Gestalt Learning and Dyslexia


Perhaps I should have known that reading could be a problem when language was so inconsequential to my Great Little Pretender.  But I was optimistic.  After all, what about all those late talkers who were also Gestalt learners that read by age 3?  They were early readers because they learned to sight read at an early age.  They swallowed words in gulps and whole bites rather than the pieces the rest of us were trying to sound out.  That was a few years ago.  Since then I’ve struggled through letter sounds, letter writing, learning phonemes, and teaching digraphs.  I now know a great deal more about reading and how hard it can be for a Gestalt learner to read.  The pieces (the letters) don’t make any sense to him.  Blends are a foreign concept to him, no matter how many times we would review them.  Every day he would look at them as though he was seeing them for the first time.

In the book– “Dyslexia, An Introduction to Learning Disorder”, Gopal makes a strong connection between Gestalt learners and dyslexia.  Gopal tells us that learning the “alphabet, syllables, and words will be impeded if there are difficulties in perceiving their forms” (p173).  For my Gestalt learner, the sounds and syllables are meaningless but the form of the letter is fascinating.  The forms and shapes of the letters are what cause the mix up.  He tries to find a visual pattern between the letters to get a clue about the sound and the word.  The letter “R” and the letter “K” both have a diagonal leg but their sounds are completely unrelated.  To a visual learner, this seems nonsensical and confusing.  But this is exactly what Gopal states is  ‘the law of Pragnanz’ (or Gestalt).  Gopal claims the law of Pragnanz is when one “perceives a familiar thing easily than the unfamiliar” (p170).   The Law of Pragnanz is organizing information into the simplest form possible.  Often trying to make the shape symmetrical, simple in form, and with the fewest shapes possible does this.   A Gestalt learner might see the shapes of the letters and try to find a pattern, a commonality, or a familiarity among their forms rather than learning sounds associated with the letters. 


Our family’s experience supports Gopal’s premise that reading will improve with greater exposure.  Gopal suggests visual perception is based on past experience (p173-174).  In order to change my son’s view of letters, we needed to increase his experience level.  As his experience grows, his reading improves.  In other words, he no longer looks to associate letters with the same form; instead he associates it with the last time he read it.   I’m not talking about rote memorization techniques because they are painful and wouldn’t work anyway.  We just practice reading as much as we can.  This is the same kind of practice that all new readers do.  We may go a bit slower, and we may re-read books more than other readers, but it gives us practice.  And for us, practice has proven the most beneficial on our reading path.   For us, there is no ‘bad’ practice because we are doing it to fill up our experience bank.  Everything is fair game:  street signs, video games, television, magazines, etc.  Being a visual learner can sometimes seem like a super power, but it also can be an obstacle.  I don’t know if I can make my son a great reader, but that’s not my goal.  My goal is to make my Great Little Pretender the most experienced reader he can be.

About Family Field Trips

We are a family experiencing the world around us through one family field trip at a time. We believe that nothing beats a lived experience. Family field trips allow us to explore the world around us, learn something from others, and share our experiences. We love to share our stories, experiences, and tips for learning through travel. We hope you connect with us and join us on our journey!
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