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.


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