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"I want my students to understand that reading is a way we construct our understanding of reality, but that our understanding of reality doesn’t have to be concrete."

“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

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Get ready for your Workshop. Explore these videos and think about how they apply to your own practice--even before our first online session begins.

In this series of videos, I describe Four Square. This is a strategy that teaches students how to read with purpose, close read, annotate and cite evidence, and take information from multiple sources to produce a single answer.

Part One: Introduction

In part one of the workshop, I introduce Four Square. This strategy is designed to enable students to work together to develop collaborative answers to complex questions that are embedded in a text. Participants begin with the outer square and write down the answer to the central question – what is the role of the individual in society? – in their own words.

Part Two: Citing Evidence

In part two of the workshop, I give each group an excerpt from Emerson’s Self Reliance and ask them to answer the essential question – what is the role of the individual in society? – based on what the author believes, and to notate how that is evidenced in the text. This is documented in the next layer of the square.

Part Three: Synthesis

In part three of the workshop, I introduce a new text. After participants read it they identify how the new author would answer the essential question. The final step is synthesis. Participants, now working with their groups as a unit, produce a consensus answer that reflect the individual answers, Emerson’s answer, and the answers from the second text.

Get ready for Session One of our Workshop.

In the first Workshop session, you have the chance to learn exactly what makes this teaching practice successful in the classroom.

You learn the preparation required to share this approach with your students; the ways you can introduce this practice to your students most successfully; and exactly how your students can benefit as a result. You also have the chance to ask questions and to share your own ideas.

Make the most of our first Workshop session, by taking time in advance to think about your responses to these driving questions:

  • What do you already know about engaging your students to work collaboratively to develop and synthesize their ideas? What about this classroom practice would you like to learn more about?
  • How do you think your students might benefit if you were to engage them even more to work collaboratively to develop and synthesize their ideas than you already do in your classroom?
  • After reviewing the videos of the professional learning sessions in preparation for our Workshop, what specific questions do you have about what you saw?
  • What ideas do you have for incorporating the read-aloud strategies presented in these videos within your own classroom? What could you incorporate directly? What would you need to change or modify to serve your students?
Get ready for Session Two of our Workshop.

In the second Workshop session, you have the chance to share and refine your own take on the professional practice introduced in Session One.

You have the chance to ask questions that can refine your understanding and impact your practice; to share and test your ideas for how you can adapt this teaching practice for your own classroom; and to support other teachers participating in the workshop as they personalize this practice to serve their own students.

You have the chance to ask questions and to share ideas, but to make the most of our second Workshop session, please take time in advance to think about your responses to these driving questions:

  • How–in your own words–would you describe the classroom practice presented in Session One? How would you describe the impact this level of engagement could have for your students?
  • What about the classroom practice presented in the first Workshop session seemed most useful to you? What single component or idea seems like it would most strongly resonate with your students? 
  • How do you think your students would respond if this practice was presented to them exactly as described in Session One? Which elements do you think you’d need to change to better serve your students? Which would you be sure to present without modifying?
  • What elements would you add? Do you have resources, materials, or lesson plans you already use that you could adapt or incorporate to better personalize the suggested approach to read-alouds?
  • What help or support would you need to present this approach in your own classroom?
  • What changes, if any, would you need to make to your school schedule or to your classroom environment for this practice to succeed for your students?