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Aronson's Jigsaw Classroom Experiment: Activity & Technique

Instructor: Brian Morris
You will learn about Elliot Aronson and his original jigsaw classroom experiment. Explore this collaborative learning technique through a sample activity and test your knowledge with the end of lesson quiz.

Jigsaw Classroom

Aronson photo

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.

Sample Jigsaw

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.

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