UK school study

Struggle with calculus? Excel in drama?

A UK study into the four Elements might offer explanations and tips for educators.

In most classrooms, there are some students who are just not ‘into’ creative subjects (like Art and foreign languages), while others struggle with the more factual ones (like Math and Science). And yet, schools (and especially colleges) have the task to help all students attaining proficiency in both, creative and factual subjects, so that all students have the potential to further develop and grow as individuals and as members of society. Therefore, sitting back and saying: ‘Ah well, Math is just not for her / Spanish is just not his thing’ is just not good enough in today’s or tomorrow’s schools.

Moving away from a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach towards empowering senior students to accept the challenges of self-directed learning, the concepts of TetraMap can help teachers, students and their parents recognise individuals’ learning preferences. Understanding some of the reasons why a student just is not ‘into’ a certain group of subjects as much as he/she is into another one can assist teachers in adjusting their approach to motivation and sharing of information. It can also support students in their development of self-esteem and self-awareness.


A recent study in the UK (2012) by William Deegan investigated the relationship between the characteristics of TetraMap’s four Elements of nature (Earth, Air, Water, Fire) with students’ most preferred and least preferred classroom subjects. Deegan found that students who were characterised as mainly looking at the positive side of life, loving to explore possibilities, enjoying to be an inspiration of others, who are often colourful, love variety, and have a great sense of fun were more likely to list creative subjects as their favourite ones than students who tended to be more orderly and focused individuals relying on their abilities to think things out, and who excel in finding logical solutions and making sense of situations.

The TetraMap approach suggests that students with a relatively high preference for the Element of Fire are naturally more drawn to creative subjects which are typically free-flowing, expressive requiring one to put oneself on the line, exploring and creating new avenues. Students with a relatively high preference for the Element of Air, on the other hand, tend to feel insecure, lost or challenged by these expectations, and often overwhelmed by their more ‘fiery’ classmates.

Catering for all preferences

Recognising some of the reasons behind the differences between those two student groups, understanding their needs and preferences, and knowing how to draw each group into the subject to create effective learning environments, are tasks every teacher of Art, Drama, Design, and Languages is faced with. TetraMap provides teachers and parents with tools, ideas, and experiences that can assist in creating interest in creative subjects for students who seem not to be ‘naturally’ drawn to them. This can happen, for example, by demonstrating the rules and order in the grammar of a language, by focusing on the symmetry in design and art, or by mixing prepared speeches with practising impromptu presentations to allow students with an ‘Air’ preference to enjoy and excel in creative subjects.

Conversely, experience with the TetraMap framework can also support teachers and students with regards to the more factual subjects like Mathematics, Physics, and Science. According to Deegan, students with a high ‘Fire’ preference tend to list those subjects as their least favourite ones. Typically required to systematically work through problems following rules and considering more or less complex relationships between relatively abstract concepts, these students can easily lose focus and interest, which is then translated into a lack of understanding and in lower grades. Recognising that these results can be, in part, due to the natural preferences of students, and knowing about the related key behavioural triggers, can greatly support teachers in developing communication and curriculum delivery strategies that draw in those students. Creating excitement and allowing a fun and enquiring environment, as well as ensuring that those who prefer fast-paced solutions have chances to practice and value slower methodologies are strategies that will help the high ‘fire’ students appreciate and enjoy the more factual subjects.


The insights gained from Deegan’s study with 212 students in the UK suggests that TetraMap is a multidimensional tool that helps teachers, students, and their parents achieve a higher level of awareness of self and others, strengthening emotional intelligence and supporting the development of higher levels of self-esteem – all aspects that are crucial to the effectiveness of self-directed learning in today’s and tomorrow’s schools.


UK School Case Study

UK School Case Study 299.66 KB 40 downloads
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UK School Case Study

UK School Case Study 299.66 KB 40 downloads

The ‘Fire’ student

A teacher warned Deegan that a particular 15-year-old would probably not last the session due to “behaviour issues”, and sure enough he did his best to disrupt the class until the different Elements were explained and he realised the value of his creative Fire nature. He then became fully engaged and used his talents to drive creativity and to encourage the group. Afterwards the teacher told Deegan that not knowing students’ Elements has often resulted in reduced learning opportunities as so often disruptive students were just removed from the class.

The ‘Water’ student

A 16-year-old said he wanted to go into nursing instead of the law his parents planned and expected for him, and could now understand why he was drawn to nursing. He went home intending to explain this to his parents, who saw Deegan a few days later and told him how impressed they were with their son’s clear explanation and his improved motivation and enthusiasm. TetraMap, they said, was the missing part of their son’s ‘decision jigsaw’ which enabled him to explain why nursing rather than law was the right choice for him.

About the contributors

William Deegan is a training consultant and certified TetraMap facilitator from the UK. He works with organisations of different shapes and sizes, and is a youth mentor working with Chartered Institute for Professional Development as part of their ‘Steps Ahead Youth mentoring’ initiative. His work with students and teachers from Thomas Becket Catholic High School, Northampton in 2012 formed the basis of this research.

Dr Andrea Polzer-Debruyne is an experienced Human Resources practitioner with particular interest in the development and delivery of evidence-based and practical solutions to people management challenges. The focus of Andrea’s recent research activities is supporting a group of TetraMap practitioners in creating evidence-based programmes for school communities. Pilots for those programmes, and the associated research, are currently run in Auckland, New Zealand.

TetraMap works with a number of schools, educators, and youth training organisations including the Rotary Youth Leadership Award, First Foundation, NZ Scouts, and Singapore-based Adam Khoo Learning Technologies Group (youth division).