Dianne Craft is a name that sometimes comes up during discussions about right-brained learners. She is a special needs teacher, writer and speaker who specializes in helping right-brained learners. She is one of the more popular draws at the HEAV conference each year here in Virginia and her articles get mentioned from time to time on the Homeschooling Creatively email list.
While I think that some of the individual suggestions that Dianne Craft makes can be helpful when teaching right-brained learners, I do have some reservations about her advice on the whole. Mainly because I see a lot of her emphasis is on fitting right-brained kids into the left-brained learning model (albeit with right-brained approaches) rather than on celebrating their unique and very valid learning style.
I have on and off again looked at her articles and one thing keeps jumping out at me…and that is the message that our right-brainers need to be “fixed” and here are some methods to fix them. For example, in How to Tell If Your Child is Struggling, she says this:
Who Needs Right Brain Teaching Strategies?
Children who have underdeveloped memory skills.
Children who have an auditory processing glitch.
Children who have a focusing or attention issues.
Children who have a visual/motor (writing) glitch.
Children who dislike school work.
Children for whom the more common methods of teaching are not working.
This makes right brained learners sound like they are struggling/problem learners that need extra help when they are not! They are only struggling when judged from a left-brained perspective. I wrote a post earlier about a different article that had similar assumptions of right-brainers needing help or needing to be fixed.
I am not saying that some of her recommendations might not help, but there still is a feeling that I get that while she does suggest approaching things in a more right-brained way, she is still working with left-brained values. For example, she writes:
Before you begin evaluating your child, you should know that once the process is complete you might face a fundamental choice: compensation or correction. Many educational experts debate whether it is more beneficial to help a struggling learner compensate for the learning processes that are difficult, or if time and effort should be spent in the pursuit of a correction of the processing problem.
An example of compensation would be for a child to use a keyboard at a very young age to write papers when he or she struggles with handwriting. A correction would be to do a handwriting exercise that eliminates reversed letters, for instance, and helps the child write more neatly. Another common compensation is to reduce the spelling list required at a grade level for a child who is struggling with spelling. A correction would be to train the child’s photographic memory so that the task of spelling is easier.
How about the option of changing your expectations? No where is there a question as to whether right-brained children should be writing papers “at a very young age” before they are developmentally ready for it. Right-brained learners’ typically develop their strong 3D pictorial processing skills before their 2D sequential processing skills (which usually does not start until somewhere between the ages of 8 and 10) And this is what they should be allowed to develop and where the focus should be at a young age. And it is this developmental difference (please note that I did not say disability) that results in what is often considered “late” reading and writing proficiency.
Yes, color coding spelling words or using flash cards with the answers on the front or letting kids draw out their vocabulary words can be a tool to help memorization. But that should not be the only change that you make…it is still working by improving their weaknesses (memorization) rather than on using their strengths (learning by association). Vocabulary can be learned by reading great books, spelling can be helped by focusing on patterns rather than straight memorization, math facts can be learned by using them and not just with better flash cards. Formal writing can be delayed until they are older and other forms of expression can be encouraged.
I find that while she does seem to understand a lot about right-brained learners (that they are whole-to-part learners, that the issues they have are often because of the left-brained oriented curriculums used) she does not quite make that leap that I consider so important. That right-brained learners have their own timetable and individual strengths that should be honored and valued. It is not just about tweaking the curriculum to make it easier for them. It is about shifting your entire perspective so that later reading and spelling is not considered a problem that needs to be remediated, it is considered normal development (because it is).
So if a particular suggestion works for your child, then by all means use it. Take what works. But I have also found that I have shifted to a whole different mindset…one that allows my child to develop on a different time frame as well as learning with different strengths as opposed to still trying to help him fit better into that left-brained box. And this does not mean that I can’t use a memorization technique to help him if he needs it, it just means that it is not our main focus.
Updated to Add:
I have written more about my thoughts about Dianne Craft's approach here as well.