Betty Edwards (born 1926) is an American art teacher, author and founder of the Center for the Educational Applications of Brain Hemisphere Research. She is best known for her 1979 book, Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain.
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The New Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain (1979)
- Penguin Putnam/Tarcher; Revised Expanded edition (August 30, 1999); ISBN 0-87477424-1
- David Galin, among other researchers, has pointed out that teachers have three main tasks: first, to train both hemispheres — not only the verbal, symbolic, logical left hemisphere, which has always been trained in the traditional education, but also the relational, holistic right hemisphere, which is largely neglected in today's schools; second, to train students to use the cognitive style suited to the tasks at hand; and third, to train students to be able to bring both styles — both hemispheres — to bear on a problem in an integrated manner.
When teachers can pair the complementary modes or fit one mode to the appropriate task, teaching and learning will become a much more precise process. Ultimately, the goal will be to develop both halves of the brain. Both modes are necessary for full human functioning and both are necessary for creative work of all kinds, whether writing or painting, developing a new theory in physics, or dealing with environmental problems.
- This is a difficult goal to present to teachers, coming as it does at a time when education is under attack from many quarters. But our society is changing rapidly and the difficulties of foreseeing what kinds of skills future generations will require are increasing. Although we have so far depended on the rational, left half of the human brain to plan our children's future and to solve the problems they might encounter on the way to that future, the onslaught of profound change is shaking our confidence in technological thinking and in the old methdods of education. Without abandoning training in tradtional verbal and computational skills, concerned teachers are looking for teaching techniques that will enchance children's intuitive and creative powers, thus preparing students to meet new challenges with flexibility, inventiveness, and imagination and with the ability to grasp complex arrays of interconnected ideas and facts, to perceive underlying patterns of events, and to see old problems in new ways.
- As a teacher and parent, I've had a very personal interest in seeking new ways of teaching. Like most other teachers and parents, I've been well aware — painfully so, at times — that the whole teaching/learning process is extraordinarily imprecise, most of the time a hit-and-miss operation. Students may not learn what we think we are teaching them and what they learn may not be what we intended to teach them at all.
- I remember one clear example of the problem of communicating what is to be learned. You may have heard of or gone through a similar experience with a student or your child. Years ago, the child of a friend whom I was visiting arrived home from his day at school, all excited about something he had learned. He was in the first grade and his teacher had started the class on reading lessons. The child, Gary, announced that he had learned a new word. "That's great, Gary," his mother said. "What is it?" He thought for a moment, then said, "I'll write it down for you." On a little chalkboard the child carefully printed, HOUSE. "That's fine, Gary," his mother said. "What does it say?" He looked at the word, then at his mother and said matter-of-factly, "I don't know."
The child apparently had learned what the word looked like — he had learned the visual shape of the word perfectly. The teacher, however, was teaching another aspect of reading — what words mean, what words stand for or symbolize. As often happens, what the teacher had taught and what Gary had learned were strangely incongruent.
As it turned out, my friend's son always learned visual material best and fastest, a mode of learning consistently preferred by a number of students. Unfortunately, the school world is mainly a verbal, symbolic world, and learners like Gary must adjust, that is, put aside their best way of learning and learn the way the school decrees. My friend's child, fortunately, was able to make this change, but how many other students are lost along the way?
- As parents, we can do a great deal to further this goal by helping our children develop alternative ways of knowing the world — verbally/analytically and visually/spatially. During the crucial early years, parents can help to shape a child's life in such a way that words do not completely mask other kinds of reality. My most urgent suggestions to parents are concerned with the use of words, or rather, not using words.
- I believe that most of us are too quick to name things when we are with small children. By simply naming a thing and letting it go at that when a child asks, "What is that?" we communicate that the name or label is the most important thing, that naming is sufficient. We deprive our children of their sense of wonder and discovery by labeling and categorizing things in the physical world. Instead of merely naming a tree, for example, try also guiding your child through an exploration of the tree both physically and mentally. This exploration may include touching, smelling, seeing from various angles, comparing one tree with another, imagining the inside of the tree and the parts underground, listening to the leaves, viewing the tree at different times of the day or during different seasons, planting its seeds, observing how other creatures — birds, moths, bugs — use the tree, and so on. After discovering that every object is fascinating and complex, a child will begin to understand that the label is only a small part of the whole. Thus taught, a child's sense of wonder will survive, even under our modern avalanche of words.