Monday, March 28, 2011

Cindy Gaddis and The Right-brained Learner

I first met Cindy Gaddis, author of the Apple Stars Blog, virtually, a few years ago when a friend recommended her work to help me better understand my right-brained son.  I met her in the flesh this past weekend at our homeschool conference.  My son is still thanking me for attending Gaddis' workshop.

Here's the thing about right-brained learners -- they are both both fantastically brilliant and entirely misunderstood.  According to Gaddis, right-brained learners have the auspicious honor of being most likely to be labelled in a school setting.  "Traditional schooling", says Gaddis, "Teaches in the left-brain fashion."  Given my son's propensity to slip into the movie playing in his head without the slightest provocation, I can assume that, were he in school, he might be labelled "ADHD".  Given his preference for visual art and construction over the written word, I can also see how he might be labelled "dyslexic".

Gaddis teaches that right-brained learners typically enjoy "extraordinary imaginations" and think "in pictures."  She lists the following creative gifts as those shared by many right-brained learners:

  • drawing/art 
  • computers/video games
  • theatre/showmanship
  • fashion/sewing
  • building/Legos 
  • music/dance
  • puzzles/mazes 
  • gardening/cooking 
  • math/numbers

On the surface, it would seem that schools would value these traits.  The reality, though, is that since these skills appear in a right-brained learner long before those skills that schools value appear, they are typically squelched so that the child can learn to read, write, and add according to the left-brained developmental schedule.  A seven year old right-brained learner might not be able to read, for example, but s/he might play complicated music by ear or draw pictures showing sophisticated perspective.  Gaddis explains that the child is still engaged in a story; the story is simply expressed through other mediums than the written word.  Eventually, the child will get to the literary manifestation of stories just as eventually many children learn to play an instrument or to draw perspective.  It just doesn't happen in the same order that the traditional school system has deemed acceptable.

Having a right-brained learner can be a challenge, then, for a parent who was traditionally schooled.  As much as I appreciate my son's beautiful brain, the way it captures images and transforms them into art and music, the way he can solve complicated math puzzles while still sometimes relying on his fingers for addition, I wade through periodic waves of murky disquietude.  The fact is that he is just now finding a level of comfort in his reading abilities; he has only recently taken to reading for pleasure.  He has many stories to tell, but his spelling makes it difficult for him to get them on paper.  And then, of course, there is the math and his judicious use of the abacus, his fingers, and calculators.  These things have worried me because I was able to read and write before kindergarten.  Rather, these things have worried me because I was so highly praised by my teachers for being able to read and write before kindergarten.

Yet, my little man has brought me paper after paper filled with stories, sometimes moving, sometimes funny, always in pictures, sometimes with words.  He is indeed a very talented story-teller.  He creates settings out of Legos and blocks, paint and glue.  His characters are always vivid, his plots always engaging.  He can take a simple piece of music, assigned to be played on one hand, and turn it into an electronic symphony that expresses his mood and elevates mine.  He can record his favorite part of a story or our day through pictures and elicit a response that I had not previously known that I felt.  He can, as I mentioned, solve math puzzles that stump the rest of us without being able to explain how he did it.

Cindy Gaddis assures me that his fluency in writing through words and doing math by memory will soon match his artistic, musical, and construction fluencies.  In the meantime, it is my job to view him through right-brained lenses, understanding that just because his order of development does not match the one that the traditional American school system arbitrarily chose as its standard, it does not mean he needs to change.  I am the one who needs to recognize that his beautiful brain is more than just interesting and, I will admit, often times, amusing.  It is exactly the way it is supposed to be.

drawn circa 5 years old
*There is a great list of famous right-brained learners at this link.  Among them are such academic slouches as Thomas Edison, Walt Disney, George Washington, Marie Curie, and Steven Spielberg.


Cindy said...

I love your understanding of my perspective on right-brained learners. You are spot on! I can tell you have already honed your observation skills with your right-brained child. It is awesome that you are already collecting your own "evidences" of the brilliance of a right-brained mind through his creations. Isn't it cool that what you are seeing, I have seen? I do understand how difficult it is to keep the faith as we wait out their timeframe, but it is TOTALLY worth it!

LakeMom said...

Thanks so much Cindy. It i so nice to hear from you. It was tremendously helpful to attend your workshop last week. I look forward to that book you mentioned.

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