Monday, June 23, 2008

Tried a Right-Brained Learning Strategy for Spelling

I have recently heard the team and am subsequently teaching myself about right brained learners. The more I learn the more I realize that my older son is very right brained. I am looking for new teaching techniques and learning strategies as doing things the way I have in the past for some subjects is not always resulting in learning being achieved. Some things we’ve been doing that come ‘highly recommended’ have outright bombed and have also contributed to negative self-esteem issues and anything but a joyous learning journey in our homeschooling, especially in this last year (for my older son).

Yesterday I tried a new spelling learning technique I learned from hearing a lecture on right brained learners given by Dianne Craft. I was going by my memory. Then last night I was reading more of the book “Right-Brained Children in a Left-Brained World” by Jeffrey Freed and in that I learned a bit of a different way to teach spelling.

I am combining this technique with the Spelling Power spelling curriculum that we’ve been using for two full years now. What I do is after the program’s five minute pretest, I assembled the errors for my son to study. Yesterday I had put the errors on 3x5 index cards showing the error part of the word in red ink and the rest in black ink. Today when I tested him on those words he did it perfectly on the errors he made yesterday which had to do with using endings in which the plural word had the y changed to an I and then with –es or –er at the end. So it seems that worked. However on some of them he now was inserting a new mistake: making an error on the vowel near the middle of the word. Today using Freed’s technique, I used an 8.5 x 11 inch white paper. I wrote the word in large print. I put the mistake in a color (today, purple) and the right parts of the word in black. I then took a bright color to make a box around the whole word (something that Dianne Craft had mentioned in her lecture that I just had not done yesterday).

Today my son was frustrated by the spelling. We discussed it. He is feeling low because the spelling is not coming easily to him. I gave him some reassurance. With new information I learned from Dianne Craft and Jeffrey Freed, for the first time I asked him what he sees in his head when he thinks of the word. I had learned that often right-brained learners see in pictures not in words, even when the work they are doing is learning the spelling of a word, which is something that before now was just incomprehensible to me. I mean, to me if you are learning to spell a word it would only make sense that the things seen in your head when trying to spell out the word would be letters in the order that the word is spelled, letters going in the proper order from left to right.

So I asked him, when I ask you to spell “easily”, close your eyes. What do you see in the way the word is spelled. He told me that he sees no word. He had a weird look on his face as if I was crazy to suggest he would see letters spelled out in his head. He says he sees nothing, no image of anything with that word. Frankly I could not imagine what object would be visualized for the abstract word “easily”. I asked what he sees when he does today’s word “groceries” and “bakery” and sure enough, he said he saw a picture of bags of groceries and the other was bread lined up in a bakery case. He said the words that are not nouns present a problem for him as there is no word for it (those are the more abstract words).

I tried explaining to him that my mind is different and I happen to see the word written out in my brain, and especially more clear if I close my eyes. I told him I sometimes see a picture too, for the nouns, but when I make myself see the word such as to be able to visualize how it is spelled, it is right there floating in the air. He had a hard time believing this was possible. I then explained that one thing that he is supposed to have been doing per the Spelling Power recommendations, (which I have told him to do over and over) is to visualize that word in the air. He admitted he never did it even though I had told him to. I asked him to try it out.

I have spent hours this last weekend reading this book and trying to figure out new ways to teach my now identified right-brained learner.

In future blog posts I will share more about this book by Jeffrey Freed and hope to do a full book review. For now I feel the need to clarify the subtitle of the book “Right-Brained Children in a Left-Brained World”, the subtitle is “unlocking the potential of your ADD child”. What you need to know is that not all right-brained dominant learners have ADD. Freed says that nearly all if not all ADD labeled children are right-brained learners though. Freed also feels that a good number of right-brained learners who attend public school in America are mis-labeled as having ADD when in reality they just are right-brained learners shoved into classrooms taught by left-brained teachers with left-brained methods and they are either not learning or display negative behaviors out of frustration. So my point is that this book is about the general topic of right-brained learners. It also deals with how to help children learn, which can be modified to use with homeschooled kids or can be used in a tutoring way with parents of schooled children. The book also covers for parents, how to deal with the poor self-esteemed schooled children who have been made to feel stupid by their negative experience in the school system for struggling to learn (with the left-brained methods). If the child happens to definitely have ADD and is right-brained then this book applies to them as well.

One last note I want to make is that earlier this year this son was having an especially hard time with spelling. His diagnosis of having an eye tracking problem and getting prisms in eyeglasses plus having light therapy AND getting prescription eye glasses since he has a new diagnosis of being far sighted had a sudden huge improvement in his spelling ability. I was surprised and thrilled with that! However now that I know this son is also a right-brained learner and since he still not working above grade level on his spelling I am also trying these new teaching and learning strategies for right brained learners.


