Texas schools had recently become desegregated. In many schools, the teacher stood at the front of the room to give information and as students raised their hands to answer questions, he/she would acknowledge individual student participation. Students found themselves competing for grades and the favor of the teacher, all while adjusting to the new look and feel of desegregated classrooms.
In 1971, Elliot Aronson, a social psychologist, was asked to observe schools in Austin, Texas and assist them in addressing the rise in violence and racial tension in classrooms. He quickly noticed that there were no collaborative opportunities to learn, increasing tension between students of different backgrounds and widening the gap in student performance. His solution was to experiment with jigsaw groups, where students were placed in diverse groupings based on race, ethnicity and gender. Titled jigsaw because of the interdependence necessary for students to complete tasks, each student was given an independent responsibility that was one part of the puzzle necessary for the final group product.
Students were now forced to interact across racial and ethnic lines. Aronson and his team quickly observed a reduction in racial tension and an increase in the number of students achieving. This jigsaw experiment was duplicated in many schools in the district and similar results were observed. Aronson measured the success of jigsaw grouping against desegregated schools and classrooms where the technique was not being used. This research confirmed that the technique was effective in addressing many of the concerns of the district over time and when implemented consistently.
This shift toward cooperative and collaborative learning using the jigsaw technique has become common practice in today's classrooms. While originally implemented to address issues of desegregation, the jigsaw technique is now used to create diverse student groups based on many factors including learning style and ability. The following sample activity illustrates how the jigsaw technique works.
We have a class of 15 4th-grade students being introduced to the three branches of government. Using the jigsaw technique with student groups, the goal is to have each student become an expert on one of the branches and work with their assigned group to give a full overview of all three.
- In this example, students are assigned to five groups with three students in each group. Each student is assigned a shape - circle, triangle or square - that determines if they will focus on the legislative (L), executive (E) or judicial branch (J). This original group of three students is referred to as the home group, where students will begin and end the activity (refer to image below).
Each student is assigned a different branch of government
- Each student is then temporarily assigned to a new expert group with other students who are responsible for the same branch of government (refer to image below). For example, all triangles will become experts on the executive branch and will leave their home group to work with other triangles to learn about the executive branch only. Materials for the branch of government will only be provided once students are in their expert groups.
All executive branch experts work together
- After learning all of the key information about their assigned branch of government, students will return to their home groups. Each group member will be responsible for sharing their expert knowledge on their branch of government with the other group members. Group members will work together to create a full overview of what the three branches of government are and what they do.
This 3-step process to using the jigsaw technique can be used for any assignment or project where you desire to have students collaborating around information or resources. Much like the original work of Elliot Aronson, the goal is to create opportunities for students to become interdependent and gain an appreciation and respect for the diverse contributions of others. This collaborative environment aids in creating a culture of respect in classrooms and gives students the chance to work with and learn from students that they may not otherwise choose.
By creating home groups, individual students are given clear responsibilities that must be met to ensure the success of the group. To address the presence of diverse backgrounds and abilities, students are then assigned to expert groups. There, they gain additional knowledge about the topic and learn with and from other students before going back to 'teach' their home group about their topic. These experts fit their individual puzzle pieces together, or 'jigsaw' the information, to create a complete final product.
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