Most people know the saying: Two heads are better than one. Similarly, one brain with two integrated hemispheres can be equally as powerful. It is common knowledge that the brain has two hemispheres that are bridged by a bundle of nerves that travel across the corpus callosum. Although this overpass exists, it doesn’t mean that it is always used. In fact, you will often hear of people claiming to be right or left brain dominant, and many people function quite well using predominantly “half a brain.” However uniting the power of both hemispheres and assimilating experiences, students can create an internal environment for optimal learning.
What is Hemisphere Integration?
Hemisphere integration is the communication between and activation of both the left and right hemispheres of the brain. When hemisphere integration is low, the two hemispheres are not communicating well, there is an imbalance between the right and left sides, or one hemisphere is inactive while the other remains active. For almost every activity that we perform, hemisphere integration is essential because it allows us to unite and comprehend multiple sensory inputs. Dr. Dan Seigal suggests, A healthy and productive mind "emerges from a process called integration."
What Can We Do to Integrate the Brain for Optimal Learning?
Hemisphere integration can be activated and achieved by doing cognitive, physical, and mindfulness activities.
- Cognitive activities can be used as mental warmups or remedial activities. I like to use The Working Memory and Hemisphere Integration Bundle because it offers fun, game-like activities that help students exercise attention, strengthen working memory and engage both hemispheres of the brain. Many of the activities were created with the Stroop Effect in mind - named after John Ridley Stroop who first researched and published the effect in England in 1935. Later, his findings inspired the Stroop Test which has been shown to measure selective attention, cognitive flexibility, processing speed, and executive functions.
- Physical activities can also get the hemispheres communicating. Crossing the midline activities/exercises are any physical movements with the arms and legs that cross an invisible line that separates the right and left sides of the body. When this is done, both hemispheres are activated and bilateral coordination is also developed. Playing upbeat music and letting your student(s) come up with their own creative ways of crossing the midline can be fun. You can let them stand in a circle and each student can design their own motion that the group can repeat. Here are a couple examples:
- Lift your right knee and touch it with your left elbow and repeat five times, then reverse and do the same with the opposite elbow and knee.
- Stand with your feet a comfortable distance apart, then bend over and touch your right foot with the left hand, stand and switch sides.
- Mindfulness is yet another tool that can be used to integrate the two hemispheres of the brain. Mindful or conscious learning is a mental state achieved by focusing one's awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one's feelings, thoughts, and sensations. Students can learn this metacognitive approach to consciously manage attention and activate different parts of the brain. To learn more about mindful strategies for students, CLICK HERE. If you are interested in mindful products for the classroom, CLICK HERE.
Cheers, Dr. Erica Warren
Dr. Erica Warren is the author, illustrator, and publisher of multisensory educational materials at Good Sensory Learning. She is also the director of Learning to Learn and Learning Specialist Courses.
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