6 Left-Handed or Right-Handed: Reading, Writing Performances and Support System

Rochambeau Lainy


This text is the preamble of a larger study that will be published in December 2020. The research focuses on disabilities in school, particularly laterality, reading performance, writing, and support systems in schools. The data analyzed in this chapter were collected from 33 students in grades AF2 and AF3, enrolled at College Emmanuel Kant of the city of Cayes. Student ages ranged from 8 to 13 years.

Keywords: disability, left-handedness, functional asymmetry, performance, reading, writing and support system

Etid sa a se yon lòsyè nan yon refleksyon ki pi elabore k ap pibliye an desanm 2020 sou zafè elèv ki gen andikap. Nan kontribisyon sa a, nou konmanse etidye  fenomèn lateralite, randman nan lekti ak ekriti, ak politik akonpayman nan lekòl yo. Done nou analyze nan atik sa a soti nan kolèj Emmanuel Kant ki nan vil Okay. Nou te obsève 33 elèv AF2 ak AF3, ki gen  laj  8-13 zan.

Mo-kle : andikap, lateralite, asimetri fonksyonèl, randman, lekti, ekriti, politik akonpayman


Hemispheric dominance, or laterality, exists when one side of the body exerts a functional predominance over another (Rivière, 2000; Fagard, 2012). It is the most obvious evidence of the mechanism of the predominant cerebral hemisphere. Since it is a phenomenon involving hands, feet, eyes and ears, and affects higher cognitive functions, it seems useful and necessary to study its impact on children’s reading and writing performance.

Researchers accept the hypothesis that there is a functional asymmetry in the exercise of these organs. This asymmetry is dictated and imposed by neurobiological predispositions (Hecaen, 1973; Habib, 2009). Negative judgements are often made against left-handed people, considering them to have a disability due to this preference. Being naturally left-handed is associated with mental degeneration or an anatomical anomaly (Bertrand, 2001; 2011; Renault, 2016).

The ease with which a child naturally uses the right hand is symbolically perceived as an asset since the left hand seems, according to tradition and prejudice, to be negative, clumsy and unproductive. It is widely misunderstood that functional asymmetry does not only come from neurophysiology. What is dictated and predefined by hemispheric brain predispositions is sometimes modified under the influence of negative judgements, socio-cultural influences, educational choices and pressures, educational preferences and traumatic contingencies. What happens when the functional asymmetry of the body is aggravated by these actions in a way that interferes with an already lateralized neurophysiological function? Being left-handed or right-handed is a normal and natural anatomical phenomenon that only sociocultural judgements and preferences cause to be perceived as disability. What does the Haitian school offer in such circumstances?

We suspect that many major linguistic disorders, such as dyslexia and dysgraphia, which impair cognitive development and complicate the learning process in Haitian children, are often the result of a process of imposed lateralisation or undiagnosed laterality caused by failures in the educational system. Being left-handed is not in itself a problem, but the judgement and treatment inflicted on the left-handed child are very often the cause of disabilities that prevent learning and development.

Objectives and methodological elements

The study on forcible switching in lateralization and performance in reading and writing follows the theoretical framework proposed by socioconstructivism (Vygotski, 1934; Darnon, 2000) which emphasizes socio-cognitive conflict and interaction in language enrichment and knowledge acquisition, as well as Stanislas Dehaene (2007)’s principle of “neuronal recycling”. Under the “neuronal recycling” theory, reading is presented as an act involving visual and cognitive perception. The eyes are the organs through which the brain recognises stimuli (graphic signs) and participates in the organisation of the grapho-phonological correspondence system (Dehaene, 2007).

Our investigation examined students with cross dominance, a category that was known to be stigmatized, harassed and even physically abused. The study examined the tasks to be completed, the performance gaps in the exercise of the lateralized parts of the body (the hand and the eye), the teaching materials, and the pedagogical means implemented. All of these components will be used to demonstrate that students’ performance in reading and writing do not stem from the fact that the students are left- or right-handed but from the educational system and the conditions in which they learn.

Data collection tools

Two tests were administered: motor laterality (hand use) and sensory laterality (eye use) over a five-month period. The Edinburgh Handedness Inventory[1] and other simple laterality tests were used to determine which of the two hands the child uses to write, draw, throw an object, eat, comb his hair, greet someone and so on. Usage laterality and graphic laterality were checked for differences in performance between the hands. Hand tests are made in relation to the functioning of the eye, to check for possible conflict between the eye and the hand. Emphasis was also placed on visual predominance to identify the directing or dominant eye. The manual and visual tests are followed by writing and reading tests in order to verify language skills and to study the consequences of the phenomena observed on the cognitive development of the subjects. We used the L’Alouette-R and BALE (Batterie, Analytique du Langage Écrit)[2] tests to assess reading and writing skills.

