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Teaching to the Whole Brain: General Guidelines

Although the two hemispheres of the brain process information differently, we learn best when both are fully engaged in learning. Just as we would catch more balls with both hands, we catch more information with both hemispheres processing and integrating the learning. Teachers should design lessons so that students can integrate the new learning into a meaningful whole. In doing so, students get opportunities to develop both their strong and their weak learning style preferences. Here are some ways to do that in daily planning:

  • Deal With Concepts Verbally and Visually. When teaching new concepts, alternate discussion with visual models. Write key words on the board that represent the critical attributes of the concept, then use a simple diagram to show relationships among the key ideas within and between concepts. This helps students attach both auditory and visual cues to the information, increasing the likelihood that sense and meaning will emerge and that they will be able to accurately retrieve the information later. When using a video presentation, show the smallest segment with maximum meaning, then stop the tape and have students discuss what was shown.
  • Design Effective Visual Aids.How we position information on a visual aid (e.g., overhead transparency, board, easel pad, video screen) indicates the relationships of concepts and ideas. Vertical positioning implies a step or time sequence or a hierarchy. Thus, writing
    • Delaware
    • Pennsylvania
    • New Jersey

is appropriate to indicate the order of these states’ admission into the Union (chronology). Writing them horizontally

Delaware, Pennsylvania, New Jersey

implies a parallel relationship that is appropriate to identify any three populous eastern states. Avoid writing information in visual aids in a haphazard way whenever a parallel or a hierarchical relationship among the elements is important for students to remember.

  • Discuss Concepts Logically and Intuitively.Concepts should be presented to students from different perspectives. For example, if you are teaching about the U.S. Civil War, talk about the factual (logical) events, such as major causes, battles, and the economic and political impacts. When the students understand these, move on to more thought-provoking (intuitive) activities, such as asking what might have happened if Lincoln had not been assassinated, or what our country might be like now if the Confederate states had won the war.After teaching basic concepts in arithmetic, ask students to design a number system to a base other than 10. This is a simple and interesting process that helps students understand the scheme of our decimal number system. In literature, after reading part of a story or play, ask students to write a plausible ending using the facts already presented. In science, after giving some facts about the structure of the periodic table of the elements, ask students to explain how they would experiment with a new element to determine its place in the table.
  • Avoid Conflicting Messages. Make sure that your words, tone, and pacing match your gestures, facial expressions, and body language. The left hemisphere interprets words literally, but the right hemisphere evaluates body language, tone, and content. If the two hemispheric interpretations are inconsistent, a conflicting message is generated. As a result, the student withdraws internally to resolve the conflict and is no longer focused on the learning.
  • Design Activities and Assessments for Different Learning Styles. Students with different learning styles express themselves in different ways. Give students options in testing and in completing assignments so they can select the option best suited to their learning styles. For example, after completing a major unit on the U.S. Civil War, students could write term papers on particular aspects of the war, draw pictures, create and present plays or write songs of important events, or construct models that represent battles, the surrender at Appomattox, and so on. Simulations, role-playing, designing computer programs, and building models are all effective assessment tools in addition to the traditional paper-and-pencil tests.
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