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Right Brain Vs. Left Brain Learning and Teaching Techniques

by Suleman

Our educational system, as well as science in general, tends to neglect the nonverbal form of intellect. What it comes down to is that modern society discriminates against the right hemisphere.

— Roger Sperry, 1973  (Pitek 1998)–

Right Brain Vs. Left Brain Learning and Teaching Techniques

Roger Sperry showed around 50 years ago that brain structure varies in the right and left hemispheres. With diverse skills, each has its own way of thought. Sperry found that vocabulary, critical reasoning and interpretation was the task of the left brain. The left brain is linear; it places things in order.  The left side is where naming and categorizing takes place.  It’s the center for speech, reading, writing, and arithmetic. Balancing the checkbook is a left-brain activity (Pitek 1998).

In the other side, the right brain appears to be concerned with pictures, inspiration and imagination (Lee, 1999). It is the centre of processing in conceptual and spatial words. In traffic, the right brain regulates driving. Processing is fast and non-linear on the right. Looking at the larger picture, the correct brain struggles with uncertainty, ambiguity, and paradox. It is informative and the crucible of imagination (Pitek, 1998).

If you are right-brain dominant, for instance, it is your right emotional hemisphere that guides the choices you make during the day. It is your linear, time-oriented left hemisphere that informs you how to perceive, what to feel and what decisions to make if you are left-brain dominant. (Connell 2002).

Nearly 80 percent of us have a more evolved left brain, though vocabulary and rational reasoning are best done by the left. The left brain takes control in certain cases of life, constructing a coherent train of thinking (Lee, 1999). Other causes are often harmful to the growth of the right brain. With its focus on algebra, grammar, reasoning and interpretation, and its propensity to neglect the arts, music and imagination, schooling has a great bias towards the right brain. Teaching utilises tables, reasoning, and logical formulae of conventional strategies. It is also better to rate and measure several options, real and false (Pitek, 1998). Instead of writers and musicians, there is parental pressure to become physicians, attorneys and physicists. Then there’s the universe itself which allows one to care differently of the left brain than the right one. Our left brains are rapidly developed under these conditions, whilst our right brains are diminishing from under-use, metaphorically speaking, (Lee, 1999).

     In this age of education by test-taking, all our instructional efforts seem to help students master left-brain skills because that’s what the tests measure.  But to what extent should we also be helping kids develop a sense of design, storytelling abilities, feelings for others, humor, and the ability to detect the importance of the information they learn?

    The right brain thinks in wholes, so the student will understand math concepts but struggle with math facts or double-checking answers.  Right brain children will use ‘gut feeling’ instead of pulling in multiple facts before arriving at a decision. They may prefer essay tests where they can present the whole picture (Craft, n.d.).

     Eighty percent of struggling learners are right brained.  Schools and schoolwork was built to instruct in the manner of the left brain. These are mostly left-brain activities: workbooks, worksheets, rote memorization, timed exams, seminars, gathering information from a test, learning vocabulary by looking up terms in a dictionary and writing them down. A right brain child will have difficulty with them (Craft, n.d.). Right-brain students might shuffle through papers and have trouble finding correct pages. They might daydream in class. Might dramatize a point instead of backing it with statistics.  Homework and desktop might be messy.

     Some believe that the common syndrome, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) may result from cross-brain problems.  Affected children are usually right-brain dominant; they are also usually more creative than their left-brain classmates.  They also tend to learn best by using their hands; they might engage their sense of touch by picking up a pencil, touching the student in front of them, or even by putting their hands in their pockets.  These students are often considered troublemakers. Since ADHD children learn by touch, they may not readily process auditory information or a parent’s call. Teachers should ground information by touching the child on the arm of shoulder, and then giving verbal directions, to help the student process the information adequately (Mehl-Madrona 2000).

 In fact, teachers strive to best reach students who have their same neurological strengths. For eg, a strong left-brain instructor would need to make a deliberate attempt to help reach the strong right-brain learners in the classroom.   Unfortunately, most teachers teach to the left brain and most kids learn on the right brain. Teachers should incorporate lessons to help students cross over the left and right brains so that they can learn how to outline and be organized but also be creative too. Repetitive, rhythmic actions activate the right brain and stimulate creative thinking; the left brain is suspended for a while (Pitek, 1998).  Mixed brain teaching helps children become lifelong learners.  Test scores increase because memory skills improve and students are more relaxed and less stressed out. Games and word association help students remember what they’ve learned. They help turn on the right brain. 

Music can make learning more enjoyable and stimulate right brain learning. Indeed, studies have shown that people earn better scores on IQ tests after they’ve listened to Mozart. Rats raised on Mozart are smarter when they run mazes. Some people with Alzheimer’s disease function better with Mozart. The effect is not limited to Mozart, but his music has strong harmonies and rhythms that are not distracting.  In fact, some educators list certain composers and musical genres for specific learning activities (Teaching Aids 2000).

