Decreasing Inversions or Reversals

By — Pearson Allyn Bacon Prentice Hall
Updated on Jul 20, 2010


It is important to recognize that reversals are a normal symptom of poor decoding skills, regardless of the reader’s age. An adult who reads at a first-grade level is likely to make the same reversal errors as a 6-year-old reading at a first-grade level, especially when reading words in isolation. As decoding ability improves, reversals almost always disappear.

In nearly all cases, the student has simply not developed a strong enough visual image for the word and miscalls the word because he simply cannot remember what it is. (For an instant the child may ponder: “Is the word was or is it saw?”) When a student is first learning how to decode, the task of correctly pronouncing printed words is quite a struggle and demands most or all of the student’s mental energy. At this early stage, the student may pay little or no attention to the context of what he is reading. Gradually, as reading ability develops, context clues help the student to pronounce the word correctly. (“The boy was the dog” doesn’t make sense, but “The boy saw the dog” does.) With practice and success over time, the student learns to recognize instantly many of the little words in English that are often confused, such as on and no, that and what, big and dig, come and came, and went and want. With this in mind, the teacher should be careful not to fuss too much about these problems with beginning readers. Sometimes too much focus on these errors makes matters worse instead of better.

Assessing the Cause of Inversions or Reversals

Some experts claim that reversals occur because the student has failed to develop a left-to-right eye movement or a left-to-right reading pattern. This problem, if and when it exists, is difficult to determine. Others believe that a student who reverses letters or words may suffer from some neurological impairment, or he may not realize that the order or position in which letters appear makes a difference. Determining the existence of neurological impairments is also difficult and beyond the scope of most reading teachers.

Some reading teachers believed that students who made many inversions or reversals tended to have more severe difficulties than students who made other types of errors. More recent research has tended to refute this belief. We now believe that, if you check carefully, you are likely to find that children who make numerous reversals will also make just as high a percentage of other types of errors.

Teaching to Limit Inversions or Reversals

Regardless of the cause, the recommendations for solving inversions or reversals are the same. Most children who make reversals tend to outgrow the behavior after a few months of school. However, if the difficulty persists after several weeks of instruction and the student is making normal progress otherwise, the suggestions listed in this chapter, along with a little patience, should solve the problem.

ELL Students and Inversions or Reversals

It is doubtful that a second-language student would have additional inversions or reversals beyond those that could be explained by unfamiliarity with English print. As an ELL student gains experience with English print, the number of inversions or reversals should decrease.

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