Right Brain vs. Left Brain

A RIGHT BRAIN LEARNER STUCK IN A LEFT BRAIN CURRICULUM
You may have noticed that your children have totally different learning styles. Your left brain child tends to like workbooks and working on his own. The right-brainer, on the other hand, likes discussion, prefers projects to workbooks and tends to be a little higher maintenance during the school day, requiring more of your interaction time.
Since most curriculum teaches in a more left brain manner, focusing on auditory and sequential aspects, as well as writing, our children who are more right brain learners often feel left out, and even struggle with learning and retaining material using this same curriculum. Once we have identified the right-brainer who is struggling because he is stuck in a left brain curriculum, then we can tweak our teaching process to help these right brain children get in touch with the “smart part of themselves.”
Before we explore these many different teaching strategies, let’s identify the common learning styles of these children.

COMMON CHARACTERISTICS OF A LEFT BRAIN LEARNER

  • Tends to seek structure in the school day.
  • Memorizes best by repetition (auditory or writing).
  • Likes to know the plan for each day, week, etc.
  • Tends to work well independently.
  • Likes to make lists, and check them off as tasks are completed.
  • Thinks things through with multiple pieces of evidence before coming to a conclusion.
  • Tends to find math interesting, and is very good at it.
  • Likes the predictability and conciseness of workbooks.
  • Can do well with self-paced and computer curriculum.

COMMON CHARACTERISTICS OF A RIGHT BRAIN LEARNER

  • Likes spontaneous events, versus planned events each day. Seeks change.
  • Memorizes best by using meaning, color, pictures, story, or emotion in material.
  • Does not plan ahead regularly.
  • Prefers much involvement with parent while doing daily lessons.
  • Does not do items sequentially, but skips around in his or her work.
  • Makes quantum leaps when learning. Figures things out from scanty evidence.
  • Finds math quite repetitive and somewhat boring.
  • Prefers projects and discussions rather than workbook learning.
  • Does not do well with self-paced or computer curriculum, but rather one that requires more parent and teacher involvement, such as unit studies, or any curriculum that is more hands-on and interactive with the adult.

Many right brain dominant children can adapt to left brain curriculum without much effort. If that is the case, then no changes need to be made for this child. However, if a child is struggling to be successful in learning, then some accommodations need to be made. Sometimes just putting the struggling child in a more right brain friendly curriculum makes all the difference in the world in how easy his/her school day goes.
Other times a child needs a totally different strategy to make learning easy. That is when we turn to right brain teaching strategies.

WHO NEEDS RIGHT BRAIN TEACHING STRATEGIES?

  • Children who have underdeveloped memory skills.
  • Children who have an auditory processing glitch.
  • Children who have a focusing or attention issue.
  • Children who have a visual/motor (writing) glitch.
  • Children who dislike school work.
  • Children for whom the more common methods of teaching are not working.

WHAT ARE RIGHT BRAIN TEACHING STRATEGIES?
In 1981 Dr. Roger Sperry received the Nobel Prize for his split brain research. Prior to that, little was known about the separate responsibilities of the two brain hemispheres. President George Bush declared the 1990s as the Decade of the Brain. Much brain research came to the forefront during that time. It has been a very exciting time in beginning to understand the processes of learning.
The right brain is responsible for long-term memory storage. Ultimately, we all store learned material in our right brain, for easy retrieval. Generally this process of storing material in the short term memory (the left brain’s responsibility), and then transferring it to our long-term memory (the right brain’s responsibility) is automatic, and we don’t even think about the intricate process that is taking place. However, when the left brain methods of repetition (either orally or in writing) are not transferring to the right brain long-term memory storage unit, then we need to look at ways to make this transfer more efficient. This is where right brain teaching strategies comes in. When we use right brain teaching strategies with our children, they are required to use much less energy to store learned material. Both right and left brain learners love these techniques!
Right brain teaching strategies involve using “visual Velcro” to easily memorize material. For example, if learning math facts through oral repetition, games, or writing them isn’t working, then by making little stories (not rhymes because these are auditory) with emotion, and adding picture and color to the math fact, the child finds that it is easy to recall. This is using an easy, inexpensive learning strategy that totally transforms how a child remembers something as important as math facts. This type of teaching applies to all areas of curriculum. When a child says, “I can’t remember,” then it is time to use right brain teaching strategies to make the memory process so much easier. Let’s explore some of these troublesome learning areas:

Spelling

  • Train a child’s photographic memory capability while teaching spelling words at the same time!
  • Teach the word retrieval technique that spelling bee winners use!
  • Avoid using the “writing gate” for learning spelling words, since this technique is inefficient for a right-brained child.
  • Place color and picture with humor on the letter or letters in a word that are silent, or hard to remember. Have the child take a picture of the word using his internal camera.

