Encouraging students to work collaboratively to develop and synthesize their ideas.

“To encourage my students to better synthesize and form their ideas, I ask them to look at a variety of texts and then to construct their answers to questions about their reading collaboratively. In doing this, one of my goals is to teach that answers can be flexible and can change as more information becomes available.

“In the process of completing this exercise, my students learn how something that may be right for them might not be right for someone else; and that there are differences of opinion and perspective. This process gets students thinking about what it means to form an argument and to have a point of view, and what it means to change your mind in the midst of an argument.

“I call this strategy “Four Square.” The way it works in the classroom: First I divide the class into small groups of four and give each student a poster board and four squares of paper. Next, I pose a question to the class. Then, as the students work they answer this same question four times, once on each sheet of paper, working from the outside to the inside of the poster.

“The first time, students work individually and answer the question from their own thoughts and understanding. The second time, they answer it using evidence from a common text. The third time, they have a conversation with their group and answer it incorporating someone else’s perspective. The fourth time they come up with a synthesized group answer that honors all the different perspectives in their group.

“These posters are also a way for students to understand how knowledge can be gained in a small group and be shared into a larger perspective. This creates a whole community of learning within the classroom.”

Cathlyn Dossetti

Cate Dossetti has been teaching English for 16 years. She graduated from Smith College with a Bachelor’s degree in English and a minor in Education. She completed her Master’s degree in Curriculum and Teacher Education at Stanford University. She ... Full Bio