I believe that God has a wonderful sense of humor. He wants us to grow and stretch and one of the ways that He does this is to give us children who are very different from each other. Just as it is very likely that a right brain person will have a left brain spouse so it is that if our first born is left brain dominant the next child likely will be right brain dominant. This brain dominance affects both personality characteristics and learning styles.
How do you determine if you are teaching a right brain child? Children tend to display these characteristics at an early age. All children are creative but your right brain child will seem to be even more imaginative. The right brain learns things in wholes rather than in parts, so that child will get math concepts well but may struggle with the details like the math facts or checking work. In thinking styles, the right brainer often goes by gut feeling whereas the left brainer prefers multiple facts before coming to a conclusion. In test taking, the left brainer prefers the black-and-white choices presented in multiple choice questions while the right brainer may prefer essay questions where the whole picture can be given.
80% of the struggling learners that I see are right brain dominant. Does that mean that being right brain dominant is a weakness? Not at all! As you may know, Einstein was a right brainer. Why the discrepancy? It is because most curriculum is designed to teach in a more left brain style. Workbooks, worksheets, rote memorization (math facts), timed tests, lecture, learning facts from a test, learning vocabulary by looking up the meanings of the words in a dictionary and writing it out are all left brain activities. If you have a child at home who is balking at doing the schoolwork that fits the description above, you probably are working with a right brain dominant child. Helping this child to become successful doesn't require an entire change in curriculum but rather a change in your teaching strategies for this child. It isn't as hard as it sounds—in fact, it's easy, fun, and inexpensive.
First, let's look at the teaching of spelling words. We all want our children to be good spellers and are very frustrated when our methods aren't working. The most common complaint that I receive is that the child learns the words for the test but continues to misspell them in other writing tasks. This is one of the easiest problems to solve and I have regularly seen two years of spelling growth in one year by using a simple method.
Have you ever seen a picture in the newspaper of a Spelling Bee winner? If you have, you may have seen the student with his or her eyes in an upward position. In other words, it looks like he or she is looking at the ceiling for the word he or she is spelling. This makes sense in light of the recent brain research that tells us that we can cause our right brain (the hemisphere that houses our photographic memory) to become more responsive by looking up with our eyes. We use our eyes to help us think as well as to see. When the student is looking up, he or she is seeing the word in his or her head. Because he or she is seeing the printed word, he or she can spell it backwards as easily as forwards. You can train your child at home to use this very efficient strategy. Not only will it be painless, but you will find the that the right brain is responsible for visual memory and long term memory so your child will remember how to spell his words long past the week of the spelling test.
This efficient right brain spelling strategy is simple.
- Give your child a pre-test from a short list of words from the "most commonly used words" list.
- For the words that were spelled incorrectly, take the letters that were wrong or left out and color them. I often call this "weirding them up” with my students. For example: if the student spelled "Saturday” as “Saterday" I would put the “Sat-r-day” in black marker on a card since the student knew those letters. Next, I would put the "u" in blue with wavy lines in it to represent water and a stick figure diving into the water. You can add a story such as “they all sat around on Saturday and one of them got bored so the brothers decided to go swimming.”
- Hold the card straight up in front of your child so his or her eyes are looking up. Make sure the chin isn't up—only the eyes. Have him or her glance at it then bring it down while his or her eyes remain looking up where the card had been. Flash this card in the air five or six times until your child can "see" it in the air and easily spell it forwards and backwards. If your child can't easily "see" it in the air, show it more times, or put more "visual Velcro" on it by putting in more color or a more-detailed picture.
- Review the card each day of the week for a few minutes.
- Your child's photographic memory will become stronger as you use this method.
Remember that your child's visual memory is his or her greatest strength. As you help him or her develop that by using spelling words, math facts, or anything really, you will find that learning and memorizing have become much easier. The success a child feels when he or she can "see it" is priceless.
The information in this article should not be construed as a diagnosis or medical advice. Please consult your physician for any medical condition and before adding supplements or changing a child’s diet.
Dianne Craft has a Master's Degree in special education and is a Certified Natural Health Professional. She has a private consultation practice, Child Diagnostics, Inc., in Littleton, Colorado. More articles and information are available at diannecraft.org.