Educating Einstein: Right Brain Thinking at School
I have good news and bad news. Let’s do bad news first to get it over with. School favors the left brain kids. The skills you need to do well at school are in the left side of the brain. Listening, organizing, memorizing, writing. These are also skills that test well because the left side of us likes one right answer to a problem. The good news is us right brainers have a left side too. Some of us are so well acquainted with our left, we move easily between them and excel at school. But for most right brain kids, school can be a challenge without good left brain skills. So, while we want to adapt the way we teach right brain kids, we also want to be sure we are developing those left brain skills that help us focus, create order and think logically. It’s a good balance to our creative, visual right brain.
Let’s start this conversation by remembering how awesome the right side of our brain is. Check out the chart I posted, on the left vs right side of brain. If you’re still not sure your child is right brain dominant, here’s a quiz. Remember, the right side is the visual, big picture, people person, creative side of brain.
Right side looks for meaning. It wants to know why are we doing it? What else could we do? What else might we need? Is there another way?
The right side is home to our emotions, people and relationships. The right side is about the humanities. It responds to art, music, theater, dance and literature. It’s about our hearts and humanity.
The language of the right is images. Pictures. It thinks, sees, remembers what it sees. When we see something, we see it all at once. We see the whole picture instantaneously, then we can see the detail. But big picture first, always. This thinking permeates everything the right side does. It’s instantaneous, wholistic, big picture, visual, all at once kind of thinking. This is not compatible with majority of what we do at school.
Our right side is home too our imaginations. It’s creative, playful and full of ideas. It’s not concerned or limited by time or space. Many of our most successful, creative scientists and mathematicians have exceled because of the strong spatial skills of their right side.
The right side of us is about creative thinking. Not just for doing or making art but for connecting disparate thoughts and subjects to arrive at new ideas. And not just one idea. The right side is an idea factory. Ride brain dominant minds thrive on doing, making or being around art. Visual art, music, dance, theater. Any and all. It’s happiest when being creative and the arts are a necessity for this side of us.
Right Side At School
The way things are now, not much room in school for the why part of learning. School is much more fact driven, left side. So, if you want a right brain kid to learn what’s in front of him, start with why it matters. Tell him a good story. Tell him why you’re learning it. Or how it connects to something he learned earlier. When they connect with the why, their brain makes itself ready to learn it. Our right brain kids need to know why.
While the right side of us wants a story to help us remember or get engaged with the material we’re learning, the left side is remembering names, dates and figures. But if we want our right brain kids to remember all that, we’ve got to let them connect with the humanity, the people, places, and context behind those facts and figures. Sadly, there’s not much room for this at school, especially without art programs. The arts and humanities classes are more subjective and require a different kind of thinking, which is good for all kids. Whether it’s science, history or social studies; a good story, or reenactment of a historical event, or a trip to the museum, will all bring much needed connection. And always, reading. Reading. Reading. Reading.
Thinking in pictures is a very cool thing but can big hurdle for right brain kids in school. The right brain thinks in pictures. School is based on words. The right brain is less affluent with words, so needs to translate everything it hears into images in order to learn it. That’s a lot of time wasted and that causes kids to miss other instruction. Fortunately, there’s an abundance of ways we can make learning more visual by using visual tools, like graphic organizers, making vocabulary words into pictures, allowing kids to doodle, using a more visual approach to writing and more. But overall, the more we use a visual approach to teaching, the less our kids must do to catch up.
While the right side of us is full of an endless stream of ideas, the left side is ready to organize them. Another way our brain was designed with balance in mind. But for right brain kids there’s a daily struggle between our imaginations and actually getting things done. Especially school things. School is competing for our attention and losing. And when left brain isn’t engaged, the executive function skills are also less, a big problem for school and life. One solution is Problem Based Learning, where students chose a real life problem to solve, before they get into the details. Having a real problem or focus, helps our idea kids want to get into the details to solve it.
The right side wants to explore ideas. It is designed to search out new possibilities, not just in art class, but in biology, technology, engineering and math. Everyone has this capability. But school keeps cutting back on the creative classes in lieu of more testing and test scores. The challenge is to find a balance of both. We need art, music, gym, recess ! We need human connection, emotions, understanding and empathy, that are developed through the arts. We need it for everyone. Our left brain kids need it, as well as our righties.
There is so much more to talk about and so many ways to help our right brain kids at school. You’ll find lots of helpful resources here on my blog, along with our Pinterest page. But first, I hope by reading this, you recognize your child’s strengths and can separate that from what is not working with the way they’re being taught. These are smart, smart kids. We need to get these kids feeling as powerful as they really are. And teach them accordingly.