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Learning model facilitates youths' academic success.

The typical 15-year-old male committed to the North Carolina Division of Youth Services scores four grade levels below his peers on a standardized achievement test. Although standardized test scores are not the only criterion used by the division to measure educational growth, the lack of success of juvenile offenders in traditional school settings is a well-documented fact that cannot be ignored.

Experiencing academic failure reinforces a student's low self-esteem and the belief that he or she cannot do school work. Poor performance in school also is a predictor of future problem behavior.

Educators have known for a long time that students have different learning styles, but few have figured out how to accommodate this in either the way they teach or how they measure achievement. Over the years, the North Carolina Division of Youth Services has tried different teaching methods, including reading and math labs, learning activity packages, individually prescribed instructional programs and team teaching.

The agency also has tried, with varying degrees of success, enrichment programs such as art therapy, pet therapy, drama programs and poetry writing with artists-in-residence. Although staff saw improvements in students' self-esteem as a result of these projects, most agreed that an integrated approach across all subject areas was the critical missing component.

Division instructors who engaged their classes in creative activities, such as woodworking, photography, poetry, sculpture, mural drawing, movie making and storytelling, experienced notable successes in stimulating student interest and involvement because these activities are not as strongly associated with the concept of schoolwork as those found in traditional school settings. But instructors who have been hired to teach math cannot have students drawing murals simply because it is more fun than solving equations.

Rather than replicate the type of traditional academic setting in which these students have failed, the division is using the 4MAT model of instruction to create an innovative learning environment that accommodates a student's individual abilities.

Development of the 4MAT System

A state juvenile correctional system and a state educational district, the Division of Youth Services is committed to ensuring that students master certain skills before they return to their communities. Staff also want to see students experience the feeling of success while mastering these skills. This is considered a vital component of a comprehensive treatment plan. Since 1992, the division has been using an approach called the 4MAT system that attempts to address how and why a student learns as well as what a student has learned.

Bernice McCarthy, who developed the 4MAT system, used research by David Kolb and others on the differences in how people learn. The 4MAT model describes four major learning styles:

Type One learners are primarily interested in personal meaning. They like discussions, group work and realistic feedback about feelings. They learn best by listening and sharing ideas.

Type Two learners are primarily interested in facts. They like details and organized sequential thinking. They learn best by thinking through ideas.

Type Three learners are primarily interested in how things work. They like technical things and hands-on activities. They learn best by testing theories and applying common sense.

Type Four learners are primarily interested in self-discovery. They like variety in instructional methods. They learn best by trial and error.

Learners also process information using one of two modes. With right-mode processing (using the fight hemisphere of the brain), learners look at the whole picture and find patterns. Those who use left-mode processing (using the left hemisphere of the brain) analyze and solve problems by looking at the component parts.

The 4MAT system describes the natural cycle of learning as a progression of learning activities around a wheel. Instructors begin by integrating the students' experience with the students' selves; progressing to concept formulation, practice and personalization; and finally, integrating application and experience. One of the strengths of the 4MAT system is that these activities are arranged to allow the learner to use right- and left-mode processing as well as to experience all four learning styles.

The goal is to provide a variety of learning activities that include at some point in the cycle each learner's preferred style. This approach gives all learners an opportunity for success and the tools to strengthen their capabilities in non-preferred modes.

The 4MAT system has been used effectively in both academic and vocational areas, in secondary and elementary schools, as well as with adult learners in staff development settings. The Excel Corporation maintains a bank of actual lesson plans submitted by teachers who have implemented 4MAT in their classrooms.

One Teacher's Success

Although 4MAT implementation is still under way, many division instructors are seeing improvements in students' grades as a result of the new lesson and unit plans they are trying.

Earlene McLamb, a language arts teacher at Samarkand Manor, a long-term, secure residential facility in Eagle Springs, tracked students' grades after she began using lesson plans based on 4MAT. Her strategy included right-mode activities that stressed the personal experiences of the students and encouraged creativity in using the content information. In addition, students were exposed to more traditional left-mode strategies such as group discussion and writing.

