Social psychologist Elliot Aronson introduced the jigsaw classroom in 1971, while a professor at the University of Texas at Austin. It was first used as a teaching/learning strategy to help defuse a potentially explosive situation in Austin—its racially segregated schools were slowly desegregating. The primary purpose of the technique was to help teachers eliminate desegregated social patterns that emerged in racially diverse classrooms; likewise, it was applied by teachers for defusing violence in desegregated schools, as well as easing social problems among diverse students.
It is frequently used in elementary and secondary classrooms and, although less a fixture in college classrooms, it is nonetheless applicable. The name jigsaw is derived from its method of having each student become an informational puzzle piece; that is, students assemble in small groups in which each member becomes an expert at his or her subject or learning task. Each individual shares his or her information with the other members and then presents it to the entire class. Aronson believed the learning environment in traditional classrooms was full of competition, which created an atmosphere of turmoil and hostility. He believed that traditional classrooms often have the tendency to favor the “good” or more advanced students, ignoring those that are less advanced with different learning styles or needs.
The concept’s original purpose was to reduce racial conflict and promote minority students’ learning motivation and learning outcome. Another rationale for the jigsaw method underscored the idea that each individual learner was unique, and his or her role as a team member emphasized his or her contribution to the team through the learning process. Specifically, the method utilized cooperative learning, similar to a jigsaw puzzle, with each piece presenting each student’s part in helping other students understand the entire project. Each student is essential because each is responsible for a segment of the project that the teacher assigns to that particular group. In other words, students of jigsaw classrooms have to cooperate and work with each other. Otherwise, their assignments cannot be completed. This cooperation is thought to be a valuable tool in preventing tragic events, such as the Columbine shootings in 1999. Jigsaw classrooms allow students to appreciate each team member’s contribution and presence. As a result, hostility and anger diminish when students work together cooperatively.
In jigsaw classrooms, teachers can follow 10 steps to implement the jigsaw techniques:
- Teachers divide the entire class into small groups, with each group consisting of five to six students; the exact number of team members and teams depends on both the number of students in that class and the complexity level of the project. Most important, each team should be as diverse as possible, highlighting differences like gender, ethnicity, cultural background, and ability.
- Teachers assign a student as the discussion leader for each session on a rotating basis. The team leader’s duty is to call on other team members in a fair manner to make sure that each member participates evenly.
- Teachers divide that particular school day’s learning task into several segments, making sure they match the number of students.
- Teachers assign each student on every team the responsibility for one segment.
- Teachers allow each student enough time to read over his or her segment in order to become familiar with it.
- Each student on each jigsaw team is responsible for a specific segment. The group gets together as “expert groups,” discussing and exchanging their research results. After that, they rehearse the presentation they will make to their individual jigsaw team.
- Teachers request students to return to their jigsaw team.
- Students present their segment findings to their team, while other teams’ members are encouraged to ask questions for clarification.
- Teachers visit each jigsaw team, observing the process and helping team members successfully complete the learning task. In addition, if any team member attempts to dominate or disrupt the team, the teacher should implement an appropriate intervention. However, it is recommended that the team leader handle the entire learning task, instead of involving the teacher. The teacher can train team members how to intervene when faced with difficult members.
- This step centers on assessment. Teachers should administer a quiz based on the group’s particular learning task, which helps students understand cooperative learning.
Jigsaw classrooms have several advantages compared to traditional teaching methods. From a teacher’s perspective, (a) it is easy to implement within the classroom, (b) it can be easily combined with other teaching strategies, (c) there is no time limitation or requirement when using the strategy, and (d) it increases both retention and achievement of minority students. For students, benefits include that it (a) is an efficacious method of learning; (b) disperses personality conflicts and/or tension in diverse classroom, while creating a more amicable learning environment; (c) encourages students’ listening to their peers; (d) succeeds in fostering friendships while creating mutual respect among students, regardless of their individual differences; (e) promotes students’ learning motivation and engagement in their tasks more actively; (f) builds up less advanced learners’ self-confidence; (g) promotes team building skills; and (h) improves students’ research ability, such as gathering information, organizing their resources, and so on.
A teacher might experience several difficulties when implementing a jigsaw classroom strategy. First, teachers have to ensure that students have ample research resources to complete their project. Second, teachers need to spend more time helping less advanced students so they do not produce inferior work within their respective jigsaw group. Third, when dominant students try to control the group, teachers need to be able to effectively deal with the situation. Fourth, teachers need to encourage bright students to develop the mind-set that helping their team members is an excellent method to prevent boredom.
- Aronson, E. (2000). The jigsaw classroom. Retrieved from http://www.jigsaw.org
- Aronson, E., & Patnoe, S. (1997). Jigsaw classroom. New York: Longman.