Dyslexia in young children and Mnemonics

Recently, a parent asked me if her 4 year old son was showing any signs of dyslexia. Upon further questioning, I was able to gather that this parent felt her child often mixed up letters when writing his name, and focused on the B in the middle of his name, rather than the first letter, J, like most children. I was able to discuss with her that we would, obviously, continue to monitor her child’s reading and writing ability, but as he is just beginning to learn to write letters, his confusion about how to properly order them is natural.

After working on the group project this week, I was keen to share more insight with this parent on how dyslexia works, and how to recognize it. Sally Shaywitz, contributor to the Jossey-Bass Reader on the Brain and Learning, discusses what exactly happens when a person with dyslexia reads. There has been discovered to be a weakness in the phonological model of language area in the brain. This part of the brain processes phonemes and the alphabetic principle. This means, that the underlying issue is not that children see words incorrectly, but that their brain processes the phonemes represented by each letter incorrectly. This means that young children with dyslexia often reorder the phonemes in words. For example, saying ’emeny’ instead of ‘enemy’. These children will also often switch phoneme sounds for similar ones in a word, for example ‘lotion’ instead of ‘ocean’.

These are all language behaviors that I often see in my young students, and are developmentally appropriate. It was a relief for me and for the parent to have some substantial clues to be on the look for in this young preschooler.

The thing that stuck with me most this week, aside from dyslexia, was a section on mnemonic devices in Brain Matters. I have always used mnemonics to remember concepts and words that I otherwise seemed hopeless to retain. As I read through Wolfe’s explanationof the different types of mnemonics and when you might employ them, all of my past devices came flooding back to me. I don’t think I would have passed a single high school Spanish class without them! I was intrigued, however, because it never occurred to me why mnemonic devices work. Wolfe describes how creating these devices tie this random knowledge to a student on a more personal level, making it more likely that they will recall it later.

I work hard every day to make the skills I am teaching relatable to my students, increasing the chances of retention. As my students focus on letter/sound relationships, we made “I love…” books. Each child created their own book containing a list of things they enjoy, one for each letter of the alphabet. We spent weeks compiling the books, focusing on each letter/sound relationship. Today one of my students was trying to remember the sound that W makes “W is for my friend Wyatt and Wyatt sounds like wa wa wa.” We had created our own mnemonic devices. I think this strategy is brilliant and an important one for students to learn.


Jossey-Bass Inc. (2008). The Jossey-Bass reader on the brain and learning. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.


Social emotional learning and Preschool

Nearly every parent I come across parents have a strong desire for their children to succeed in school. They are always asking me how well they are doing academically, and requesting things to do at home with their child. As an early childhood educator, I know that academic success is important. There are many things I work on daily with my students to help them succeed in school, phonemic awareness, handwriting skills, math concepts and more, but my first and foremost goal for all of my children is to develop positive social emotional intelligence. In the youtube video featuring Marcus Garvey school in Chicago, several bulletin boards, classroom spaces, and lesson plans are shown devoted to SEL. At the preschool and pre-kindergarten levels, social emotional learning takes place in every lesson I teach. Each activity is a chance for the children to develop appropriate social skills and learn to control their own emotions. I say “use your words” at least ten times during any given activity. Preschoolers in my care are encouraged to use pretend play as a way to act out some of the social scenarios they will encounter as they grow. Sometimes our dramatic play area is transformed into a supermarket, so children can explore the social interactions that take place as they shop for groceries. Often, a child will pretend to be the teacher, the manager, or the boss and they will problem solve how to successfully run a team and how to get other children to enjoy working under them. For me as an educator, it is very satisfying to watch the students discussing how to fairly split up jobs or deciding how to best take turns with the cash register. I see their growth and development in their reading and writing skills, but it really shines through as their social emotional behavior. It is this that I try to stress to the parents, the importance of teaching young children appropriate behavior skills and helping them develop into socially and emotionally healthy people.



Meaningful Curriculum and the Three Levels of Learning

I was recently given the task of training an associate Pre-Kindergarten teacher. I have been searching for a way to explain why our emergent curriculum works and why it is important to teach young children through discovery learning and play. Luckily, my reading of chapter 11 in Wolfe’s Brain Matters, coincided with my training. Wolfe describes the three levels of learning, concrete experiences, symbolic learning, and abstract learning. Children need concrete experiences to build a network knowledge on an subject. Wolfe gives the example of a small child learning about a dog. First, they see the animal and are given the label of ‘dog’. After that experience, they might see other dogs in the neighborhood, pictures of dogs, or hear about dogs, and their network of knowledge about ‘dogs’ expands. As early childhood educators, our job is to provide as many concrete experiences as possible and expand children’s networks of knowledge. In an emergent curriculum, we create developmentally appropriate lesson plans based on children’s current interests. This allows us to guide their play and learning towards new concrete experiences and expand their knowledge base through symbolic learning. When children have experienced something concrete, we can bring it back in the classroom through symbolic learning. We might read a book about dogs, have dog figurines in our classroom, or expand their animal knowledge by introducing new kinds of animals. Every learning center contains toys and materials placed there with purpose, to expand children’s experiences and help them create more knowledge networks. By presenting Wolfe’s ideas about the three levels of learning, I was able to discuss with my coworker, the significance of what we do.