Resources

  • Teaching Your Right Brain Child video by Dianne Craft
  • Right Brain Child in a Left Brain World by Jeffrey Freed

Vocabulary

  • Have students draw cartoons to aid in memorizing vocabulary words.
  • Make a drawing of the meaning of the word. Then superimpose the vocabulary word, or science term directly on the picture. The brain receives it in a “chunk,” and then retrieves it in a “chunk.”
  • Use pre-made vocabulary cartoons by home school dad Sam Burchers for regular weekly vocabulary enrichment lessons that are easy to remember.

Resources

  • Elementary and high school editions of Vocabulary Cartoons by Sam Burchers, available at www.vocabularycartoons.com.
  • Teaching Your Right Brain Child video by Dianne Craft

Math

  • Teach the problem and answer as a whole rather than in parts. Make a story and picture for each hard math fact. Keep these on the wall for child to take a mental picture of it for a week. Teach only five hard math facts a week using this picture method.
  • Use Hollywood techniques employing stories, emotion and pictures to help struggling math students.
  • Put math processes such as fraction rules, division steps, decimal rules and algebra steps into long-term memory storage. Keep these pictures of the processes, called templates, on the wall for easy retrieval. They won’t be needed for long.

Resources

  • Right brain multiplication cards, available at www.diannecraft.org.
  • Right-Brained Children in a Left-Brained World: Unlocking the Potential of Your ADD Child by Jeffrey Freed.

Phonics

  • Use color and pictures to make phonics easy. Every day read lists of long words with the decoding unit in color. If you have a child who is a word-guesser, you will see great results with this technique.
  • Train the brain to store the sound and picture as a unit for easier retrieval of letter sound by placing the letter directly on the picture that gives that sound.

Resources

  • Right Brain Phonics Reading Practice Book by Dianne Craft
  • Right brain phonics cards by Dianne Craft
  • Lindamood Phonemic Awareness Program (http://www.lindamoodbell.com/404.html)

Sight Words

  • Beginning readers who have an auditory processing problem that causes them to struggle to learn the names of sight words learn them easily when a picture of the word’s meaning is superimposed on the letters of the word.
  • Teach both the reading and spelling of sight words using picture directly on the word.

Resources

  • Sight word cards (36 words) by Dianne Craft.
  • Your own homemade cards made by you or your child.
  • Reading Comprehension
  • Train your children to change words into pictures when listening and reading.
  • Teach them how to make a movie in their head as they read to dramatically increase their reading comprehension and memory.

Resources

  • Teaching Your Right Brain Child video by Dianne Craft.
  • Teach Both Sides of the Brain by Tony Buzan.
  • Lindamood Bell’s Verbalization/Visualization program.

Writing

  1. Model for your children how to see their whole paper, or paragraph, before they write it.
  2. Model pre-writing by using webbing (right brain) versus outlining (left brain).
  3. Show them how to write only one or two words to remind them of the whole thought.
  4. When grading the papers, give points for every positive thing on the paper. Ignore the errors initially, addressing them later when students prepare to write their next paper.
  5. Don’t correct spelling errors on the paper. Instead, put the misspelled words into the next spelling list for the student to learn.
  6. Don’t require that a paper be rewritten until a child has achieved success at the writing process.
  7. Give the child a list of transition terms, topic sentence starters, and concluding terms to use in his writing at first.