The examination of visual and manual preference enabled us to test two strategies: tracking the eyes from a point through a five-centimeter hole in a sheet of paper and using a pen right in front of the subject with a background. Manual gestures such as opening a water bottle, sharpening a pencil and unbuttoning a shirt were also observed, in addition to monitoring the psychological state of the students.

It was useful and necessary to verify whether the subjects of this survey population (left- and right-handed) had a visual preference opposite to their manual preference and to what extent cross-dominance affects the functioning of language, as we focused on the linguistic alterations caused by the pedagogical structures in place, educational preferences, traumatic contingencies and the socio-cultural context.

Data and interpretation

Laterality and functional dominance

  • The 33 students observed in AF2 and AF3 included 15 females and 18 males.
  • Seventeen, or 51.5%, are cross-dominant, characterized by the predominance of the right hand and the left eye ;
  • Eleven, or 33.3%, are manually and visually dominant only on the right, while five, or 15.1%, are manually and visually dominant only on the left.

Pedagogical practices

Disorders of written language affect students’ intellectual progress and psychological development. They derive from the weakness of an educational system characterized by uncontrolled school bilingualism, inflexible teaching/learning systems, undiagnosed language problems and undifferentiated pedagogy.

The teachers that were observed in the study consider their class as a homogeneous entity. They are unaware of even the simplest methods to detect visual disturbances and visual predominance in children. Problems of cross-dominance are unknown to them as well. They are not familiar with educational terminology and don’t seem to be aware of the impact of language on children’s cognitive development and psychological well-being. They have no resources for assisting a child with reading and writing problems.

In this case, a gap is noted between the age at which written language learning begins and the language skills the child already has. This discrepancy can be explained by the fact that young Creole-speaking students who have no oral experience of the French language are asked to perform linguistic and cognitive tasks in a language they don’t know. Children whose socialization happens in Creole are introduced to French without any attention to the necessary transition from auditory to visual representations in that language.

Performance in writing

Writing is a priori a motor activity, involving gestures and movements generated by cognitive and neurophysiological functions. It underlies reading.

After examining the notebooks of sampled studentls in AF2 and AF3 and observing them in reading situations, we administered a short writing test. Below are the two texts that were read to the students:

 Text 1: AF2

Une jeune dame élève de la volaille. Sa basse-cour est remplie de poules, de coqs, de canards et de dindes. Parmi tous ces oiseaux, elle a un coq tout blanc qu’elle appelle “cocorico”. Text taken from the reading training manual, AF2. 33 words

 Text: AF3

Le vent soulève la poussière du sol. Celle-ci peut contenir des microbes ou tout autre élément nocif. En toussant ou en éternuant, nous envoyons dans l’air des microbes capables de contaminer les personnes qui sont près de nous. Lorsque l’air est chargé de toxiques, on dit qu’il est pollué. L’air pollué est dangereux pour la santé. Text taken from the reading training manual, AF3.

Here are two examples of their handwriting:

Text written by a left-handed student at  AF2 level, collected on 29 May 2019, Collège Emmanuel Kant.
Text written by a right-handed student at AF2 level, collected on 4 June 2019, Collège Emmanuel Kant.

The majority of students have troubles with written language that appears to come from difficulties with the transition from the oral to the visual experience. Writing is blocked by poor grapho-motor coordination, reflecting problems of movement, lack of automatism, lack of understanding of time, space and language. The students seem frustrated about their perceptual, orthographic and graphophonological difficulties. We also noticed cases of poorly formed and crashing letters, variation in the height of phonemes and coordination problems. This writing is uneven, illegible and incomprehensible. The copying exercises submitted to the AF2 students in the sample show that learning to write did not seem to begin at the age of 4-5 years.

The problem of time and speed can also be observed in AF3 students. When copying a short text of 56 items, many errors are observed, reflecting transcription problems. These students produce erroneous and incomprehensible writing. The graphophonological correspondences that are now considered useful at this stage of learning to write are difficult to establish. However, when it comes to exercises in Creole, some of their problems disappear, since they have experience of auditory representation in this language. Graphic disorders and clumsiness in the way words are written are caused by factors ranging from body posture to more or less severe abnormalities.

