FREE SHIPPING! Online, U.S. orders only

The Collision Between Left-Brained Teachers and Right-Brained Students

by Sarah K Major February 03, 2016

The Collision Between Left-Brained Teachers and Right-Brained Students

I found this in my inbox this morning:

My son struggles with reading. We’ve been working on C-V-C words for the past two years. He frequently mixes up vowel sounds, mixes up d and b, says words like ‘on’ as ‘no’, ‘was’ as ‘saw’, if an s is added to the end of the word he doesn’t recognize it, and many times he guesses what a word is.

The question this parent asked was if the child should be tested to determine his disability. At the risk of oversimplifying, I would reply that the child is probably a visual/tactile learner who is way over on the far right of the learning scale, while likely the parent is pretty far to the left in terms of her own learning style. In between the two is a big wide space. 

The real question comes down to this: How does one bridge the gap between the learning style of the teacher and the learning style of the child?

A child who just cannot “get” phonics as normally taught, needs visual cues to help her.

A child who just cannot “get” phonics as normally taught, who confuses symbols (b and d for instance, no and on, saw and was) needs visual cues to help her. She would also likely benefit from having a motion attached to each new concept. If a teacher is very left brained, it might be difficult at first to come up with visuals and with motions to help her child learn. In addition, if she is asked to abandon traditional methods of teaching in order to accommodate her child’s learning abilities, the discomfort will grow exponentially because one thing left brainers need is structure, the right steps to follow, and procedures in place. They are typically not comfortable with “winging it” or with throwing out the system in order to make up new steps to follow.

Yet this scenario is repeated thousands of times in our classrooms. Many people who gravitate into teaching do so because they love the system of “school”: the routine, the structure, the lessons laid out, the procedures, the mastery of “how we teach” various subjects.

 The problem is that more and more of our children are moving farther to the right on the left-brain right-brain continuum. Jeffrey Freed in his book Right-Brained Children in a Left-Brained World says, “Because most teachers are left-brained, and because they tend to teach the way they learn, it stands to reason that they will reward left-brained, linear intelligence. Evidence of this abounds in current literature on children with ADD and other learning disabilities. Thom Hartmann [in his book Beyond ADD] correctly notes that lectures and reading assignments –left-brained teaching methods – are still the norm, even though our children are being conditioned from birth to learn through visual means. The result, Hartmann says, is that our teachers are speaking English but may as well be speaking Greek. 'Until our children are again taught to be good auditory processors (not likely to happen in any home that has a TV), or our educational institutions begin to offer far more visual and stimulating forms of education (not likely to happen in these days of budget crises), there will continue to be an epidemic of children who seemingly just can’t learn. And they are often diagnosed as having ADD.”’ (p. 81)

Because most teachers are left-brained, 

and because they tend to teach the way they learn, 

it stands to reason that they will reward left-brained, linear intelligence.

Sometimes I feel a bit like a tiny David standing in the field, trying to take on a gynormous Goliath. The problem is already immense and the only thing that is going to help is if we abandon “the way it has always been done” in favor of materials that are designed specifically for the rapidly growing number of visual learners. The challenge lies in the fact that the more left-brained the teacher is, the less these specially-designed materials will make sense to them. I can hear someone saying right now, “Johnny shouldn’t need the crutch of visuals; he should be able to learn to read the right way!” The problem is that many Johnnys and Janes out there are not learning and won’t learn until we better understand what they need.

Sarah K Major
Sarah K Major


Sarah's absolute belief in every child’s ability to learn, and her passion to empower the child by supporting his/her own unique giftedness have fueled her life’s work and provided a new pathway for children to succeed academically.

Leave a comment