Resources

  • Tapestry of Grace Writing program by Marcie Somerville, available at www.tapestryofgrace.com.
  • Step Up To Writing by Maureen Auman, available at www.sopriswest.com.
  • Following Directions
  • When giving oral directions, use quick doodles to help a child remember what is said.
  • Later, have the child make a picture in his head of what you tell them to do.
  • Using color and circling to help show a child how to break down the steps of written directions for easy understanding.
  • Study Skills
  • Teach your child how to take picture notes for history, science, grammar and other subjects. Their test scores and understanding will improve dramatically.
  • When teaching any amount of sequential material, use doodles and pictures, in a story, or in a row, touching each other, for easy storage and retrieval.
  • Resources
  • Teaching Both Sides of the Brain by Tony Buzan
  • Teaching Your Right Brain Child video by Dianne Craft

VISUAL PROCESSING DYSFUNCTION CHARACTERISTICS

  • A child struggling with visual processing issues will display some of these characteristics:
  • Reading reversals (“was” for “saw,” “on” for “no,” “big” for “dig,” etc.) after initial introduction of the words.
  • Skipping of small words when reading.
  • Needing to use finger to track after age 7.
  • Oral reading that is smooth at the beginning of the page, but becomes more labored the longer a child reads.
  • Experiencing eye fatigue shortly after reading begins (watery eyes, rubbing eyes).
  • Yawning shortly after reading begins.
  • Continuing to struggle even after being prescribed eye glasses.

INFORMAL EVALUATIONS
These informal evaluations can be done at home to help a parent determine if a child is experiencing a blocked learning gate. Be sure as well to have your child’s vision acuity checked by an optometrist or ophthalmologist to make sure that this is not the cause of the child’s reading problem.
Eye tracking: With the child standing three feet in front of you, take an interesting object and slowly move it in a left-to-right manner in front of the child’s eyes. Ask the child to keep his eyes on the target. Do this for about four swings of the target. Watch to see if the child’s eyes skip in any spot, or if they begin to water. Then slowly move the target in a horizontal figure eight manner within the child’s shoulder width, making sure that the target is not too close to the child’s face. See if the child can look in those various directions without skipping or his eyes looking stressed in any way. Make a note of your findings. There are specific exercises that can be done to strengthen a child’s eye teaming abilities to reduce the stress in the visual learning system.
Cross crawl: Many times younger children have difficulty reading because they are not efficiently crossing the midline of their body. This is the process that normally occurs when a baby is crawling. However, some children develop a learning gate problem in this area because they did not crawl, or they crawled but had a traumatic event (such as a fall, or back-to-back ear infections) that inhibited this natural process and made it much less effective.
Stand in front of the child and demonstrate the cross crawl movement by lifting the right knee and tapping it with the left hand, then doing the same with the left knee and right hand. Do this for a minute so the child can observe you. Then ask the child to do it also. Don’t correct the child at first, but let him or her figure it out while you continue to do your cross crawl movements in front of him. If the child can’t do it, and becomes frustrated, then you can start him out by having him march with his legs while you touch the opposite knee with his hands. After doing this for a bit, remove your hands from the child’s hands, and let him do this himself.
Make a note of your findings. If you confirm your child has midline issues, there are specific things that you can do to address this problem.
Reading: There are four components to reading successfully:

  • Eye Tracking ability.
  • Sight Word Memorization.
  • Phonics (letter sounds and word decoding ability).
  • Reading comprehension.

We can observe a child’s oral reading to help use determine if eye tracking ability is contributing to the child’s reading difficulties. If the child can read, have him read a passage, and carefully watch his eyes to see if he reads to the end of the line, and then starts the new line, but quickly darts back with his eyes to the last line to make sure that he is in the right spot. We all do this once in a while. Watch to see if the child does this frequently. This takes much more effort to read when this saccadic eye movement is occurring.
Also observe if the child begins reading the word “dig” by forming a “b” with his mouth first. Any time a child reverses a letter or word, six months after being taught to read, indicates a sign of stress in the child’s visual processing system. Make a note of your findings. There are specific things that can be done to make this process easier for your child.
Colored overlays: At times, a child will experience a mild scotopic sensitivity syndrome, which means that the reflection of the white background of the paper makes it more difficult for the child to see the black letters that compose the text.
One of the ways that you can informally determine if this is any issue, is by obtaining some plastic colored reading overlays (available at www.diannecraft.org.)
Have the child read a paragraph or a few lines. Then place a blue colored transparency over the next paragraph and have him read. Then place a green overlay over the next paragraph when the child is reading orally. Listen for subtle changes in fluency. Ask the child what he experienced in fluency while reading with the various colors. Many times the child will say that a particular transparency acted as a magnifying glass, making the letters bigger, and easier to see. There are other colors that you could try, but blue and green are the main ones that seem to help children right away.
If the child does markedly better with one of the colored overlays, continue to use it to reduce the visual stress that he/she is experiencing. However, it will only act as a temporary aid, until you correct the underlying problem, which is lack of eye convergence. The eyes can be encouraged to work together as a team while reading by doing various home exercises, or by working with a vision therapist using both home and office exercises.

