by Betsy Hill
Earlier this week, I came across a posting on a Linked-In Group I belong to that contained an explanation of the ways that our brains apportion the work we ask them to do between the right and left hemispheres. The article then went on to advocate training left-brained and right-brained people in different ways and performing some fairly sophisticated assessments prior to engaging with an audience to determine their propensity for analytical approaches (presumably the dominant approach of right-brained people) vs. more creative and image-driven approaches (presumably the dominant approach of left-brained people). The author put a lot of work into his thought process and his article. Unfortunately, such an approach is neither right- nor left-brained. It’s simply wrong-headed.
The right-brain / left-brain findings don’t really support the concept of teaching preferentially to different sides of the brain. The two hemispheres work in tandem. Simplifying the brain into this dichotomy also ignores the fact that the learning brain has many different processes and functions and areas of specialization that are used to learn. For example, thinking of brains only as right or left-hemisphere dominant ignores the role of emotion in learning, as well as the power of learning through multiple modes to help the brain build and strengthen connections. It ignores the differences between procedural and declarative memory. Understanding how the brain learns IS critical to effective learning and training. There are a lot of good books that look at the brain and learning, such as Brain Matters by Dr. Patricia Wolfe, that translate competent neuroscience into practical strategies for teaching and learning.
Thinking of ourselves as right- or left-brained can actually lead us down a wrong path and into thinking that we can’t develop a variety of cognitive capacities. It may be urban legend, but it is also turning out to be one of many neuromyths that get teachers and trainers working on the wrong things.
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