In the world of education, there’s always someone searching for a “key” that will open up a child’s ability to learn efficiently. And in many cases, that key can be a technique or method geared toward triggering the brain. Sometimes this key can fit; however, most often, it doesn’t.
In recent years, a group of programs supposedly based on scientific research on the brain has emerged. The set of programs are known as right-brain education – an educational system based on the belief that the best way for students to learn is to have them utilize the portion of the brain controlling creativity.
The promise of Right Brain Education has been taken up by several educational organizations. Schools specializing in the Montessori Method and several Asian countries have either initiated some form of it into their private and public education curriculum. There is also some talk among special educators of possibly using it to help students with learning disabilities.
While Right Brain Education sounds like an effective teaching technique, there is a problem: the programs incorporating this method have never been fully studied. On top of that, recent research on the function of the brain indicates that the right-brain/left-brain is more aberration than reality. For these reasons, Right Brain Education may or may not be the key educators are looking for.
The Right-Brained or Left-Brain Myth
On November 21, 2011, the Yahoo website, “Healthline” featured an article by Lisa Collier Cool entitled “5 Brain Myths – Busted.” The second myth in her article addressed the right-brain/left-brain concept.
According to Cool, there’s a belief that right-brain dominant people (in other words, those who utilize their right brain for thinking) are “imaginative and artsy” while left-brain users are more logical and reason-driven. This belief has been around since the late 1800s and has been accepted as fact among several educational communities. Also, it has given rise to the notion that the brain’s operations are divided between the two hemispheres.
Recently, brain scan experiments have dispelled this myth. First, the scans revealed the brain was more intricately linked than previous thought. Many of the functions perceived to be centralized in one hemisphere were actually being shared (Cool, 2011).
Also, studies into split-brain patients (those who either had the connection to the hemispheres cut or had portion of the brain removed as a way to treat epileptic seizures) were still performing the same cognitive tasks they had done before the operation. Even critical functions such as language were not permanently altered of damaged. In many cases, the various function of the brain had been moved to healthier areas – despite hemispheres (this is particularly true for those who had epilepsy during childhood).
On the other hand, there is evidence of specific hemispheres of the brain controlling the opposite sides of the body. The left- side controls the right side and vise-versa. There have been cases in which stroke victims lost the control or function of one side of the body opposite of the damaged hemisphere. However, the brain has proven to be durable: in some cases, stroke victims can relearn to use the portion of the body that was affected by the condition.
Still, the myth persists. Best-selling pop-psychology books have been written on the subject, and a small but sizable number of educators have taken notice.
The Right-Brain Education Method
As mentioned, there are several educational programs associated with the right-brain education method. These educational companies have flooded the Internet with their products. Many of them offer books, CDs, and other material for a hefty price.
Without a doubt, the most popular ones are not necessarily found on the Internet. In the United States, the popular Montessori schools have used something similar to right brain education. In fact, the private school organization has been credited with creating the first program.
In truth, it’s hard to say who was responsible for creating it. Italian educator Maria Montessori, founder of the Montessori school, is often given credit for being an influence for the method. Her school’s curriculum was designed to adhere to a child’s natural psychological development. It often used a constructivist model in which working hands-on with materials, rather than direct instructions, were emphasized.
Also, several blogs and articles on the right brain education method point out she referred to a child’s brain as being “absorbent” and being able to take in a lot of information through memory and tactile or creative means.
An actual right Brain education model may have been started in Japan by Education Professor Makodo Shichida. The Shichida Method, as it has become known over the years, has been popular in several Asian countries and Australia. According to the website, “shichidahk.com” It is an early childhood enrichment program meant to:
Activate the innate abilities of the right brain. Enhances the whole brain by connecting and synchronizing the functions of both hemispheres. Emphasize parent-child bonding. Bringing out the best in thechild (shichidahk.com, 2011).
The method also focuses on building photographic memory as well creating a balance between the “brain, heart, and body.” In other words combine logical reasoning, with emotional/creative growth.
In the United States, Pamela Hickhein, founder of Right Brain Kids, has been credited as a founder of Right Brain Education. In a letter to a parent, Hickeim described herself as a “Master Shichida trainer.”
Hickein started two programs under the Right Brain Kids banner, TweedleWink and Wink. While she adheres to Shichida’s methods (such as the right brain is open through age 6 and then closes), she breaks away in several area including (1) expanding it to older students – in some cases adults, and (2) blending Montessori and other techniques to create what she calls a “whole brain” approach.
In a letter to parent, Hickein also stated that her method – as well as Shichida’s uses the “heart”
“You can only access the right brain through love,” she wrote.
Creativity versus Reason
While many of these programs follow the right-brain education concept, they also attempt to use techniques to trigger the other half. Then again, if the right brain/left brain theory was removed from the literature of these programs, they can be viewed as being as programs that foster tactile or “hands-on” lesson over the standard direct instruction (lecture-read-class work model).
Does such a method like this work? It depends more on the testimony of the students and their parents rather than scientifically collected data. To date, the concepts of Right Brain Education has not been thoroughly tested.
Still, there are critics. Eric Chudler, a neuroscientist and director of Education and Outreach at the University of Washington’s Engineered Bio materials. He stated in the education.com article “Left Brain, Right Brain in the Classroom” by Hannah Boyd as saying: “In my opinion, much of the left brain/ right brain work is not of much value.”
With such a statement, it would appear that Right Brain education is a bust. However, it’s the science that influences this concept that has come under question. The programs, themselves need to be further examined to see if they really work.
Still, Chudler points out that good education will always use both sides of the brain.
“For most complex functions, both sides of the brain are important,” he was quoted as saying. “Also, it is impossible not to teach both sides of the brain.”