RESOURCES FOR CORRECTING VISION ACUITY PROBLEMS

  • Prescription eyeglasses.
  • Vision therapy from a developmental optometrist. (This kind of therapy can be quite expensive.)
  • Brain integration therapy. This program can be conducted at home. For more information see www.diannecraft.org for the Instruction Manual.
  • Colored transparencies. For information on how to obtain these visit www.diannecraft.org
  • Irlen Lenses (colored lenses placed into glasses for easier use. For more information look for the Reading With Colors book available at www.irlen.com.
  • PACE program done with professionals.

VISUAL/MOTOR PROCESSING (WRITING) DYSFUNCTION CHARACTERISTICS
The processing glitch that affects children the most is an interference in the writing system (spatial, visual/motor system). The process of writing has not been taken over by the child’s automatic brain, which is the right brain hemisphere. This causes the child to have to use much more energy to write. This can make a child look lazy, uncooperative and unmotivated because writing is involved in so many learning activities. See if your child has many of the following symptoms of stress in the writing system:

  • Reversals in written letters both laterally and vertically, six months after being taught to write them correctly if written daily.
  • Reversals in written numbers.
  • Poor spacing in writing.
  • Difficulty copying from book or board.
  • Resistance to learning or writing cursive.
  • Displaying awkward writing posture, with eye and hand very close together.
  • No “helping hand” used when writing despite being instructed to do so.
  • Failure to complete written assignments despite performing well on tests.
  • Spaces math papers poorly.
  • Tells great stories orally, but writes very little.
  • Leaves out letters in a spelling test, but could spell the word orally correctly.
  • Wants to do all math “in his head,” no matter how long the problem is.

INFORMAL EVALUATIONS
Check your child’s eye/hand dominance: Tear a hole in a piece of paper that is the size of a dime. Have the child stand five feet in front of you and hold the paper with arms extended, in front of him. Ask him/her to look through the hole and find your nose. As he/she is looking at your nose through the hole in the paper, you will be able to see his/her dominant eye.
Now to see if he/she is using that same eye for close-up work, place a small, round object on the floor about five inches in front of the child’s feet. A toy construction cone is good. Ask the child to hold the paper at arm’s length and look through the hole at the object on the floor. Tell the child to “freeze” his/her hands when he/she has seen the object. Then get behind him/her and cover one of the child’s eyes with your hand. Ask the child if he/she can still see the object, or if it disappeared. Do the same with the other eye, making sure that the child does not move his/her paper. The object should disappear when you are covering the child’s dominant eye.
We always use only one eye when looking through a small hole, and we use our dominant eye. If the child found that the object disappeared when you covered his right eye, then he/she is right-eye dominant. If he/she is also right-handed, then we call that “uniform dominance.” The brain finds it more efficient to be uniform dominant.
If the object disappeared when you covered the child’s left eye, then he/she is left-eye dominant. If the child is also right-handed, then he/she is considered “mixed dominant.”
Being mixed dominant can be very helpful in sports, such as baseball and golf, but is less efficient for writing. However, if a child has good brain hemispheric integration, then it is not very bothersome for him/her. If the two hemispheres of his/her brain are not communicating well for the act of writing, then the writing has not transferred into the automatic hemisphere, and the writing process can be very laborious.
Make a note of whether the child is uniform or mixed dominant. This gives you a clue as to one reason why your child has been struggling with writing. Many times these mixed-dominant children do not develop a hand dominance until they are 4 or 5 years old, as opposed to other children who develop a hand dominance earlier.
Clockwise or counterclockwise circles? Have your child write a word with the letter “o” in it, or just write the letter “o.” Watch to see if he/she writes this clockwise or counterclockwise. If a child is hard-wired to be right-handed, he/she should be making all letters counterclockwise. If a child is hard-wired to be left-handed, he/she will tend to make his letters clockwise.
We are only concerned when a child who has chosen his/her right hand to write with, but is making all letters clockwise like a left-hander. This creates great stress in the child’s writing system. Make a note of this, because there are specific exercises that can be done to take the stress out of this system. We do not have to change a child’s handedness.
Bottom-to-top letter formation: Ask your child to write the alphabet in lower-case print. There is a natural flow of electricity in our body that God put there. When we make our letters according to that flow, writing is effortless. When we write letters against the flow, writing is laborious. Observe, but don’t correct. See if the child makes letters bottom-to-top, which is considered a vertical reversal. See if the child finds it difficult to remember the next letter to write. See if the child writes a mixture of lower-case and upper-case letters. Watch for clockwise letters, and letters that do not go below the line. These are all signs of stress in the child’s visual/motor/spatial system. Make notes. These problems can be corrected, and the stress taken out of the system.

