Why Should We Strengthen Right-Brained Learners' Ability to Process Left-Brained Content?
A person's dominant hemisphere is the one that processes incoming information. For right-brained learners who learn best via images and movement, learning content that is predominantly designed to match left-brained processing is going to be a challenge.
If we want to help all our children learn to the best of their abilities, it will be important for us to lead them in activities that will strengthen their ability to process in their less dominant hemisphere. Sometimes we call this "whole brain learning." Reality is that the more fluently left and right hemispheres communicate during the learning process, the more chance there will be for right-brained learners to excel in school!
Academic Skills Associated with the Left Hemisphere
- Symbols (letters and numbers)
- Language, both spoken and written
- Working with details and facts
- Sequences of steps
- Following directions
- Listening to spoken language
Academic Skills Associated with the Right Hemisphere
- Haptic awareness - recognizing objects through touch
- Spatial relationships - where things are on a map, relationship of one object to another in space
- Shapes and pattern recognition
- Mental mathematical computation
- Sensitivity to color
- Singing and music
- Art expression
- Feelings and emotions
(Taken from Unicorns are Real: A Right-Brained Approach to Learning by Barbara Meister Vitale, p. 11)
Right-Brained Learners are Visual Learners
Why does this matter so much?
If most of what children encounter in school is designed to match left-brained processing, right-brained childlren are going to be tasked with learning everything from within their less dominant hemisphere, which clearly puts them at a disadvantage from the beginning.
Right-brain dominant learners are highly visual in how they take in, process, and remember new information. If we want to successfully reach these learners (and we do!) we need to understand their wiring better and practice using strategies that make left-brained content more accessible to them, and also lead activities that strengthen right- and left-brain processing.
How do I recognize right-brained learners?
Right-brained, visual learners include:
Very young children are right-brained learners
Most children from ages 4 to 7 learn best through images since they're at the stage in which the right hemisphere (gestalt brain) is rapidly developing as a normal neurological function.
Older right-brain dominant processors
At around age 7, children's left hemisphere goes into a stage of rapid elaboration and development. This means, of course, that content that matches what is processed in the left hemisphere is more accessible to them. Some children become left-brained dominant learners, while others remain strongly right-brained learners.
In addition to the normal developmental stage prior to age 7, many children are wired to be strongly visual. About a third of children are strongly visual, and another 30% prefer visual input when they are learning. These numbers are staggering when you consider most classrooms are designed perfectly for left-brained learners.
The list of visual & kinesthetic learners also includes these children:
The Brain is Plastic, So the Less Dominant Hemisphere Can be Strengthened
The wonderful news about right-brained learners learning left-brained content is that our brains are plastic and can be shaped through experiences. If you are working with children who are strongly visual, don’t despair! Start providing other types of experiences in small bytes to these visual learners so that you can begin to move them closer to whole-brain processing.
The answer is not to immerse right-brained learners in a solidly left-brained classroom and expect them to take the full journey from being a right-brained processor to being a left-brained learner. This is what is currently happening in schools everywhere and it is leaving a large percentage of children behind. We must begin to provide images so learning is easier for right-brained learners, but while we are using visuals to teach, we should also nudge them towards a more whole brained approach to learning that combines left and right-brained elements.
How To Develop Strong Connections Between Hemispheres in the Brain
The key will be to both increase the amount of physical activity the children enjoy and to use teaching resources that are designed to combine left and right-brained elements.
SnapWords® are a perfect example of this type of resource: left-brained symbols (words) are embedded in right-brained images. It is impossible for the child to separate the two, so both regions of the brain are stimulated at one time.
Begin to encourage a lot of outside play. When I was typing that sentence, an image flashed into my mind of a little couch potato being pushed out the door with the injunction to “go play and have fun.” There the poor tyke stands, blinking in the bright sunlight, no clue at all how to play. Start by going out together with an activity planned ahead of time!
Any physical activity that crosses the midline will also strengthen right- and left-brain communication. Activity that crosses the midline is any activity that alternates left and right side of the body such as running or skipping. Plenty of physical activity, creative play, and non-media time will strengthen the communication between right and left hemisphere. Doing this will actually help move your child closer to the center towards whole brain learning, which will make it easier for them to succeed in the classroom.
Activities that Strengthen Left and Right Hemispheres in the Brain
1. Scavenger Hunt
Make a collection of natural items that catch the child’s attention. Explore them on the spot. Do they have a particular texture? A distinctive smell? What about color? Then when you have a nice little collection, engage the left brain by asking the child to describe briefly each item they chose. Talk about what the items have in common and how they differ from each other. The tactile exploration of nature is wonderful for creating neural pathways and the more often each is repeated, the better for the child!
