 2009).  It’s most important to teach “b” and “d” at different times.

Teach the letters that begin with a stroke down (l, h, b, m, n, r, p, t).  Then teach the “2 o’clock” letters: c, o, d, g, qu (Berninger & Wolf, 2009). The genius of this sequence is that b/d and p/q are taught at different times.

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Experts recommend programs that are well sequenced like Handwriting Without Tears and Loops and Groups.

4. Determine Hand Preference

Most children come to kindergarten with a clear hand preference, but a few students do need help figuring out which hand is dominant.  If children keep switching between their left and right hands, they’re more likely to make letter reversals (Berninger & Wolf, 2009).  Switching between hands interferes with motor memory and can cause letter reversals.  Here’s how renowned writing expert, Dr. Virginia Berninger, recommends determining hand preference.

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 To download this FREE Determining Hand Preference handout just click the following link: Determining Hand Preference

 

5.  Screen Handwriting

A brief, whole-class handwriting screening can help you identify any red flags with letter reversals.  The 10-15 minutes it takes to administer a handwriting screening is well worth it.  Results from a screening help pinpoint which letters kids are reversing, so you can provide a brief intervention before the child develops hard-to-overcome habits.  Handwriting Without Tears provides a FREE screener on their website.

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HOW TO INTERVENE

6. Use Multisensory Instruction

For decades, dyslexia specialists have recommended multisensory instruction, and now research backs up these claims (Berninger & Wolf, 2009).  Instruction that simultaneously helps the student use visual, auditory, and kinesthetic modalities can help with letter reversals.  Multisensory activities can include Montessori sandpaper letters, Orton-Gillingham sand writing, and Lindamood-Bell air writing.

For kinesthetic learners, some writing tools seem to provide stronger feedback.  Julie talks about a few tips here.  Softer leads may provide greater sensory feedback to children.  Similarly, traditional chalk may be preferable to whiteboard pens.

Even my students who don’t normally enjoy handwriting practice love this multisensory technique from Handwriting Without Tears.

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7.  Don’t Expect Typefaces to Make a Big Difference

Recently, the media has held up two typefaces as a silver bullet for individuals with dyslexia.  Typefaces like Dyslexie and OpenDyslexic take letters like “b” and “d” that are mirror-images and make them look different from each other.  The OpenDyslexic creator claims, “The unique shapes of each letter can help prevent confusion through flipping and swapping.”

sp

Sounds too good to be true?  Apparently so.  Empirical research does not support the usefulness of these programs (Rello, L. & Baeza-Yates, R. 2013).  Researchers funded by the Spanish Ministry of Education, concluded that specialized typefaces for individuals with dyslexia do not improve reading.

While typefaces will not make a significant difference for kids who are struggling to read or write, some evidence suggests that some word processor typefaces are easier to read.  Some preferred typefaces include: Helvetica, Arial, Courier, and Verdana.  Researchers also recommend avoiding italics.

8.  Seek Professional Development

Students benefit from instruction taught by teachers who have had professional training in handwriting (Graham, 2010). Students make greater improvements in handwriting; plus, handwriting skills appear to transfer to higher quality compositions.  Despite these benefits, only 12% of American educators say that they’ve received adequate training in how to teach handwriting (Graham, 2010).  A course can reignite your enthusiasm for handwriting and equip you with effective tools.

Though many instructors brush off reversals as inconsequential, the reversals are distressing for the children who produce them.  For the students who make reversals past age 9, we owe it to them to both acknowledge their challenges and reassure them that reversals are small glitches that won’t interfere in their abilities to be great readers and writers.  I  hope you’ll agree with me that our students deserve great handwriting instruction and quality reversal intervention.

Anne-Marie Morey is a board-certified educational therapist in private practice in San Mateo, California. When she’s not teaching children with dyslexia and other learning disabilities, she loves sharing teaching strategies, resources, and materials at BayTreeBlog.com.

P.S.- If you have students who struggle with letter reversals, we’ve got a FREE Workbook for Letter Reversals at BayTreeBlog.com

Fun Fall Freebie

coloringtree

My fabulous artist, Kyle, drew this tree one afternoon for her daughter when she asked her mom for a tree to color.  It must be so much fun to have an artist as your mother.  Kyle sent this coloring page along to post on the blog just in case others would like to download it for their students or even for their own children.  Eleanor used markers to color her tree, but your students may want to try watercolors or even bingo dabblers to make leaves.

