A solid 90% of the students I work with are right-brained learners (dyslexics, ADD/ADHD, visual-spatial, etc) and they are BRILLIANT! But all of these kids are struggling in school. Once I’ve determined that a child has a right-brained processing preference for learning, I work to help parents shift their perspectives around what’s considered “normal” as far as learning is concerned. Performance in school (no matter the grade level) tends to be the measure we use to define “normal” these days.
As we assess and view our children through the lens of our schools we ultimately dishonor the right-brained dominant learner because “school” and it’s structure and teaching processes tend to support left-brained learning styles and developmental time-frames for learning.
I find it fascinating but not surprising that 30% of children are heavily right-brain (visual-spatial) dominant and 30% more children are moderately so. That totals 60% of our students who prefer a right-brained learning style while our schools are set up for left-brained learners… We don’t know this stuff, it’s not talked about or reported so it’s something that most of us are unaware of until we are faced with the confusion that accompanies the “in-school” struggles of a smart child whom we LOVE!
So, what are the actual differences between the right-brained and left-brained learning style or preference? Let’s explore…
The differences between right hemispheric and left hemispheric processors boils down to more than right-brainers thinking mostly in pictures and left-brainers thinking in words. While these are accurate statements, there are far more important distinctions to make between these two learning styles. Left-brained people think sequentially, in steps, as they learn from part-to-whole… while right-brained people come to learning conclusions intuitively and in a more whole-to-part process. That’s why phonics works so well with left-brained kids during the Foundation Stage (5-7) of development, while right-brained kids learn by sight (whole words through memorization) initially during this stage and phonetically a bit later (8-10 years).
Left-brained people currently run and control our schools therefore linear and sequential processing saturates pretty much everything in education. This is evidenced by required high-stakes standardized assessments, required note taking, “showing work” in math calculations, reading readiness expectations for the end of Kindergarten and at the very latest, by the end of first grade and the slow decline of integrated arts in our school curriculum. The current system values the speed at which a child reads and is able to respond to questions almost more so than if they got the answers correct… Left-brained learners LOVE process…they enjoy being a cog in the wheel, a part of the larger whole, and oftentimes make ideal employees who tend to be meticulous and detail oriented but may struggle to see the big picture.
Right-brained learners are quite the contrary. They thrive on visualization and starting with the “whole” in mind… they have to see the big picture before they can break it down into smaller parts. Because of this they tend to go directly to the answer and although they may use a series of steps to get there they do so at such speed that the visual, right-brained, learner is unaware and therefore unable to retrace their steps to explain in detail how they arrived at their conclusion. I see this time and time again with the kiddos I work with…
Another major difference between the two learning styles is the fact that right-brained learners have a strong need to see the relevance for what they are asked to learn or do, otherwise they cannot learn it! Left-brained learners trust the process… they trust in the curriculum and rely heavily on the structure of it. They may not understand why they are being asked to do something and may not ask too many questions about the subjects’ relevancy, they just do what’s asked because it’s expected of them… Left-brained workers thrived throughout the Industrial Age. They made wonderful assembly line employees, farmers, and factory workers. They did well at anything that required repetition.
Right-brained learners struggle with repetition. They find it boring and pointless…oftentimes this includes homework, showing steps in math equations, and/or writing organized linear papers. Right-brained learners may do well at creative writing or doing advanced math in their heads but this way of processing is not valued by our present day educational system, in fact even I had to do some of my own processing around this concept. It was quite a paradigm shift for me and forced me to recognize how brainwashed I had become in regards to “the way” students learn. As if there is only one, best way or process. Because this right-brained, out-of-the-box way of learning and processing information tends not to be valued, right-brained kids may grow up feeling stupid and shamed (I see this all the time!) simply because their learning style is not honored and recognized in most schools.
This is already a problem of epidemic proportion… (there are 7 million kids receiving special education services and most are simply in need of a different approach to learning!) and will continue to grow as we welcome and “create” more and more right-brained learners into our world. As technology continues to (positively) affect the process of brain development and wiring, more and more students will need new and creative teaching styles to meet their own creative learning styles. If we continue to ignore this reality we will have more students growing to hate learning and school as well as more parents who choose to opt out of sending their children to traditional schools, those who prefer alternative options such as home schooling and online, experiential learning.
It’s not hard to see the writing on the wall… and I ask myself every day. “What can I do to make a difference?”
Although much time and effort has been used to develop a valid assessment to determine learning style preference in children, none has been created to date. However the BEST way to determine is via observation of your child’s creative outlet preferences. And in the meantime, take a look at this short questionnaire as an alternative measure.
Cindy Gaddis; http://www.therightsideofnormal.com/
Dr. Linda K. Silverman; www.visualspatial.org