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Teaching in a ‘whole brain’ classroom

| September 21, 2010

Neethling is known as South Africa’s ‘creativity guru’ and his company, Solutions Finding, has had enormous success in ‘profiling’ individuals and corporates from all walks of life, both locally and internationally.

Briefly, Solutions Finding offers brain profiling instruments in a variety of disciplines. Known as NBI®, the Neethling Brain Instruments provide assessments of an  individual’s thinking preferences within a plethora of circumstances, including relationships, learning and teaching styles, communication styles, and preferred study methods.

The tests offered by NBI® are designed with accessibility and simplicity in mind. A test takes about 30 minutes to complete, is done online, and comprises the selection – in order of personal priority – of responses to a batch of 30 questions, each of which offers four answer choices. Once the initial questionnaire is completed, the candidate
is offered a further 16 questions, the answers to which generate a refined or ‘eight-dimensional’ profile.

Profiles can modify educator’s approach

The profile is generated within seconds of completing of the online test, and the profile is despatched to the candidate’s consultant, who will forward the profile to the
candidate and offer additional services such as a full written analysis or a personal interview. All NBI® profilers (or practitioners, as they are known within the community) have been accredited by NBI®, an organisation which has Sector Education and Training Authority (SETA) accreditation.

How can an NBI® profile modify an educator’s approach so that teaching and learning become a ‘whole brain’ enterprise? Neethling’s research indicates that the human brain is not only divided into left (logical) and right (creative) hemispheres, but further into four equal quadrants, each of which is the custodian of different thinking preferences. The quadrants are known as L1 and L2 and R1 and R2. The basic attributes of the four quadrants are described as follows:

The L1 thinking preferences are focus, essence, accuracy, diagnosis, analysis, realism and assertion. The L1 thinker may be seen as critical and is very often goal-orientated. L2 thinking preferences include systematic and conventional planning, efficiency and punctuality, adherence to timetables and routine, admiration of
organisational skills and promptness, attention to detail and careful consideration of all possibilities and eventualities.

The R1 thinker is probing, imaginative, speculative and curious, flexible and inquisitive and is easily able to synthesise existing information or circumstances in order to develop new ideas and trends. Strategic thinking and problemsolving go hand-in-hand with the R1’s ability to synthesise information. R2 thinkers are ‘people people’. They thrive on interaction with their peers, relatives, colleagues and friends. They enjoy social contact, are supportive and empathetic, perceptive and receptive. R2s are generally communicative, approachable and great team players.

New understanding can invigorate teaching and learning

It must be said that teachers traditionally favour left-brain thinking. The curricula and learning areas on offer in most education systems are aligned with left-brain thinking and outcomes,
and educators are generally expected to conform to the mould.

A contributor to the success of a whole brain classroom is the educator’s ability, through knowledge and understanding of learners’ thinking styles, to adapt content and teaching styles to embrace all thinking preferences. The NBI® Student Profiles explain not only the candidate’s thinking preferences but also suggest appropriate study methods to enhance learning.

The whole brain classroom is a vibrant, adaptable and dynamic learning environment that caters to all thinking preferences and learning styles. Additionally, it becomes an environment in which the teacher is no longer bound by perceived limitations imposed by curricula. Boredom, indolence and lack of participation are substantially reduced when each learner is stimulated through triggers that enhance participation and understanding.

Whole brain teaching moves away from the ‘one size fits all’ model and assures equal opportunity teaching and learning for all participants. With small adjustments to lesson planning, presentation and assessment, the teacher in the whole brain classroom activates learning in each of the four brain quadrants.

Assessment an avenue to put the whole brain to work Assessment continues to be a necessary evil and the subject of much debate. Final summative examinations are still the accepted way to evaluate learners’ educational success. However, continuous assessment can and should be complementary to, and inclusive of, summative assessments.

Project and cooperative learning tasks provide a natural platform for whole brain assessment. L1 learners will respond well to tasks that include instructions to conduct
research, to analyse, and to find information that proves facts or conditions. L2 learners will enjoy tasks that afford the opportunity to give explanations, compile reports, test theories and devise action plans. R1 learners will thrive when being asked to invent and design concepts and strategise and to discuss and report on scenarios. They will happily extrapolate information by virtue of their highly developed sense of curiosity and the ‘what if?’ syndrome. R2 learners will be satisfied with opportunities to work in groups to discuss, dramatise and examine societal cause and effect.

When preparing assessments, educators should give all learners some level of choice but, finally, each and every learner should also be assessed, at various times, in terms of all four brain quadrants. The beauty of this is that it affords the educator the opportunity to report on each learner’s level of achievement in terms of thinking preferences. A caveat must be issued at this point. Educators tend to categorise their students in terms of ability, work ethic and quality and quantity of work rendered, among other criteria.

Whole brain teaching is not an opportunity for further categorisation. If both educator and learner are sufficiently familiar with the workings of the whole brain, encouragement will be given to learners to ‘cross over’ into quadrants of lesser preference in order to maximise their thinking skills. This could be compared to an advanced form of ‘brain gym’, which is executed with full awareness and understanding of individual thinking preferences.

Teaching and learning within a whole brain classroom is an invigorating, dynamic and sustainable process that affords both educators and learners the opportunity to explore and maximise their potential in education.

Janey Edwards recently retired from Redhill Preparatory School to pursue her career in brain profiling. Contact her at


Category: Spring 2010 Edition

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