From July to August 1992, McLamb used 4MAT teaching methods. During that period, out of 65 students, there were 3 A's, 30 B's, 28 C's, 5 D's and 2 F's. That translates to 51 percent of students who earned a B or better while 11 percent received a D or an F.

When McLamb returned to traditional instruction in September and October, out of 68 students, there were zero A's, 7 B's, 18 C's, 27 D's and 13 F's. In other words, just 10 percent of students received at least a B, while a whopping 59 percent earned a D or an F. From January to February 1993, after she had returned to 4MAT instruction, there were 9 A's, 42 B's, 10 C's, 4 D's and 3 F's. By the end of the study, 75 percent of students had earned a B or higher, while the figure for those who earned a D or an F remained steady at 10 percent.

While these results were not obtained as part of a formal research project, research has been done that indicates use of the 4MAT system has positive effects on achievement, retention and attitudes.

According to McLamb, other advantages of the 4MAT system--perhaps as important--are the small group discussions that break down barriers between races, genders and even residents of different cottages. The students begin to understand how others observe and interpret the same information differently, which in turn makes them more receptive to new ideas and people from different backgrounds.

Putting Theory Into Practice

Under the 4MAT system, lessons are thematic, so team teaching works well. For example, three teachers at the Juvenile Evaluation Center, a long-term, secure residential facility in Swannanoa, teamed up to teach a unit on prejudice. Art teacher Sue McMahan, social studies teacher Carolyn Alexander and home economics teacher Peggy Vines combined their classes and used elements of each subject area to create a lesson about racial differences.

Before the unit began, photography students made black and white prints of each student that were later matched to paper dolls. Accompanying each doll was a story about some aspect of a particular student's life. Based on the story, teachers then asked the students to choose a face--black or white, male or female--to go with each doll.

Students made those decisions individually, then grouped their selections together and computed the percentage of people who chose a black male, a black female, a white male or a white female for each doll. For example, students overwhelmingly chose a black male face for the doll who was dressed as a basketball player. The students then discussed with the group why they made the choices they did, and whether their decisions were based on life experience or stereotypes they held.

This unit included several other activities. For example, students had to wash the hair of a person of a different race, listen to each other's heartbeats, prepare and share ethnic foods, listen to a panel discussion of guest speakers, and draw themselves as they are and as they might look as a person of a different race. Finally, students discussed what they had learned about themselves and others. The class then created a display describing their unit for the whole school to see.

The response by students to this unit was extremely positive. Many of the activities were new experiences for them, but because they were presented in such an interesting and exciting way, students were open-minded and enthusiastic.

As teachers within the division continue to learn the 4MAT model of instructional design and delivery, officials expect to see more innovation in the classroom. Youths committed to the division have faced a number of problems in their short lives, only a few of which can be resolved during a nine-month stay in a residential treatment facility. But division officials firmly believe that by using the 4MAT model, instructors are giving every student an opportunity to do what few have ever done--succeed in school.


Lehman, Joseph D., J. David Hawkins and Richard E. Catalano. August 1994. Reducing risks and protecting our youths--A community mission. Corrections Today.

McCarthy, Bernice. 1990. Using the 4MAT system to bring learning styles to schools. Educational Leadership.

McCarthy, Bernice. 1987. The 4MAT system: Teaching to learning styles with right/left mode techniques. Barrington, Ill.: Excel, Inc.

Wilkerson, Rhonda M. and Kinnard P. Whim. 1988. Effects of the 4MAT system of instruction on students' achievement, retention, and attitudes. The Elementary School Journal.

Gary Kearney is accreditation and standards manager of the North Carolina Division of Youth Services. Cindy Thacker is staff development director of the North Carolina Division of Youth Services.
COPYRIGHT 1994 American Correctional Association, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
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Title Annotation:Juveniles: A Generation at Risk
Author:Thacker, Cindy; Kearney, Gary
Publication:Corrections Today
Date:Dec 1, 1994
Previous Article:Community service helps heal troubled youths.
Next Article:State, local initiatives target at-risk youths.

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