RESOURCES FOR CORRECTING WRITING DYSFUNCTION

  • When teaching, have the child answer as many questions orally, reducing the need to write until you can take the stress out of the writing system.
  • Eliminate copying tasks because of the labor involved until the child’s writing improves.
  • Do timed math tests orally if possible.
  • Do the Writing Eight Exercise designed by Dr. Getman, to encourage the child’s kinesthetic midline to function well, eliminating both lateral and vertical reversals. This daily exercise, when done in a deliberate, monitored manner, will convert the writing process to the automatic hemisphere. The exercise is described in the manual Brain Integration Therapy for Children by Dianne Craft.
  • After the child has a strong midline, then you can use the writing program Handwriting Without Tears.
  • Teach your child keyboarding to encourage computer use for longer papers.
  • LinguiSystems has several books that talk about writing issues, such as the dysgraphia described in the characteristics section.

AUDITORY PROCESSING DYSFUNCTION CHARACTERISTICS
Your child may be struggling with auditory processing dysfunction if he or she exhibits the following difficulties:
Difficulty remembering sight words, including:

  • Trouble retrieving names of letters, words, people, and things.
  • Laboring over verbal expression.
  • Difficulty with phonics, including:
  • Trouble remembering sounds of letter combinations such as “au,” “oi.”
  • Difficulty applying phonics rules in a reading setting.
  • Sounding out the same word over and over in the same reading passage.
  • Spelling difficulties, including:
  • Trouble spelling phonetically (the child may spell “team” as “tie” or “went” as “wat.”)
  • Spelling the same word differently each time.
  • Difficulty sequencing sounds, including:
  • Trouble learning and retaining days of the week and months.
  • The child guesses at words because reading longer words is very hard.
  • The child puts extra sounds in a word (ie., contribution becomes contribu’ta’tion), “band” becomes “brand.”
  • Difficulty saying longer words:
  • Transposing letters: “animal” is “aminal;” “magazine” is “mazagine;” “suddenly” is “sundenly.”
  • Avoiding difficult words when speaking.
  • The child’s silent voice disappears:
  • He or she subvocalizes when reading silently, or needs to read aloud to understand a passage.
  • He or she needs to repeat the alphabet in his head when writing it out.
  • Difficulty with speech, including:
  • Trouble articulating many sounds.
  • Exhibiting language delay.
  • Difficulty understanding verbal instruction:
  • He or she needs to ask for directions to be repeated frequently.
  • He or she says “what” a lot.
  • An apparent hearing problem can mimic a focusing and attention issue. The key is determining whether the child really is not hearing and storing the information auditorally, or if the child is not focusing on what is being said.
  • He or she is easily confused or is never quite sure he understood the speaker.

