Helping the Academically Stuck Student

By James Leonard

October 28, 2019

Helping the Academically Stuck Student

As educators, we often find ourselves working with a student that just seems to not be able to retain information. This student may have previously been doing fine a month or two ago, but now it seems their abilities have vanished. There may be a variety of reasons for the impasse the student is experiencing though we will only have space to address one at this time.

It is my opinion that many students who are academically stuck have reached a cognitive impasse that may be related to neurological integration. There is a good deal of research that supports this idea. Neurological integration relates to the brain’s ability to communicate across the hemispheres. Without well-developed neurological integration, students will have difficulty making sense of the concepts and information.

We have two hemispheres making up the Cerebral Cortex of our brain. Each side controls functions on the opposite side of the body. Each Hemisphere also has control over various functions based on dominance.
Such as:

Dominant  (most often Left = Right handed)

Non Dominant

Language-related activities

Non verbal functions


motor tasks


physical orientation


spatial orientation

Complex intellectual functions

interpreting music pattern


nonverbal visual 


Influences emotional aspects            


in speech (nonverbal)


intuitive thought process



We can test for Dominant Brain side with a simple test that will indicate if dominance is established and on which side if established. Place a toilet paper tube in front of the student. Have the student and tube aligned with an object across the room. Ask the student to pick up the tube and put it to their eye to look at the object across the room.
If the student uses the eye and hand of the same side then a dominant side is developed, that is if right hand is used to right eye the left hemisphere is dominant or vise versa. Dominance usually doesn’t become well established until 5 or 6 years of age.

The integration of sides is critical for good success in academic pursuits. The nerve fibers of the Corpus Callosum, the portion of the brain just below the Cerebral Cortex, connect the cerebral hemispheres allowing information to travel back and forth to be used in motor control, interpretive activities, intuitive process and decision-making as well as memory. For memory and other academic skills to be functioning well we need integration, Right / Left-brain communication must be well established. Some indicators of poor communication or connections would be problems with balance, spatial orientation, vision, or speech.

We can use a simple balance test to investigate the student’s integration.
Ask the student to stand upright with feet well positioned so as to stand on one leg. With their eyes open ask the student to lift the Right leg bending at the knee. As they do this silently count seconds from 1 to 10, make note of the time passed before balance is lost. Now do the same asking them to lift the left leg.

With visual orientation cues being used to keep upright, a reasonably integrated student will often be able to hold for 10 sec. Vision creates an integration of the hemispheres through the division of the optic nerves. Also 10 branches of the optic nerve don’t go to the visual cortex but to other areas such as the Brain Stem and motor control areas.

Now try the same procedure asking the student to close their eyes. Note: beware that students may start to tip over and not be aware they are doing so. Be ready to assist them so that they do not fall.

By eliminating visual sensory input, which is cross-hemispherical, we are totally dependent on hemispherical integration through the Corpus Callosum to maintain balance.
Without visual orientation cues to maintain balance it is often poor. Make note of the time till balance is lost for each side with eyes closed. We will want to develop a student’s integration to the level that they can remain upright for 10 seconds. We can use this test to check progress from time to time after using the Remedial Integration Activity that follows.

After determining that a student is having difficulty with balance we can conclude that integration may be a strong factor in learning difficulties. It is now our responsibility to try to help these students to overcome this lack of well-developed hemispherical integration. To do this the following exercise may be employed.

Right hand / Left leg exercise, Cross Laterals, Remedial Integration Activity
Have the student sit in a hard chair with arms of an appropriate size, say “Right Hand, Left Leg” instruct them to raise the indicated hand (bending at elbow) and knee (bending from hip). Move them slowly up, slow is important, then down, don’t allow them to drop the body part down. The child should be naming the body parts as the process is occurring, i.e. “Right Hand, Left Leg.” Vary the order and sequence so the student must always be thinking through what they are doing. A portion of a session may go as this: RH, LL – LH, RL - LL, RH – RL, RH same side thrown in to keep them thinking.
This exercise can be done with eyes open and with eyes closed; also may be done with hand reaching and touching opposite knee. Do this two times or more a day for 1 to 2 min or until student is confused. I have found students that find this so difficult that they bulk at starting a session. These students could be encouraged to crawl around the room for a period of time. This exercise mimics crawling. Crawling is a necessary part of early childhood development for neural integration. When I question parents of poorly integrated students I often find that the student did not crawl or crawled very little thus missing a critical developmental activity. Baby walkers are a hindrance to brain development, hindering the natural cross patterning associated with creeping and crawling.

This idea of crawling was known to help academically stuck students in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. When I first began to use these exercises with my children, I discussed them with an elder sister who had taught “Normal School” around the turn of the last century. She said that when her class would reach a learning impasse they would have them crawl around the room for a period of time over the course of many days until the impasse in learning was broken.

These patterning exercises are similar to those used in rehabilitation of stroke and accident victims to reestablish neuropathways. It develops right-brain left-brain inter-communication through voluntary muscle control activities. Further, the verbalization increases the powers of concentration and stimulates other portions of the brain, as well as stimulating the auditory nerves.

It is our goal as educators, be it homeschool or Christian school, to see our students become all they can for the Glory of God. Therefore it behooves us to apply all our accumulated knowledge to help them to achieve that goal. The old adage of no pain no gain may be an apt remark here since persistence and perhaps some frustration may be involved as you lead your student through this process. I do feel sure that your labor will not be in vain in the Lord. Remember we are fearfully and wonderfully made!

Jim Leonard


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