4MAT – An Arts-Friendly, Brain-Based Pedagogy For Multiple Intelligences

In my early days of teaching and before obtaining my theatre arts degree, I would routinely experiment with incorporating different art forms into my lesson plans. This was not because it was instinctual, but rather I found myself teaching students from the lowest socio-economic groups, who had little to no functional literacy and numeracy skills, coupled with behavioral problems. There really was no point to using books, but I had to find a way to deliver a curriculum. I had to find a way to teach concepts and skills and to facilitate change in attitudes. Using the arts, just made sense to me in this situation. My lessons plans were done within the frame-work of re-creating real-life experiences and situations in the classroom, that were relevant and appealing to students, using media that appealed to them. And… I wasn’t an art teacher. I taught Mathematics and Integrated Science using music, visual arts, software games, and drama; I found ways to use games to show relationships in Mathematics.

People are often surprised and confused to know that I’ve used the arts to teach science or math; the prevailing notion being that artistic events and activities in education are only for ice-breakers, bonding activities and for fun – never thought of as intellectual activities in and of themselves. More and more however, research is showing that “brain-based” education, includes the utilisation of the arts as one of its important features. One of the tenets of brain-based education is that attention follows emotion, and the arts often stimulate the emotional areas, thereby creating natural conduits for remembering and connecting information.

The theatrical arts are inclusive of each student’s personal blend of intelligences as well as the overall blend of a group of students (Radcliffe, 2007) because it provides opportunities for learners that are:

• Linguistic – the writers and speakers
• Logical-Mathematical – the sequencers and classifiers
• Visual-Spatial – the picture-creators
• Musical – the rhythm and melody makers
• Intrapersonal – the reflectors
• Interpersonal – the group makers
• Bodily-Kinaesthetic – the mime and model makers
• Spiritual – the dreamers and seers
• Naturalist – the environmentalist

Using the structure of Bloom’s Taxonomy (New Version), one can see the how theatre-based activities move from lower to higher levels of cognitive activity:

Remember – Recall information from lessons
Understand – Interpreting, classifying, and summering issues to create a script
Apply – Devise, design or create a series of scenes that illustrate the issues
Analyse – Thinking about availability and suitability of theatrical/drama resources: words, space, character, body language etc.
Evaluate – Critique, monitor and test analysis and application of resources in rehearsals
Create – Sequencing scenes and doing a performance

In the older version of the Taxonomy, steps five ad six were reversed, and in this case, “create” at step five, would represent the sequencing of scenes and the performance, while “evaluate” at step six would be self and peer-evaluation of the performance. So whether old or new version, theatre arts as a framework, actualises Bloom’s Taxonomy.

But for those of us without theatrical or arts-based training, finding a way to incorporate arts appropriately and effectively could be challenging. While there are many books one can find on the subject, one of the easiest ways I’ve found to do this is to use the 4MAT Model. Developed in 1987 by Bernice McCarthy, 4MAT is an 8-step, sequential instructional model based on two theoretical constructs: Kolb’s model of learning styles and the concept of brain hemisphericity (Scott, 1994). McCarthy’s model is derived by interacting each of Kolb’s four quadrants with both left and right brain. Though not as well known, more than thirty years history of the model has yielded numerous articles and research data on the positive impact of this approach.

Below are graphical representations of 4MAT (note L=Left brain mode and R=Right brain mode), in which the number one (1) represents where the lesson begins: 4MAT areas - Adaptations, Meaning, Concepts, Skills

The following diagrams indicate which part of the model would appeal to certain kinds of learners and what the role of the teacher is in each corresponding quadrant.

Videos that explain this model are available on YouTube.

Within the preceding diagrams, one can see ways to incorporate the three learning domains or ABCs – Affective, Behavioural and Cognitive aspects – of sexuality education as described by Hedgepeth & Helmich 1996, into each lesson plan. The models also makes it easy for one to work within a Theatre-in-Education or Drama-in-Education context by using games and activities that correspond to each of the key themes in the four quadrants of the model. This last point is particularly important since “role play and other practice methods are perhaps the most important methods for sexuality education. Role play provides opportunity to practice skills and behaviours as well as to explore attitudes and feelings.” (Hedgepeth & Helmich 1996, p. 192). Using the 4MAT Model, makes the choice of teaching methodology easier, since one can use the key themes or concepts in each quadrant to guide the choice of methodology and any other educational methodology can be placed within this framework. For example, one can choose the Cause-and-Effect Model (Estes, Mintz, & Gunter, 2011) during the “Why?” and “What?” stages of the model (which corresponds to concrete experience and then reflective observation). Then, one may choose the Direct Instruction Model (Estes, Mintz, & Gunter, 2011) during the “How?” and “If?” stage (corresponding to abstract conceptualisation phase and active experimental activities), which can help facilitate the link between what was learned in previous activities and real life scenarios and situations.