Using a soccer ball, play outside, kicking the ball first with the left then the right foot. If you do it together, each of you with their own ball, you could make it more fun. The cross-lateral movement strengthens connections between left and right hemispheres of the brain and helps children when it is time for school tasks that require both regions of the brain.
3. Silly Stories
Collect images you cut from magazines, newspapers, travel brochures, or find in clip art…any image that catches your eye. You can even find pictures of common items such as a fork, a belt, and a button, etc. Glue these pictures on cards of the same size. When you have collected a nice stack of photo cards, shuffle them.
With the cards face down, have the child select three cards at random. Then have them lay the cards on the table and look at them. Ask them to invent a silly sentence that includes all three of these words. For example, the child might draw the following cards and create the sentence "I ate my carrot with a fork on a pyramid."
At first, it might be hard for the child, so you could play too, modeling your thoughts as you invent a silly sentence. I’ve done this with children as young as preschool and I would have them tell me something about all three items while I wrote what they said. We had the most amazing stories emerge.
This activity helps children begin to tie visuals with words. Start very small. Even a phrase is great. Over time if you keep on doing this activity, the child will become more and more fluent with their words and will begin to embellish until they have a little paragraph. If you make yours silly, the exercise will be fun. And fun is good for engaging learners!
4. Simon Says
Simon Says will help the child listen, think, and control the motion of their body. To activate the connections between multiple regions of the brain, go outside and play. Do activities that require hopping, balancing, tipping, spinning, etc. Simon can tell the child anything they want to after all! “Hop on your right foot three times.” Or, “Spread your arms like wings and stand on your left foot.”
5. Red Light, Green Light
This is another great game to help a child learn to listen and control their movements. For the green light which signifies GO, just hold up a simple green paddle or other object. The child will be able to run forward until you hold up the red paddle. This game is great for children who have been classified as ADD because it will activate their frontal lobe, the center for forethought and body control. This is especially true if the child gets points or a token of some kind for each time they are able to stop or go when they receive that signal.
This game combines verbal, visual, and body movement. For young children, you can have pictures of objects or animals on cards. If you're playing with multiple children, deal everyone a card and then when it is the child’s turn, have them stand and strike a pose or act out what is on the card. Have the others guess who they are and explain why they think so. Encourage conversation between the players in which they verbalize their thoughts.
7. Draw and Write
One of the best practices to strengthen a young child's left-right connection is to let them draw whatever they want, and then label their drawing. Once they are able to write simple sentences, they can write a describing sentence.
More Activities for Whole Brain LearningOnce you begin these activities with your child, you will think of many more!
- Make conversation.
- Ask questions that encourage your child to think through possible outcomes to various scenarios. Ask, "What do you think might happen?"
- Experiment outside. For instance, if you have a wagon and you pull it down a gentle hill, will it go faster or slower if you load it full of rocks? Have your child guess the outcome before trying it out, giving reasons for their choice. Then try the experiment, and talk about why the experiment turned out as it did.
- Choose two objects of differing weights and shapes and have your child predict which will go further when tossed. Have them throw the objects as hard as they can and see which one goes further.
The wonderful outcome of activities like this is that each time you do them, whether or not you see dramatic change in the moment, communication is being established and strengthened between different regions in the brain which, over time, will help your child simply blossom!
Whole-Brain Learning FAQs
Q: What is whole-brain learning?
A: The term whole brain learning can be confusing. It almost sounds as though a person can learn something only in one area of their brain, doesn't it? We all use our whole brains to learn. However, what IS true is that each of us has a dominant hemisphere and a less dominant one. Whole brain learning is speaking of using both hemispheres with better coordination so learning is more effective.
Q: Is whole brain learning effective for left-brained learners?
A: While we focused on right-brained learners in this blog post, strengthening the communication between left and right hemispheres also will benefit left-brained learners. Their comprehension will deepen, they will grow towards seeing a bigger picture, they will learn more clearly how things are related to each other. They might learn to use their imaginations more frequently and usefully in problem solving.
Q: What do I need to know before starting whole brain teaching?
A: We have a lot of good information about how to implement right-brained strategies in the classroom. How to Teach Right-Brained Learners will be very helpful to you as you plan lessons for your class.
Do You Have More Questions About Whole Brain Learning Strategies?
Please reach out to our team! We will be happy to answer questions and point you in the direction of both strategies and teaching resources.