Color Page Image.001

Just click the following link: Fall Coloring Page

 Enjoy!

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Using Focus Sticks to Improve Student Writing

 

FocusRedo.001

I love my job.  I really, really do!  One of the favorite parts about my job is that I get to network with a whole bunch of very talented teachers.  I love hearing about and seeing them implement creative strategies to improve student learning.   During the past several years, many of our local school districts have focused on improving writing instruction.  All of our schools, from elementary to high school, received training in the Collins Writing Program.  In addition, teachers were able to participate in other inservices such as the 6 Traits of Writing to enhance their instruction in this area.

My good friend and colleague, Michelle (same job, just different schools) came back to our office one day so excited to share what she had seen in one of the first grade classrooms she visited.  She was so impressed with the quality of writing and the independence displayed by this classroom of first graders during their writing time that she just had to bring back the tool the teacher used to show us all.  Sue, a first grade teacher, uses “focus sticks” to help her students develop and assess their own writing.  The focus sticks are placed in a cup in the center of the table.  After completing their writing, the students use a focus stick to check to be sure their writing includes the pictured elements.  The icons placed on the sticks serve as cues.  Below is a stick that Sue uses during the beginning of the school year.

During whole group instruction, she has explained and modeled the expectation for each icon.

Click the following link to download these focus stick icons Focus Sticks Level 1

As the year goes on, and as each student progresses in the writing process, the icons on the sticks change depending upon the expectations.  So, here is another stick that Sue uses as her students advance.

You can see in this focus stick, she has incorporated three of the six traits:  ideas, voice and sentence fluency.  Of course she has provided instruction in those areas before introducing the icons on the stick.

Click the following link to download these focus stick icons Focus Sticks Level 2

When appropriate, Sue transitions the students from the use of the focus stick to a written rubric.

Not all students use the same stick at the same time.  Some students may be working on the skills contained within the initial focus stick for a long time while others quickly move to the second stick and then to the written rubric.  For our struggling students, removing icons is always an option.  For example, for one student, the goals of a writing assignment may be to use correct letter sizing and to draw a picture to match the text.

You can also cut the icons out individually if you’d like to focus on specific skills.

To make your own focus sticks you will need large craft sticks (I color coordinated my sticks, but it is not necessary), wiggly eyes (I used 25mm, but any size will do), full size Avery labels and cups.  The amount of materials will depend upon how many sticks you wish to make.

1. Print the desired pdf of the focus stick icons on the full size Avery labels and cut along the dotted lines.

2.  Center the icons on the stick and fold over the edges.

centerstickblog

3.  Using a hot glue gun, glue the wiggly eye at the end of the stick.  Here’s a trick… put the glue on the stick, hold the stick upside down and push the wiggly eye up on the stick.  This way the wiggly eye will wiggle.  If you push the eye down on the stick, the black wiggly touches the glue and won’t wiggle (tragic, I know).

upside downblog

4.  Adhere the sticker on the cup.

I’ve included a classroom set of posters which corresponds to the icons on the focus sticks for use during instruction as well as reminders for students as they are writing.

Click the following link to download all classroom sized posters Writing sticks Posters

If you’d like more information on the 6+1 Traits of Writing, the book is awesome!

6 Traitsblogpic

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Strategies for Improving Handwriting

There is so much you can learn about a student’s phonics skills just from looking at writing samples.   One of the big “ah-ha” moments from my Phonics First training (Orton-Gillingham based program) was when the trainer said that a student has not fully mastered a phonics rule until you see him/her use it in writing.  Of course, that makes sense.  Sometimes you just need someone to point out the obvious.  Since that time, I’ve made it a point to really take some time to analyze writing samples.  One of the problems I’m having with some students is actually trying to read what they are writing.  This issue has led to numerous conversations with our Occupational Therapists regarding handwriting.  Admittedly, it the past, when I came across illegible writing, I was quick to call in the OT.   But lately, in the spirit of Response to Intervention (RtI), I’ve been working with teachers in providing strategies first.   Here are some strategies for commonly occurring handwriting issues:

Letter Size Differentiation

The writing of students whose lowercase letters are as large as the uppercase letters or their “descending” letters don’t drop below the line is difficult to read.  Our OT’s refer to this as “letter-size differentiation”.  Students need to be taught that tall letters are “tall” and reach the top line (e.g. b, d, f, h, k), small letters are “small” and are printed in the middle of the line (e.g. a, c, e) and descending letters drop below the bottom line (e.g. p, g).  To help cue students into the correct formation of the letters, having them practice writing letters on highlighted paper and/or using the highlighted paper for writing assignments can be beneficial.

