Get Schooled: When the Right Brain Understands What the Left Brain Is Doing

February 26th, 2010 by Kim Lenz

If teachers can understand the way students learn, they can understand how to teach. The trick is that every student has a different style of learning.

Some students are more “right-brained” – creative problem-solvers who excel at seeing the big picture. Others are more “left-brained” – logical, rational thinkers who can analyze details.

This fall, two Hampton Roads Academy teachers decided to see what would happen if they created a curriculum serving both types of learners.

When Karen Massengill and Kim Baust learned they would be co-teaching 24 fifth-graders, they started talking about their own educational philosophies. They wanted to see what would happen if they created two rooms – a “right-brain” room with no desks and a more traditional “left-brain” room.

The “Right Room,” as their students call it, features a fluffy rug and blue-patterned pillows. The students don’t have assigned spots, as they might in a typical classroom. Every morning, the students and teachers start in the “Right Room,” where they sit in a circle for their morning meeting. The meeting gives the teachers and students a chance to chat about their lives or interests. Baust says the meeting is so much fun, she’s sometimes tempted to spend the whole day just catching up.

“We want every child to feel like they’ve been seen and they’ve been heard,” she says.


HRA fifth-graders sprawl in the “Right Room.”

The teachers wanted to start every day in the Right Room because it eased the students into their day. When it’s time to read in class, the students can sprawl out, lying on their stomachs with a book the way they might read on a bed at home. Massengill and Baust say the Right room has had positive effects on students.

“The right-brained kids have become even better at problem-solving and they have this outlet. The whole day hasn’t been a challenge,” Baust says. “And some of our students are very structured and when we started, they’d say, ‘Just tell me what to do.’ This brought them out of their shell a bit.” There is no “back of the room” where students can hide, she says.

For math and science, the students file into the “Left Room,” which still isn’t as traditional as some classrooms. Its walls are bright green, and the desks are not arranged in rows, but in “pods” of four. It also has the collaborative atmosphere of the other room.

The Left Room offers structure and the transition between the rooms helps prepare students for their future as high-schoolers. “It’s encouraging independent learning,” Massengill says. “When they get to high school, they have to have the tools to find information themselves. There’s no more hand-holding.”

What Side’s Your Brain?

I took a quiz in high school that pinned me as more right-brained. Interestingly, I took this quiz: and came out 54 percent left-brained and 38 percent right-brained. Which side of the brain do you use more?

When the two teachers first came up with the concept, they weren’t sure how it would be received by the administration or parents. But the administration embraced the idea when it was pitched, and parents are happy their kids are enthusiastic about school.

And the concept hasn’t only affected the students. Both Massengill and Baust seem to love co-teaching; they plan all of their lessons and projects together. At this point, they even finish each other’s sentences and seem to share the same thoughts.

Baust says Massengill makes every idea better. Massengill marvels that when she suggested the class try blogging, Baust had just asked the administration about it. Both say co-teaching has given them reserves of energy they didn’t have before.

“I’m less tired and their learning isn’t solely on my shoulders,” Baust says.

It’s too early to say whether the students’ grades have improved, but their enthusiasm has been a great barometer for the experiment’s success. One student brought a lava lamp in to give the Right Room an even more relaxed ambiance. Others have reported they like reading for the first time in their lives. Soon, they’ll take the ERB standardized tests (private schools do not take Virginia’s Standards of Learning tests) and the teachers can’t wait to see the results.

“We know it’s good, but we want to see some hard, concrete proof we’ve made a difference,” Baust says.

But their biggest goal is that when the students look back on their school experience, fifth grade will stand out as the year they enjoyed learning.

“I want them to realize, ‘I can do it,’” Baust says.

A Virtual Art Gallery
Walsingham Academy’s Upper School recently started a blog to show off student art. It’s a genius idea, and a great way to keep distant family members updated on a child’s progress. If you click on a picture, it enlarges and allows you to see every paint stroke. Check out the student work by clicking here.

One Response to Get Schooled: When the Right Brain Understands What the Left Brain Is Doing

  1. Anonymous

    February 26, 2010 at 4:09 pm

    Very exciting. Education style concept invigorates the teachers and the students and meets the individual needs of both. Kudos to Karen Massingill, Kim Baust, and HRA administration.

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