Maybe you have heard your child talk about the "four square method" and were wondering what it is about. "Four square" is a simple technique that my team thought up a little over a year ago to find a simple way to help improve NECAP test scores at Mount Pleasant School. Using it for less than a year, Mount Pleasant passed the reading portion of the NECAP test for the first time in years (there are many other strategies successfully used at Mount Pleasant and much hard work that also helped improve those scores- but I believe that the four-square method was the key strategy that made the biggest difference). Like anything that works well, it is very simple.
By teaching this strategy and using it in our daily work (and in all subject areas) I have found that my students become much more proficient at organizing their thinking and writing more detailed answers. The key reason for using it for NECAP tests is that there are many written response questions on the test. A multiple choice question is worth one point, a written response question is worth four points. We noticed that most students would only write a simple one detail answer for these written response questions. Once we understood that they are looking for four details (each worth one point) we had to find a simple way to help kids slow down, organize their thinking, and include 4 details per response.
To use the four-square method we have the students draw a box divided into four sections. In each section they can write (or draw) one detail. From this organizational method they can more easily write a more thorough answer that earns them more points on the test. It works wonderfully and there are lots of written response questions on the test, so that adds up to a lot of extra points ready to be earned. We have been practicing using this method in class. When the students plan out an answer they think and respond better, rather than just give a simple answer. It has invigorated the discussions about the stories we read, because the students dig deeper to find the details that they would ordinarily overlook.
You can read a more in-depth article I wrote on the four square method here. The technique has now been introduced to the teachers at New Searles and teachers are using it in their classrooms. I have even heard that the kindergarten class is using it (drawing four pictures). You too as parents can use it at home. Don't just ask your child what they learned at school, ask them to name four things. Have fun with it and help remind them to "think in fours to improve test scores!"
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