 

Hi Write Hi-Write Wide-Ruled Notebook Paper
Hi-Write Beginner 1 Paper – Pack of 100
Hi Write Intermediate Paper – Pack of 100 Pages – Grade 2

You can purchase highlighted paper commercially; however our Assistive Technology guy easily generated this highlight paper using a program on his Mac.  Just for fun I tried my hand at creating highlighted paper with Microsoft Publisher.  We couldn’t find highlighted paper for specifically for spelling so I whipped this up for my first/second grade teacher friends.

Highlight paper spelling list2

Click the following link to download this pdf Highlight paper spelling list2

We also recommend the use of raised line paper as the students can feel when their pencil touches the line.

Another fun strategy is cheering out spelling words.  I LOVE this strategy as incorporates movement and doubles as a multi-sensory strategy for learning words.    Students jump in the air with arms raised high for tall letters.  For small letters, they stretch their arms off to the side and for decending letters they crouch down low.

 Spacing Between Words

Another issue that affects legibility is not putting spaces between words.  In April, I wrote a blog regarding a specific strategy that our fabulous OT, Lyzz, uses to help students with word spacing.  Here’s the link to that post Teaching Students to Space Between Words

Case Consistently

Have you ever had a student write in all capital letters?  Students who are not correctly using capitals or lowercase letters need direct instruction and practice.  A reminder strip with simply upper- and lowercase letters on the desk may help.

Letter Formation

Students who are not forming letters correctly will need re-teaching of the correct stroke sequence.  Using multi-sensory strategies such as writing letters in sand or shaving cream will help.  Writing letters in the air prior to writing on the paper is a great strategy because it involves whole body movements (this is known as “air writing”).  For a more structured program, the Handwriting Without Tears is a program which is highly respected and has proven effective in improving handwriting.   In general, students need practice in writing the letters correctly.  This will involve direct supervision when practicing writing as we do not want them practicing incorrect strokes (remember: only perfect practice makes perfect).  It will take repeated practice writing letters correctly to reverse an old habit.

Handwriting Without Tears now has a new app.  I absolutely love it!

hwtappblogpic

It’s the Wet, Dry, Try App.  It’s great because first the student is given a model of the correct letter strokes (voice too).  Then he/she must wet the letter with the sponge, dry it with a towel and then write it again with the chalk (of course, all virtual).

hwtm

Handwriting practice worksheets also provided the extra practice needed when learning correct letter formation.  These handwriting practice worksheets are available in my TpT store.  I like to print a color copy and then lamintate the pages (I use the heavier laminating sheets) so that they can be used over and over again.

Write the Alphabetprevpg3

Click HERE or on the picture below to download handwriting practice pages for the letters of the alphabet.

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Letter Reversals

Okay, I know this is a big one!  So big in fact I wrote a blog devoted to just this issue.  Here’s the link Why Students Reverse Letters

With a little bit (or quite a bit) of deliberate practice, our little writers can improve their penmanship.

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Focus Sticks

I love my job.  I really, really do!  One of the favorite parts about my job is that I get to network with a whole bunch of very talented teachers.  I love hearing about and seeing them implement creative strategies to improve student learning.   During the past several years, many of our local school districts have focused on improving writing instruction.  All of our schools, from elementary to high school, received training in the Collins Writing Program.  In addition, teachers were able to participate in other inservices such as the 6 Traits of Writing to enhance their instruction in this area.

My good friend and colleague, Michelle (same job, just different schools) came back to our office one day so excited to share what she had seen in one of the first grade classrooms she visited.  She was so impressed with the quality of writing and the independence displayed by this classroom of first graders during their writing time that she just had to bring back the tool the teacher used to show us all.  Sue, a first grade teacher, uses “focus sticks” to help her students develop and assess their own writing.  The focus sticks are placed in a cup in the center of the table.  After completing their writing, the students use a focus stick to check to be sure their writing includes the pictured elements.  The icons placed on the sticks serve as cues.  Below is a stick that Sue uses during the beginning of the school year.

