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In many of my discussions with educators I have been asked repeatedly for the research that backs up my observations and claims about Print Inversion. Ironically, the research which proved the existence of PI in struggling readers and the benefits of letting them do “what came naturally” was completed over 25 years ago, but for some reason it wasn’t recognized .

         The study, which was conducted in Denmark by Larsen and Parlenvi and published in the Orton Dyslexia Society’s Annals of Dyslexia in 1984, was originally intended to determine the significance of the direction in which reading is carried out. In other words, would readers do just as well (or just as poorly) if they had to read text from right-to-left rather than from left to right?

         And guess how the researchers reversed the print direction to test its effect...
        You guessed it! They simply turned the text upside down!

         The study is entitled “Patterns of Inverted Reading and Subgroups in Dyslexia” and it is available on the web from Springerlink.com for a cost of $34.00. But I think I can pretty much describe how the experiment was done and sum up their highly enlightening findings at no cost to you.

         The subjects of the experiment were 66 second grade students drawn from public schools in the Gothenburg area of Denmark. The experimental group consisted of 46 struggling readers, 19 girls and 27 boys. Although the write-up says these students were at least one standard deviation below the Swedish standard, there is no way to know the full range of dysfunction. I think it’s safe to assume that there were a number of non-readers in the group, as well as many who had minimal reading skills.

         The control group was made up of 12 boys and 8 girls who were at, or above, second grade reading level as determined by a standard reading test. Again, there is no way of knowing how high these student’s scores reached, but I think it is safe to assume that some were well above grade level. There were two separate experiments done with these kids.

 In the first experiment, a list of 153 words was presented to the students for them to read – first in the “normal” way, and then upside down. The number of errors, error types and WPM were recorded each time. In addition, the students were asked to recall as many of the words as possible and scored appropriately. 

         The results showed that the poor readers, as a group, made significantly less errors when they read upside down. What’s really interesting is that when the good readers read upside down, 95% of their errors were reversals, but when the poor readers read upside down, less than 2% of their errors were reversals.

Not only that, but 16 of the poor readers actually read faster when the list was upside down than when it was right-side-up.


The second experiment was administered in the same way, but instead of a word list, Larsen and Parlenvi used a meaningful 10-word sentence. Eye movements were recorded as the sentences were read both inverted and right-side-up.

As you might expect, all of the good readers read much faster in the upright position, but for the poor readers it was a different story. Close to 60% of the poor readers read faster upside down than right-side-up!


The experimenters conclude, and I quote, “the directional aspect of the reading process is of great importance to poor readers. At least 28% of the poor readers proved to be clearly better readers while reading from right to left.”

         Whether or not you agree that directionality was the reason the poor readers did better reading upside down, the fact remains:

 A significant percentage of struggling readers perform much better when allowed to hold the text inverted rather than in the “normal” way.

© S.Round 2010
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