Fixing Right-brained Learners?

Cindy over at Apple Stars has a thought provoking post about Creating Value for the Right Brained Learner. In it she talks about how many of the things that you read about r-b learners, while acknowledging their strengths are still geared towards somehow “fixing” them:

Right-brainers are not broken! If there are left-brained learners and right-brained learners, why isn’t there a plethora of negative labels for the left-brained learner? Each type of learner should be valued for what it offers. Each learner should be allowed to flourish in the environment that supports their timeframe and process. Just because the left-brained value system is so prolific in our society and culture doesn’t mean it is superior. It means it is accepted, which means the supports are in place, which means it is easier to value what already exists.

I really want to write more about this, but it is too late right now. But I will say that I had the same initial reaction when I started reading A Global View of Strategies for Visual Spatial Learners. I actually did not make it past the first page, because some of the characterizations really bothered me…I was in a bad mood when I was reading, so I chalked it up to that. But when I came back this evening, I had the same gut reaction.

In the first paragraph, Kay Pittelkow states:

The model proposes some gifted children show the characteristics of a gifted visual spatial learner but have problems that prevent them from being good auditory sequential learners.

Problems that prevent? Must every child be a “good” auditory sequential learner? Is that the goal to which all children must aspire? Where are the articles that talk about the gifted auditory sequential learner that has visual spatial problems? (They do exist…I am one of them!)

She goes on to list list the characteristics of the “auditory limited spatial learner” and while the list includes many strengths of a r-b learner, it also list things such as

  • poor at phonics, needs a sight word approach
  • may be inattentive in class
  • poor at spelling, needs to visualize words
  • poor handwriting, should use keyboard
  • poor at timed tests
  • may be disorganized
  • struggles with easy work

And so on. Out of the 22 characteristics, 10 were negative (such as those listed above) and 2 could be seen as negative or positive depending on your point of view (prefers to develop own methods of problem solving and arrives at correct solution without taking steps).

Now…are those negative characteristics true of r-b learners? Technically, yes. R-b kids are not phonics readers, come later into writing, do not perform well on timed tests. So what’s the problem? The problem is that it takes the perspective that the l-b learning style is “correct” and the r-b learning style is “incorrect”.

It assumes that phonics is the correct way to learn to read and if you don’t learn by phonics at age 6 or 7, then you are “poor at reading” i.e., something is “wrong”. Yet, r-b kids, if not forced to try to read before they are ready or in a manner which is contrary to their learning style are NOT poor readers. They are not even “late” readers. They are “right on time readers” for them. It is only the system that labels them “poor” or makes them feel “less than”.

R-b kids are “poor at rote memorization” and have trouble memorizing their math facts. They are good at mathematical reasoning. L-b kids are better at memorizing their math facts, but are not so great at getting the mathematical reasoning…but this is not seen as a “problem”. It is not considered age appropriate for a child to add and subtract negative numbers in 1st or 2nd grade. Why not? Jason could. And I bet a whole lot of r-b kids could probably pick up those concepts as well if presented in the right way. But when they do it, they are seen as “advanced” in math concepts. Well, why can’t l-b kids be considered “poor” in math concepts? Or why can’t l-b kids be considered “ahead” in learning to memorize their math facts?

Now I am not saying that we should label kids who don’t get higher math concepts at earlier ages as “behind” or “poor”. We most definitely should not. It would be just as unfair to the l-b kids as what happens now to r-b kids. Different kids learn things at different times. The question that I have is why is the l-b learning style considered the “norm” and r-b kids are measured as either “ahead” or “behind” based on that?

Homeschooling luckily takes the “competition” part out of learning (for the most part anyways…many of us are somehow accountable to system in some way). There does not have to be an “ahead” or “behind”. There does not have to be an “advanced” or “slow”. You do not have an “advantage” by being an l-b or an r-b learner. You just learn the way that you are supposed to learn on the time frame that is right for you.

The article went on to say:

Recurring ear infections during the first two years of life were identified by Silverman to be the most likely ailment contributing to the development of a gifted VSL.

I remember reading this in Upside-down Brilliance and it bothered me there too. This implies that the reason that kids are r-b is that there is something wrong with them…they were damaged in their early years. That being r-b is something that needs to be overcome.

Please. Jason has had one ear infection his whole life (when he was four months old). You don’t “catch” being an r-b learner. They are not damaged goods. They do not need to be fixed. They need to be taught in a way that honors and values their learning style.

Yes, they may have challenges in certain areas. But so do l-b learners! If you want a good laugh, come over and watch me try to put together a complex lego model from those danged picture directions I can never get. Don’t ask me to build anything (when I built our guinea pig cage I had the liner cut too short because I forgot that in order to have a 5 inch lip, I needed to add 10 inches to my measurements (5 inches for both sides). Ask me why I have a navigation system in my car (I can not find my way out of a paper bag) and even though I made it through 2 years of 5-hour calculus in college, I could not explain what an integral or even a limit represents…I could do the calculations pretty well, but did not always understand why or what I was doing.

OK, I said that I was not going to write anything because it was late, and now here it is even later! Ah well. And I do feel bad ranting about something I have not been able to read completely through. (Yes, I got all this from the first page!)

But this really is not about the article. It is about the system/society in which we live that does not see how damaging it can be for our r-b kids to be told over and over again that there is something wrong with them because they do not fit the current standards of “normal”. What we need to do is to let them know that “normal” is not their normal. And that is OK and even great!
So yes, Cindy. I get it. You are not alone.


About throwingmarshmallows

I am a homeschooling mom to two sweet, energetic boys although I am probably not exactly what you would expect (definitely NOT your stereotypical homeschooler, if there is really such a thing). I support progressive political causes (yes, liberals can and do homeschool!) and I have found a spiritual home in the Unitarian Universalist Church. I have no real idea of how I want to use this blog, but will probably focus on homeschooling, things that I am learning from my boys, personal thoughts and opinions and maybe some liberal politics thrown in, who knows!
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5 Responses to Fixing Right-brained Learners?

  1. Cindy says:

    Standing up and applauding!

    You took my off-the-cuff rant and brought in exactly the things I saw in the article that bothered me considerably, as it always does in any other source that seems to focus in the same way, and how others accept it.

    Your late-night, off-the-cuff thoughts are much more succinct and gives better fodder for discussion and explanation than mine :-)

    Thanks for your words and voice on the subject! And thanks for standing with me :-)


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  3. JoVE says:

    Yep. Spot on. And maybe I really am a right-brained person since I can never understand why people have problems with the directions that come with IKEA furniture (I bet the thought of them makes you shudder, LOL). Certainly among people I know that really is a deficit. :-)

    Have a great holiday season. I put a llink in my comment on Cindy’s post that you might want to check out, too.

    There, it was the last thing I copied so I just pasted again. He isn’t talking about problems with kids. He’s talking about problems with education in an increasingly creative economy. And he has a great example about a famous dancer. (in the link on the page I linked to)

  4. ReneeM says:

    This really really peaks my interest…

    I have a very visual kiddo… taught himself to read the summer (That would make him 5 1/2) BEFORE kindergarten… but still can’t spell simple words half the time. (he’ll be 7 next week) – to compound the aural “problems” – he is hard of hearing :)

    I would like to learn more about learning styles… I think it would sure help. ANy book suggestions?

  5. Stephanie says:

    Yup! I have a whole page of right-brained learner resources here:

    It lists good articles, books and email lists.

    Also includes a list of r-b and l-b traits to help you get an idea of which your child might fall into.

    Hope that this helps!