The manual “It Opened My Eyes: Using Theatre in Education to Deliver Sex and Relationship Education A Good Practice Guide” is a guide that compiles current promising practices in the effective use of Theatre in Education (TIE) as a method of delivering sex and relationship education. The guide provides information for a wide variety of persons from health and social care professionals, to theatre companies, teachers and youth workers.

One example of a successful application of the arts in education is seen in Loudmouth. Loudmouth is an innovative theatre-in-education company based in the United Kingdom.

This company designs and implements relationships and safeguarding programmes to “support personal, social, health and economic education through interactive drama performances and workshops.” On their website, is a trailer of one their long running and hugely popular education programme on puberty and transitions called “My Mate Fancies You.”

Logo of "My Mate Fancies You" website

Loudmouth also includes on its website a case study, learning objectives, a storyboard and evaluation report for this programme.

One very useful and inexpensive book I like to suggest as a start, is called the Drama For Learning by Brian Radcliffe.  Although it focuses on teaching children and youth, I have found that nearly all the activities are adaptable to adult learners. While planning TIE lessons can be quite labour intensive, once they are created it’s simply a matter of tweaking or modification for future use if necessary, and in my experience the process involved in creating TIE lessons is just as fun and exciting as delivering the lessons themselves.

Do note however that my own experience in implementing the 4MAT method and in using TIE techniques (both separately and together), means that I had to become comfortable with what is lost and what is gained from using these methodologies. It became quite apparent to me that I will never be able to predict the exact outcomes of learning (though I achieve all my objectives); that my students also teach me; that I don’t have total control over the content as students bring new material to the table all the time. These are some of the things I’ve lost. In return, I do get to experience the excitement of a pedagogical style that produces continuous emerging of new things; so much more student diversity is uncovered in tasks and my teaching becomes a collaboration and experiment with willing and motivated students. Not a bad trade off I think!


About Learning (2013). What is 4MAT? Retrieved from About Learning.

Estes, T. H., Mintz, S. L., & Gunter, M.L. (2011). Instruction: A models approach (6th Ed.). Boston: Pearson.

Hedgepeth, E. & Helmich, J. (1996) Teaching about sexuality and HIV. New York, NY: New York University Press.

Radcliffe, B. (2007). Drama for learning pocketbook. Hampshire, UK: Laurel House

Scott, H. (1994). A Serious Look at the 4MAT Model. West Virginia State College Institute,WV


6 responses to “4MAT – An Arts-Friendly, Brain-Based Pedagogy For Multiple Intelligences

  1. This was an awesome read. I really love the 4Mat model. I really liked how the diagram labeled the four types of learners and their favorite questions. I also enjoyed how you pulled from your personal experience and showed that even the most practical subjects can be taught through artistic expression. I can imagine your method of teaching and facilitating being sucha breath of fresh air.

  2. Wow! I thought this was going to be too long to read to keep my attention, but it was fantastic! This method intrigues me so. I am curious though–I remember the left brain/right brain thing being debunked a while back (http://www.livescience.com/39373-left-brain-right-brain-myth.html). That being said, I don’t believe that means this method is invalid or inaccurate. After all, we all do have our certain questions that make more sense to us/grab our attention better than others. This is a great way of articulating the experience of learning in different ways than I have seen before. Mark Levand likes this.

  3. Glad it was interesting for you Mark! I’m not sure though that brain-based learning has anything to do with people being left-brained or right-brained thinkers, as indicated in the link you shared. I believe it has more to do with the different responsibilities and functions carried out by different regions of the brain while learning or interacting with materials and environment. The study you shared also stated “Anderson’s team examined brain scans of participants ages 7 to 29 while they were resting.” I wonder if the results would be different if the brains were scanned while ACTIVE and not resting??

    I also always remind myself that science “facts” change all the time as science methodology and equipment become more advanced 🙂

  4. Fascinating post! Like Tiffanie, I found the circle with types of learners to really be helpful. That specific frame connected to the experiential model to me. I am inspired to create lessons starting with the “why”, elaborating on the “what”, explaining the “how”, and exploring the “if”. I appreciate that learning is happening at each stage and for both the students and the instructor. Applying this to college courses seems to be a great approach, specifically for lower level courses. Thank you for this! – SSR

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