During whole group instruction, she has explained and modeled the expectation for each icon.

Click the following link to download these focus stick icons Focus Sticks Level 1

As the year goes on, and as each student progresses in the writing process, the icons on the sticks change depending upon the expectations.  So, here is another stick that Sue uses as her students advance.

You can see in this focus stick, she has incorporated three of the six traits:  ideas, voice and sentence fluency.  Of course she has provided instruction in those areas before introducing the icons on the stick.

Click the following link to download these focus stick icons Focus Sticks Level 2

When appropriate, Sue transitions the students from the use of the focus stick to a written rubric.

Not all students use the same stick at the same time.  Some students may be working on the skills contained within the initial focus stick for a long time while others quickly move to the second stick and then to the written rubric.  For our struggling students, removing icons is always an option.  For example, for one student, the goals of a writing assignment may be to use correct letter sizing and to draw a picture to match the text.

You can also cut the icons out individually if you’d like to focus on specific skills.

To make your own focus sticks you will need large craft sticks (I color coordinated my sticks, but it is not necessary), wiggly eyes (I used 25mm, but any size will do), full size Avery labels and cups.  The amount of materials will depend upon how many sticks you wish to make.

1. Print the desired pdf of the focus stick icons on the full size Avery labels and cut along the dotted lines.

2.  Center the icons on the stick and fold over the edges.

centerstickblog

3.  Using a hot glue gun, glue the wiggly eye at the end of the stick.  Here’s a trick… put the glue on the stick, hold the stick upside down and push the wiggly eye up on the stick.  This way the wiggly eye will wiggle.  If you push the eye down on the stick, the black wiggly touches the glue and won’t wiggle (tragic, I know).

upside downblog

4.  Adhere the sticker on the cup.

I’ve included a classroom set of posters which corresponds to the icons on the focus sticks for use during instruction as well as reminders for students as they are writing.

Click the following link to download all classroom sized posters Writing sticks Posters

If you’d like more information on the 6+1 Traits of Writing, the book is awesome!

6 Traitsblogpic

signatureideas

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Teaching Students to Space Between Words

One of the great benefits of my job is that I have the privilege of working with many skilled professionals from various disciplines.  We have a dynamite staff of Occupational Therapists who are never short of ideas and suggestions.  I recently had a discussion with one of our OTs, Lyzz, regarding letter reversals and handwriting in general.  Lyzz said that if students space between words and use correct letter size differentiation (using tall, short and below the line letters) that despite spelling errors, you can typically read and understand what was written.  Although there are several strategies that can be used to teach and remind students to space between words, Lyzz’s preferred method is the one which includes using small stickers.  She likes this method best because it doesn’t take the student “out of the writing process”  such as what happens when using a stick or clothespin after writing each word.  The sticker strategy goes something like this:

1.  The student is told that the spaces between words must be wide enough to fit a small sticker.  Small smiley face stickers work best.  These stickers can be found in the teacher supply area in office supply stores such as Office Max or Staples.  Smiley face stickers are made by SmileMakers.

2. A visual reminder is placed on the student’s desk during the writing process which shows a small sticker placed between the words.

3.  After the student finishes his/her writing, the paper is given to the teacher and a small sticker is placed between words where the sticker will fit.  If the space between the words is too small, a sticker is not put in that area.

4.  A reward system can be used.  For example, when the student reaches a predetermined amount of stickers, a reward is earned.

Student Word Spacing Reminder Strips

Click the above link to download a free pdf of student reminders for their desk.

Of course not all students in your classroom will need this intervention.  Use this strategy for only those who have difficulty with word spacing.  Once the student is consistently spacing between words, the intervention can be faded to occasionally placing stickers between words on writing samples (e.g. once a week).

Another common writing issue in the early grades is students not using their non-writing hand to stabilize their paper.  Here’s a cute and effective strategy to help.  For students who write with their right hand, place a visual of a handprint in the left hand corner of the paper and instruct the student to place their non-writing hand over it.    Lyzz likes to use the “Squishy Prints” handprint which is commerically available through Abilitations.  Typically, using this strategy for about two weeks resolves the issue.

Occupational Therapists are great resources for ideas and strategies to help our beginning writers develop strong writing habits early on. Thanks, Lyzz, for your contribution to this blog!

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