Utilizing Contemplative Practices to Balance Brains in Honors Education
This case study examines the use of contemplative practices in an Honors seminar with eleven first-semester students. Honors students, who exhibit strength in left brain functions, will be challenged to exercise their right brain functions.
This resource was originally developed with resources from the College STAR grant. That grant has ended and the College STAR modules will now permanently reside at the East Carolina University Office for Faculty Excellence.
This case study examines the use of contemplative practices in an Honors seminar with eleven first-semester students. Honors students are typically strong in verbal, rational, linear, abstract, temporal, rational, and analytic intelligence—their left brains. Students in this course exercise many creative and contemplative practices to strengthen their intuitive, creative, spatial, relational, holistic, unconscious, Gestalt, non-linear, and non-verbal intelligence—their right brains. This includes: visualization, drawing, photography, meditation, and dream analysis. In this context, I refer to right and left-brain intelligence as Bogen (1975, p. 25) and Ornstein (1972, p. 37) have defined these parallel ways of knowing: two modes of consciousness, two types of intelligence, or two cognitive styles.
The Honors College at Appalachian State University typically admits students who are in the top 5-10% of their high school class. High school performance and standardized test scores indicate the high ability and left-brain skills and strength of Honors students. These are high-achieving students who are often also in the gifted education programs. Among high ability Honors students, we are increasingly finding disabilities including: attention deficit hyperactivity disorders, behavioral disorders, or autism spectrum disorders. These students who exhibit both high abilities and learning differences are twice-exceptional (2e) (Yssel, N. Adams, C., Clarke, L.S., and Jones, R., 2014). They are often not identified (Adams, Yssel, & Anwiler, 2012), yet they do not fit neatly into a single category. By virtue of admission into the Honors College, students are placed in the high ability category, but many need support to accommodate their diverse learning styles. Mindfulness skills developed through contemplative practices aligned with the UDL framework is one of many ways to provide support to high ability and diverse learners.
In this Honors seminar titled Balanced Brains: Integration and Visual, Intuitive Intelligence, students learn about and exercise their visual and intuitive intelligence in order to integrate that with their more commonly exercised left-brained intelligence for whole-mind cognition. Working from the foundation of Williams and Newton’s (2007) concept of “omniphasism,” students come to better value, strengthen, and integrate their many forms of intelligence to be “all in balance.” Through this process, students become more creative, better decision makers, more competent problem solvers and, with whole mind synthesis, better able to engage with and contribute to society.
The need for counseling due to behavioral, emotional, mental health concerns has increased across the college student population (Kitzrow 2003) and is important to consider within Honors education. Honors students regularly take heavy and difficult course loads, often pursue double or triple majors, and participate in numerous extracurricular, leadership, and service positions. Many Honors students are perfectionists who hold themselves to very high standards. Perfectionism can have both adaptive and maladaptive outcomes (Wimberly and Stasio 2013). In its adaptive form, it exhibits as high self-esteem and academic performance and in its maladaptive form as psychological disorders like depression and anxiety (Rice et al 2006). Mindfulness skills could provide the needed support and tools for adaptive outcomes and success.
Support for this Module
Original development of this module was made possible by the College STAR (Supporting Transition Access and Retention) initiative. College STAR was a grant-funded project focused on partnering postsecondary educational professionals and students to learn ways for helping postsecondary campuses become more welcoming of students with learning and attention differences. Much of this work was made possible by generous funding from the Oak Foundation.
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November 10, 2022