Right Brain Dominant Learners: Can We Teach Them In School?

Right Brain Dominant Learners : Can We Teach Them in Our Schools

I grew up in an African American community where right brained learners were fairly common. The community was full of singers, dancers, athletes and artists. They all had one thing in common besides their love of the arts, they were all poor. So early in life, I associated right brain activities with  poverty — which  I rejected.  Some  earned a living relying on the right brain for a short period of time. But eventually they returned to the “real world” bitter and nostalgic about the people who crossed over.

So I learned to lead with my left brain. I would look at the entire picture in the solitude and organize my thoughts. Make a decision to execute my plan and then hand it over to my left brain to run with it. If I could not hand it over to my left brain, then I buried it deep inside. Poverty? under no circumstances, frivolous, not me. Many right brained people are not taken seriously. Left brain is more detailed oriented and the right brain is more focused on the big picture.

The left hemisphere can be described as analytical, it recognizes the parts that make up the whole. The left brain processes information linear and segregated. It efficiently processes verbal information encoding and decoding speech.  Left brained learners excel in school, it is their paradise.

The right hemisphere combines parts to create a whole. It constructs patterns, recognizes patterns and relationships between separate parts. Right hemisphere processes simultaneously and holistically. Right hemisphere is excellent at visual and spatial processing. Music allows  students to coordinate both hemisphere. Music programs disappear in hard times.

I couldn’t compete with the extroverted right brainers.  I relied on my strong logical left brain which I used to navigate my way through high school with  honors and through college. College was a struggle for me. I didn’t find the course work difficult. I thought differently. I questioned, challenged,  examined, explored, and  almost did not get through the eye of the needle.

I learned to poke it in and puke it out on demand”. Tell them what they wanted to hear in a logical organized format. Don’t raise  questions or give too much information. Keep it short, sweet and reinforce  their belief. I poked and puke it  through a Doctorate Program.  I retreated into my right brain  for rest and relaxation and wrote my truth for my eyes only. My stress sprang from overreliance of my left brain.

I promised  that when I got through the eye of the needle, I would remember all of those bright, brilliant people who got chewed up and spit out of the meat grinder. The difference between them and me was  a strong left hemisphere which pulled me through.

It is exhausting. I find respite in my right brain, rest and rejuvenation . I am committed to designing interventions  which allow students  to use their right brain to express themselves . I am committed to helping all children learn and enjoy the process. I am particularly sensitive to those who can’t follow the lock step sequential processes that are so prevalent in  schools. We are missing so much talent. So many human lives shattered before they began. Potential wasted and we suffer globally for the loss of productivity. These are the people who are filling our prisons and welfare waiting rooms.  They are the homeless, unemployed, disenfranchised. Reach them in schools, let them design our alternative energy sources, find cures for diseases. What creativity, talent lie unleashed  . If only we would educate them…..



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17 responses to “Right Brain Dominant Learners: Can We Teach Them In School?

  1. Hey Darleana! This was really interesting! It is always so fascinating to me to study the different ways people learn and think and what makes them tick! Love it!
    God bless,
    Emily Stoik

  2. If only real educators, teachers with classroom experience, had a say…

  3. Darleana,

    I love your exploration of this topic!
    Since your right brain is the part that is highly intuitive I think it would be great to learn to balance our right brain and the left brain. Imagine how powerful it would be if we incorporated our creativity and intuition with the logical side of ourselves.

    Thanks! Sherrie

    • Sherry, you are very right. I think that I enjoy learning languages because it requires that you use both sides of the brain. As I get older, I coordinate the two much better. I even teach exercises which coordinate both sides of the brain.
      Thank You for your insightful comments.

  4. I have worked with African-American Students for many years– too many years to count and I have been very lucky to have figured out that they (as well as all students) love robotics. So I have designed two curricula that includes robotics and at the same time interweaves math skills. It works very well. Let me know if you have any questions. alpha-robotics.com They students have become budding young engineers!

  5. Sylvia Guinan


    Such a unique look at right brained living. My right- brain is enthralled by your personal odyssey and ‘whole-brained’ description of your thought processes.

    You’ve managed to create a metaphorically tangible yet analytical look at the working of the mind. It’s the first time I’ve seen an educator describe it from such an insightful and personal vantage point.

    Your thoughts match what I’m reading in Ken Robinson’s ‘element’ now….

    You have the key to helping right-brain dominant kids – it’s mapped in your sensitivity, empathy and wonderful understanding of the brain.

    Love live music, theatre, story telling art, dance, total physical body response, student-led ramapages of creativity……

    Here’s to learning more about engaging the right brain to learn mathematics, and co-ordinating both hemispheres in a joyful learning adventure for all concerned.

    • I teach a series of exercises when we are in long meetings to get people to coordinate both sides of the brain when the meeting gets stuck. They are very easy and require no real agility. Throwing a soft ball in one hand and catching it with the other hand for 5 minutes gives one stress relief because it is coordinating both sides of the brain.

  6. Ravinder K Vohra

    Interesting article. The Right brain makes people more imaginative, artistic and creative.

  7. Have you read, A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future, Daniel H. Pink? I think he has an interesting perspective on the role of “right-brainers” in this new society. He likes to refer to it as right directed.

    I think there has to be a balance. You stated, “I retreated into my right brain for rest and relaxation and wrote my truth for my eyes only. My stress sprang from overreliance of my left brain.” I think Pink would argue, and I would agree, that there has to be an integration of the two. In a lot of ways separating parts of our thinking or reacting by segmenting our behavior into right/left dominant won’t allows us to succeed in the future.

    A good example of this would be Apple computers. They offer a solid product with design intrinsically incorporated in the outcome. Design and technology are linked together in order to give the customer more than just a well-made product but something that is aesthetically pleasing as well.

    Enjoyed the read and the discussion.

    • Michaela, I appreciate those comments. I was competing for resources and so I used my left brain. I was a student at the time and professors wanted to hear what they wanted to hear. The most important issue was for me to graduate and be a different type of professor. Thanks for the interesting conversation. I enjoyed it.

  8. I have been teaching Right Brained Students since 1993 Yes of course they be taught even in the same classroom as dominant left brain students. In addition it is easy to train most teachers how to it. Currently I am teaching a number of teacher over skype in two different continents

  9. Until we abandon the prevailing industrial, social efficiency model of education, right-brained learners will keep getting the short end of the stick in schools. Which is tragically ironic, because we’re at a point in time when we desperately need the direction this type of thinking can provide. Teachers often know ways to engage these learners, but are pressured to abandon them to focus on state test preparation…tests which are little more than political tools that do nothing in the service of students. Parents really need to explore more of the expanding choices that today’s educational landscape provides….charter schools, web-based learning, home- and world-based learning, learning co-ops, etc…and actively pursue the best fit for each child.

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