     The right brain sees patterns, so these students will do well on exercises like “What do these four pictures have in common?” They also respond well to colors. So teachers can use colored pens to teach about categories. This will help right brain learners because they can associate colors with the categories. Some schools promote a technique for note-taking called mind-mapping which exploits the right hemisphere’s ability to see images instead of a linear outline.  Place the main idea in a circle the center of the page and establish a color-coded branch for each associated ideas (Lee 1999). 

      Some teachers use physical exercises to stimulate whole brain learning, a techniques called Brain Gym. For example, ‘cross Crawl’ helps increase blood flow and coordination between hemispheres.  Stand up, and place the right hand on the left knee around the body when lifting the left knee at the same time. Repeat with the right knee and left hand.  It should look like you are marching. Continue for 2-3 minutes (Teaching Aids 2000).

Some say it may be considered the “cartoon era” for the time before children hit the age of 12. Thought is performed exclusively in pictures and photographs since the mechanisms that identify trends have not yet evolved. An instructional approach focused on photos that uses comics, stories and games is bound to be more successful than one centred on the written word in attracting and retaining the attention of children of this generation. A good technique for activating the right brain is to flip through many picture cards. After a few minutes, students are better prepared to memorize large amounts of information quickly (Lee 1999).

     Another method for activating the right brain involves memory training. The curriculum could include games to teach direct visual imaging, speed-reading and the making of mnemonic associations. For example, the teacher shows 10 different pictures and then connects them to each other with a story, creating an image in the mind which facilitates memorization. With practice, kids can easily remember 40 to 50 cards. For some, even 100 cards aren’t a problem (Lee 1999).

      Teachers should bring feelings and imagination into play when contemplating the physical world.  The right brain has high-speed, high –capacity memory. The left brain must turn data into language, a form sequential processing that is relatively slow while the right hemisphere works with images. The left brain is continuously dumping old memory to make room, but the right brain never dumps memory. Photographic memory is a right-brained phenomenon. The right brain combines memory and imagination to produce creativity. “Creativity requires knowledge, experience, and sufficient data.  If you have a good memory, your mind will be able to provide you with an uninterrupted stream of data when you are trying to come up with something new.”(Lee 1999, p.4)

      Fostering curiosity, encouraging questions and providing challenges develop a child’s creativity. In addition to encouraging kids to ask, think and do, parents need to be tolerant and appreciative to avoid killing a child’s creative sense. The willingness of parents and teachers to do these things is the key. Simply put, kids need a “loving education.” (Lee, 1999)

  • Connell, Diane. Sept, (2002). Left brain/right brain: by better understanding our own neurological strengths and weaknesses, we can adapt our lessons to reach all of our students – Pathways to Reach Every Learner, LookSmart Education. Retrieved May 12, 2006 from <http://www.looksmarteducation.com/p/articles/mi_mOSTR/is_2_112/ai_91473880>
  • Craft, Diane (n.d.) Teaching your Right Brain Child. Retrieved May 12, 2006 from <www.diannecraft.com/r-brain.html>.
  • Johnson, Doug.  (Feb. 7, 2006).  Are 21st Century Skills Right Brain Skills? Education World: The Educator’s Best Friend. Retrieved May 12, 2006 from <http://www.educationworld.com/a_tech/columnists/johnson/johnson.shtm>.
  • Lee, Carol. (1999). Waking the right brain – A New Approach to Pre-school Education. Sinorama Vol. 24 No. 3 March. Retrieved May 12, 2006 from <http//: www.sonorama.com.tw/en/1999/199903/803044e1.html>.
  • Mehl-Madrona, Lewis. (2000).  Attention deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD): Overview of ADHD and Theories on the Causes of ADHD in Children.  The Healing Center On-Line Retrieved from the internet May 14, 2006 at < www.healing-arts.org/children/ADHD/>.
  • Pitek, Michael III. (1998). Brain Differences: Creativity and the right side of the brain.  April 18,1998.  Hypertext webs. Retrieved May 12, 2006 from <http//: tolearn.net/hypertext/brain.htm>.
  • Teaching Aids. (2000). Class Activities, Teaching Aids, Tricks and Tools Employing “Whole Brain Learning” Retrieved May 12, 2006 from   <esl.about.com/library/weekly/aa052400a.htm>.
  • Woodham, Charlotte 2004.  Teaching that keeps the brain in mind.  Jacksonville News, Florida Times Union.  Wednesday, September 27. Retrieved May 12, 2006 from <www.brainsmart.com/jacksonville.pdf>.

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