Performance in reading

After they had copied down these two short texts, we asked each student to read his or her work. This language activity requires decoding of grapheme-phoneme correspondences which includes perception, recognition and processing of written signs, part of a project of deconstruction-reconstruction, co-construction and partial or global understanding of signs, which revealed further problems. Writing problems also imply reading problems. This seems normal and obvious to us given that the act of reading implies the act of writing in the sense that writing underlies reading.

We noted confusion of phonemes of close and distant sound, poor pronunciation, problems of recognition and discrimination, irregular reading of syllables and words. The majority of the students invented fake words and misread even the words they should know. We also noted a lack of attention, characterized by wandering eyes, a recurrence of writing and reading errors, poor acuity and difficulties in coordinating hand movements with visual perception.

The words made up by the children in attempting to read and the difficulties in converting written words into the sound of language seem to be the results of a failure to grasp the connection. The graphic test revealed the weaknesses in writing, which reveals the students’ inability to overcome certain obstacles. Their reading difficulties suggest the presence of visual impairments affecting both their written language and cognitive development.

Psychological and personal impacts

Difficulties in reading and writing have a negative impact on each child individually as well as as on the class as a whole. The consequences are emotional with an impact on their psychological state. The setbacks are felt as a personal failure and have repercussions on the overall school record. As these students face stigmatization and trauma, they tend to drop out. Many of those who stay are more inclined to engage in activities that would relieve  them from reading and writing. They give in to restlessness, disruption, mockery and distraction.

The majority of them are slow, confused, anxious, impulsive and tense. They are aggressive and uninterested in activities involving the cognitive system. Their reading deficiencies are often transformed into omissions and specious additions. Negativity is a source of withdrawal, and lack of motivation and self-esteem.


Whether the subject is right-handed cross-dominant with the left eye, or left-handed cross-dominant with the right eye, whether he is right-handed or left-handed with corresponding laterality, it seems useful to consider, in addition to so-called internal neurological factors, socio-cognitive impacts to explain the roots of production and correspondence problems affecting the reading and writing process. It is often attributed to the phenomenon of cross laterality that certain reading and writing deficiencies are found, especially when the functional predominances are provoked and dictated by neurological predispositions. Educational, socio-cultural, family and environmental considerations show that the situation is more complex than we imagine.

Left-handed and right-handed people are normally placed within the same category. Thus, contrary to popular judgements, laterality in itself is not a source of problems, it does not alter the natural intellectual functioning of the subjects. Nor is it the cause of psychological and cognitive disorders since it is a natural and normal phenomenon. If a hasty and simplistic judgement considers the two examples of text written above by two left-handed and right-handed students AF2 and AF3 as direct consequences of this phenomenon, we propose to look elsewhere for plausible explanations for such shortcomings. Since these students’ speech and cognitive problems are undiagnosed, the clashes and deficits that they experience in reading and writing are the results of the limitations and failures of the school policy applied by the Haitian education system.


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Bertrand, Pierre-Michel, (2011), Nouveau dictionnaire des gauchers, Paris: Imago.

Darnon, Céline et al., (2000), Des conflits pour apprendre, Paris: PUG.

Dehaene, Stanislas, (2007), Les neurones de la lecture, Paris: Odile Jacob.

Fagard, Jacqueline, (2012), “Aux origines de la préférence manuelle”, Enfance, volume 1, no. 1, pp. 97-114.

Habib, Michel, (2009), “Développement de la dominance cérébrale : revue des données disponibles et proposition d’une hypothèse originale”, Développements, volume 2, no. 2, pp. 5-26.

Hécaen, Henry, (1973), “L’asymétrie fonctionnelle hémisphérique et le comportement”, Information (International Social Science Council), volume 12, pp. 7-23

Renault, Anna, (2016), La main gauche. Médecine humaine et pathologie, ffdumas-01484350

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Vygotski, S. Lev, (1934/1962), Thought and Language, Cambridge: MIT Press, 1962 (en russe, 1934).

  1. The Edinburgh Handedness Inventory is a test that examines the movements of the right and left hand, through performance of ten tasks.
  2. L'alouette-R is a reading test written by Pierre Lefavrais in 1965. The first edition was published in 2005. This test is intended for children of ages 6 to 166 and of CP to Grade 12. The objective is to evaluate the speed and time of reading, as well as the errors.BALE (Batterie Analytique du Langage Écrit) is written by M. Jacquier-Roux, G. Pouget, S. Valdois and M. Zorman. This book was published in 2010. It has five lists of ten words.


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Disabilities in Haitian Schools by Rochambeau Lainy is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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