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Prejudice in the Classroom: Jigsaw Groups

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  • 0:07 Contact Hypothesis
  • 1:18 Jigsaw Classroom
  • 2:42 Benefits of Jigsaw
  • 3:47 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Natalie Boyd

Natalie is a teacher and holds an MA in English Education and is in progress on her PhD in psychology.

Prejudice creeps into many parts of society, including classrooms. In this lesson, we'll look at how educators can set up classroom activities to reduce prejudice between students.

Contact Hypothesis

In 1954, the Supreme Court handed down a verdict on Brown v. Board of Education. In the verdict, the Supreme Court said that it was unlawful for public schools to exclude students based on race. The result was widespread desegregation of schools across the United States.

The psychological theory behind the Court's decision is that of contact hypothesis, or the belief that exposure with members of a group different from yours is enough to reduce prejudice.

Did it work? At first, desegregation had profound negative effects. Social psychologists found that racism actually went up in integrated schools and that hostility had a lasting effect on the self-esteem of African-American students.

Why wouldn't the contact hypothesis work in schools? Some psychologists believed it was because of the environment of the schools. Classrooms were competitive places, with students fighting to get the best grade at the expense of their classmates. And, many schools did very little to encourage black and white students to work and socialize with each other. As a result, desegregation did not help to reduce prejudice, at first.

Jigsaw Classroom

Psychologist Elliot Aronson and his colleagues decided to do something about the way diverse classrooms approached work. They wanted to find a way to teach students while addressing some of the issues around diversity, including the competitiveness and tendency for students of different backgrounds to avoid each other. Their belief was that if they could design classroom activities in a certain way, they could indeed reduce prejudice.

Aronson and his colleagues developed what they called a jigsaw classroom. Like a jigsaw puzzle, they set up classroom activities so that each student was a unique piece of the puzzle. Students were put in small groups and forced to work with each other. In fact, each member of the group had one or two things to do, and if everyone didn't do their part, the final product wouldn't be finished.

In this way, Aronson and his colleagues did away with the competitive nature of classrooms. Instead, they set it up so that the students depended on each other to complete an assignment. This caused students to see themselves as part of a whole and the class as a single unit.

Furthermore, Aronson and his colleagues set up the small groups to be diverse groups. White students and black students, boys and girls were all working side by side and depending on each other. Suddenly, people from very different backgrounds were not only working together, but rooting for each other. Slowly, prejudice began to die out.

Benefits of Jigsaw

There have been many, many studies done on jigsaw classrooms since Aronson and his colleagues first presented the idea in the 1970s. When studies were done comparing jigsaw classrooms to traditional classrooms, it was found that students showed less prejudice and had higher self-esteem when they were in the jigsaw classrooms. In addition, students from jigsaw classrooms did better on standardized tests and had lower rates of absenteeism.

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