Max Anderson

Max Elliot Anderson grew up as a reluctant reader. After surveying the market, he sense the need for action-adventures and mysteries for readers 8 – 13, especially boys. Using his extensive experience in the production of motion pictures, videos, and television commercials, Mr. Anderson brings the same visual excitement and heart-pounding action to his stories. Each book has completely different characters, setting, and plot. He’s also begun a traditional series. Seven books are published, with an additional twenty-nine manuscripts completed. Young readers have reported that reading one of his books is like being in an exciting or scary movie. Visit Max at: Books for Boys Blog, Author Web Site, Video - Captain Jack's Treasure, or My Youtube Videos.

Max Anderson

Left-Brain, Right-Brain, and Reading

Who can forget the Scarecrow in The Wizard of Oz ? All he ever wanted was a brain. With it he expected to be able to think instead of having only a head full of straw.

The Bible says that we are fearfully and wonderfully made. This truth is no more evident than in the workings of the human brain. Our brains are faster than the most powerful computer. With it we think, make decisions, move, see, hear, and more. All of our internal systems are controlled by this magnificent organ, yet many people rarely give it a thought. Let’s explore our brains a little and understand the role it plays in reading. This will be especially helpful to anyone teaching young children how to read, or how to get more enjoyment out of the reading process.

Perhaps because of the complex functions required of the brain, it is designed to divide those responsibilities into different sections. Researchers call this left side and right side. The left side controls such things as logic, analysis, linearity, and verbal. On the right is conceptuality, synthesis, spatiality, and visual. You may have heard people spoken of as right-brained or left-brained. This is because of the part of their brains that are dominant. Dividing our brains in the other direction, the front, or frontal section, is cognitive thinking, while the back, or basal section, handles our feelings. This gives us four distinct sections, each with its distinct functions. Here are just a few of them.

Frontal Left

Math, logic, analysis, decision, verbal

Frontal Right

Dreamer, holistic thinking, synthesis, visual, intuitiveness: things

Basal Left

Security, caution, conservative, details, sequential, avoids risk

Basal Right

Intuitive: people, music, rhythm, sensitivity, spiritual, nurturing, interpersonal

Years ago I took a brain mapping test that helps to determine brain dominance. In preparation for this article, I dusted off the file and revisited the results. My map is dramatically right-brained and skews to frontal right. In our family we joke about our daughter as being my twin. When she took the test, we discovered how alike we truly are in our thinking. Our son’s results, however, skewed to the left side. Would it surprise you to know that he became an attorney? Here is a link to a basic test:

This information helps us understand why a stroke is so devastating and why certain functions of the body and mind are affected, depending on the location within the brain where the damage occurred.

Does brain dominance affect reading? Doctors Orton and Gillingham developed a program that has helped countless individuals learn to read. Dr. Samuel Orton was a neurologist who studied reading problems in the early twentieth century. He believed that in most cases reading problems were related to either mixed cerebral dominance or a lack of cerebral dominance in an individual. Dr. Orton and Dr. Anna Gillingham, a linguist, worked together to develop a structured, multisensory method of teaching reading to individuals with reading disabilities. We continue to use it today.

The brains of children with reading disabilities function differently from those with no reading problems. One side of the brain usually becomes dominant by the time a child reaches the age of six. If he is right-handed, the left side of his brain is dominant. If he is left-handed, then the right side is dominant. From his work with brain damaged adults, Dr. Orton believed that cerebral dominance has much to do with the ability to read. Other research with imaging has shown that in good readers, more than one side of the brain is used in reading.

The study by Orton and Gillingham found that mixed dominance or undeveloped cerebral dominance creates an imbalance that may affect the process of learning to read and developing fluent reading. The problem with reading disabilities at one time was called word blindness and more recently dyslexia or reading disability. The study revealed that if these children learn to read using a method that involves multiple senses—touch, sight, hearing, and movement—they will likely be successful readers.

Following are just a few clues to identifying right-brain children or adults: They may take notes but lose them or have a hard time keeping track of their research. They have difficulty making up their minds. They’re good with people but often daydream. They enjoy writing fiction or mysteries, drawing, or playing music. It’s easy for them to lose track of time. They’re spontaneous, and people find them fun or witty. At the same time, following verbal directions is difficult. They’re unpredictable, easily get lost, can be emotional, and don’t like reading directions. They may also listen to music while studying.

Clearly, the left-brained person is completely the opposite when it comes to most or all of these traits.

It’s important to note that we have holistic brains. This means we use both sides and they interact and communicate together. No one, except as a result of disease or injury, is 100 percent left-brained or right-brained. But we are brain dominant. We learn better, have a comfort level, and lower the learning-curve when we can process information in a way that suits our dominant side. When forced to learn counter to our preferred styles, we get bored, frustrated, or even stop learning.

There is passive and active reading, just as there is passive and active listening. Reading is a left-brain function that utilizes our prefrontal lobes. These areas are active in our speech and listening centers and help us to find meaning in symbols. Otherwise, letters would simply be marks on a page.

Hemispheric dominance has everything to do with learning to read. This helps explain why many children struggle with reading while some don’t learn at all. Although we hope that every child will be able to read, it may not be the child’s fault when this doesn’t happen.

Much of reading instruction focuses almost entirely on a left-brained approach. Yet, when children enter school, it’s their right sides that are developing at a far greater pace. Therefore, reading instruction forces children to use their weaker sides before it has developed properly. Left-brained reading instruction has been used for decades. It’s the method most often taught in teaching colleges today. So when a student is unable to learn by that method, he or she might be mistakenly labeled as disabled and incapable. The truth is the dominant side of their brains simply aren’t being stimulated in the process. It’s no wonder, then, why graphic novels—books with lots of drawings and pictures—have become so popular, especially with boys.

I grew up a struggling, reluctant reader. My skills and interests leaned toward visual learning. Even though my father was the author of over seventy books, some of them children’s books, I didn’t read any of them. Parents, grandparents, teachers, educators, and homeschoolers would do well to understand better how the brain functions in reading and learning. Armed with this information, they will be better prepared to teach each unique child in their families, classrooms, or circle of friends.

The Scarecrow was only half right; having a brain is just the beginning. Understanding how the various components work together is the key to teaching, reading, learning, and success in the lives of our children.


River Rampage