INFORMAL EVALUATIONS
An auditory processing dysfunction can manifest itself in so many different ways. Many adults and children have mild auditory processing problems, but find ways to compensate for it in their daily lives. It is a bigger struggle for a child to learn with an auditory processing issue, than with just a visual processing issue, or a visual/motor (writing) processing issue. The left auditory brain hemisphere is responsible for retaining sounds, words, and auditory information. When this process is experiencing a block, the child doesn’t know why he can’t remember what was just taught, nor does the parent.
Storing and retrieving information: Ask the child to write the alphabet. Observe carefully to see whether the child hesitates after writing several letters, then begins again. Watch for this hesitation throughout the writing of the alphabet.
If the child hesitates in writing a letter that follows a letter that has a directional component to it, such as “b,” “d,” “p,” “q,” “j,” “g,” then it could be that he has a spatial problem, and had to think about what direction the letter should be written. However, if the child hesitates after writing “e,” or “h,” then you can suspect that he has lost his silent voice…his “thinking” voice, and is having to go back and say the alphabet over and over in his head.
With older children, you can ask if they had to say the alphabet over several times in their head while doing the alphabet, and they can tell you exactly where they felt they had to stop and repeat. The efficient storage and retrieval of 26 units is one sign of an auditory processing dysfunction.
Sequencing: Ask the child to say the days of the week, and then the months of the year. The months represent sequencing and ordering unrelated sounds. If this is difficult for the child despite being taught it before, or if the child leaves out some months (they often leave out either October or August, because they start with the same sound), assure him that many children do.
However, these difficulties could indicate that the auditory channel of sequencing is not working as well as it should, and causing your child to struggle with learning. If a child is laboring with auditory sequencing then the popular way of teaching multiplication tables through skip counting will be more difficult for that child. That child would greatly benefit from using right brain teaching strategies, using the child’s photographic memory to memorize multiplication facts easily.
Word retrieval: The two brain hemispheres have individual responsibilities. When we understand these responsibilities we can see understand where a child’s processing is breaking down in the reading process.
The right brain stores pictures. This means that all of the sight words (words that cannot be sounded out, such as “the,” “many,” etc.) are stored in the right brain after the child has been exposed to these words for several days. The name of the word is stored in the child’s left auditory hemisphere. Normally, when the two hemispheres are working well together, when the child sees the word (a right brain function), the name comes up quickly (a left brain function), and the child remembers the sight word.
To check the efficiency of this process, have your child read a list of words at his grade level. If your child consistently hesitates at words such as “would, what, know and neighbor,” or if he/she attempts to sound out every word, then make a note of that. If the child is not reading yet, you can have him/her read, or attempt to name the alphabet letters that you have taught him/her. If this is very difficult, then we can assume that this is a child who is struggling with the word retrieval portion of an auditory processing dysfunction. There are wonderful methods to help this child.
Hearing individual letters: This is the auditory channel that is involved in learning and remembering the sounds that letters and letter combinations get. We teach this in great detail in phonics. Have your child read a list of words that are on the child’s reading level. If your child cannot sound out a word, for example, cannot remember the “f” sound to begin a word, or laboriously sounds out “f-a-t,” and then says “fan,” you know you have a child suffering in this area. If your child is older, and guesses at longer words, because he/she cannot remember the phonemes (vowel and letter combinations) to sound it out easily, then that child is suffering also in this area. Many times these are children who played the Phonics Game well, and knew all the “pieces” (left brain function), but cannot put it into a “whole” (right brain function), when reading a passage. Make a note of your results.

RESOURCES FOR CORRECTION

  • Speech therapy.
  • Brain training with music. Various programs include:
  • The Listening Program by Dr. Tomatis helps retrain the auditory processing area of the brain.
  • AIT (Auditory Integration Therapy) home program that requires a speech therapist to work with parent.
  • Samonas Listening Program, which requires a professional.
  • Interactive Metronome (corrects child’s timing, among other things) non-home professional program.
  • LinguiSystems (word games, workbooks, etc.)
  • Brain Integration Therapy for Children, a home-based therapy program for parents to administer. Visit www.diannecraft.org.
  • Specialized reading Instruction. Various programs include:
  • Right brain teaching strategies (bypassing the auditory glitch)
  • Merrill Linguistic Readers (very few sight words)
  • Lindamood Phonemic Awareness Program (professional program)
  • Wilson’s Reading Program
  • Nutritional Therapy:
  • Article “Ear Infections: Impact on Learning,” and “Essential Fatty Acids and the Brain,” available at www.diannecraft.org.
  • Contact a nutritionist or chiropractor in your area.