"Right-Brained Children in a Left-Brained World" by Jeffrey Freed

Jeffrey Freed's website

Dianne Craft's webstie (she discusses right-brained learners)

Spelling Power, the spelling curriculum I use which I'm further adapting with right-brained learner strategies

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christinethecurious said...

Dear Christine,

Not at all to knock what you are doing! But if you want to look into yet another way of teaching spelling, I can't recommend Spell to write and read highly enough. Whenever I've read those books on left and right brained learners, I come out right brained. My boys not so much. Using SWR, I'm beginning to spell better (OK, I only need to use spell check half as often as I used to).

The program encourages a student to mark all words according to what phonograms there are in English, and to explain the historical/linguistic reasons that English is spelled the way it is - Britain got conquered a lot, and retained spellings from other languages. For instance, queen used to be spelled cween. The Normans thought qu was more elegant and changed it by fiat. When I get the big picture, the little variations aren't as maddening as learning each word individually, and having spelling rules that are consistent also makes me not so likely to give up in anger, so obviously, I have a better attitude to teach with myself lately!

Spelling is one Shibolith that is applied vindictively in our culture, so the effort to get it right really pays off far beyond it's cost.

Here is the very active discussion group address

-Christine in Massachusetts

Denise said...

Thank you for the article and the book references! I have two students (and dh) for whom spelling has always been a struggle. The rest of us "see" the words without even thinking about it, and I've always had trouble figuring out how to teach spelling to someone who can't do that. I'm going to check out those books and try your write-it-big-and-colorful trick with my daughter.

FatcatPaulanne said...

Have you looked at Dianne Craft's illustrated sight word cards? They help the right brainers picture the word.

JM said...

Found this entry when I googled "right brained learning." We are trying desperately to help our oldest who still struggles with spelling words. I like the suggestion you used with the 3x5 cards. I am going to try that when school starts. I want to order the book you mentioned, I had already put it in my wishlist at Amazon but have to wait until we can afford it. BTW, we are using SWR as one commenter has suggested but it has not really helped or made a huge dent in the problem. :-( I look forward to reading more of your posts on this issue.


Edge of Design said...

I found your blog today by researching Right Brains. I will definitely be looking at those books closely as well as following your blog. (I don't mean to make you nervous it's just that my knowledge of right-brained is so limited and I homeschool a right-brain.) I do have the SWR so I appreciated that comment you received on that. It's time to take another look at that one. I didn't realize it would be helpful. I thought it was frustrating for me to teach. I'm left brained and now I know what it was so difficult for me. :)

christinemm said...

I have tweaked how I'm handling spelling after re-listening to Dianne Craft's lecture and hearing her say that to move the word into long term memory takes 5 days of using the flash cards.

Yesterday I wrote a blog post draft on exactly how I have evolved with adapting Spelling Power to right-brained learners. I need to tweak it.

I had also planned to do a full book review on Jeffrey Freed's book but have not taken the time to do that yet.

You can read more about visual spatial (right brained) learners at Linda Silverman's site, here is one page.

Mark Pennington said...

Here is an informative article on the relationship between auditory and visual spelling strategies:

metalman said...

First this one-solution-fits-all is frustrating. You need to understand what your student does learn and adapt the spelling problem to that. Secondly the bad spelling problem is going away. Spell checkers are now so smart and customizable.

Calvin writer said...

It's so great that you're taking the time to ask your son how he learns best instead of just assuming that he needs to learn in the traditional way! You might also consider checking out The Illustrated Book of Sounds and Their Spelling Patterns ( It teaches sound spellings with a funny cartoon to give visual learners something to remember. The company that sells the book (Child1st Publications) also sells sight word cards where each sight word is part of an image--great for right-brained learners. Best of luck!

Cache Queen said...

I am just now understanding that my bright 3rd grader learns more with her right side. I have the book that you are talking about and it has helped so much. You mentioned something and I hope this helps. I found this system called easyread and he addresses one of the eye problems that you mentioned and how to help with it. He mentions it as eye tracking difficulty and offers some advice on how to help.

crys. said...

a right brain technique that works for my son and I is breaking words down into smaller picture words like the word Wednesday my son struggled to learn to spell until we broke it down this way. I had him write Wed and draw under it a picture that comes to his mind ( a women in a wedding dress) then make the plus sign ( + ) nes and picture to represent it(He could not think of any thing so i suggested a nest - t to be drawn, and he loved the idea and drew a nest with a minus sign ( -) followed by the letter t)I again had him make a plus sign and write day and draw it( a sun rising) It worked perfectly after drawing it out he knew the spelling and has not really forgot it since ( every once in a while he will misspell it and Ill say remember wed + nest + day and he lights up and fixes his mistake and we learned Wednesday 3 years ago and he has mild autism and dyslexia