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What if you could completely shift from a teacher-centered to a student-centered classroom without completely changing your materials or the basic content of your course?

I believe you can take that step by using the Jigsaw technique. The technique can replace any point of instruction that students are exposed to new content: a lecture, video, or homework reading assignment.

It places the responsibility for both learning and teaching the material on the students, in the same way that each piece of a jigsaw puzzle is responsible for a small part of the larger picture.

Background

The Jigsaw strategy was initially developed by Dr. Elliot Aronson to ease racial tensions during desegregation in the 1970s. The thought was that if the students were required to rely on each other for the material, they would compete less, cooperate more, and learn that the students of other races were not so different.

The natural side effect of asking students to teach each other was a growth in student achievement.

The Technique

Dr. Aronson’s website dedicated to the technique has ten specific steps to use the Jigsaw strategy as it was originally designed.

At the most basic level, the technique divides the students and content, making different groups responsible for teaching different parts of the content.

I will explain the technique in slightly fewer steps to clarify how it works:

Divide:

  • Divide the content into 4-6 approximately equal chunks
  • Divide the class into equal “jigsaw groups” of 4-6 students (based on how many content chunks you have)

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  • Assign one chunk of content to each student in a group (each student will have a different content chunk)
  • Give an appropriate amount of time for students to study the material

Review and Collaborate:

  • Divide students into new “expert groups” (every student will have the same chunk)
  • Give an appropriate amount of time for students to discuss the key information from their chunk, what is most important to be shared with their groups, and practice presenting

Teach:

  • Students return to their “jigsaw group” and take turns presenting the material
  • Each student is responsible for taking notes, completing an organizer, or otherwise capturing each classmates material

Assess:

  • Students are assessed over the material from each chunk

For a different description, use the ten specific steps developed by Dr. Aronson himself, or check out the blog entry and video at Cult of Pedagogy.

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Done correctly the technique engages every student deeply in the content. It requires students to interact, explain their thinking, and rely on one another, which gives students ownership of the learning.

But…It’s not all sunshine and buttercups…

Yes, there are objections and challenges to the jigsaw technique. We live in a not so perfect world. The technique relies on equally dividing content and class groups, as well as the students’ abilities to learn and present.

As long as we know this from the outset, we can design the technique to fit our unique class. For trouble shooting, see the following article (coming soon!):

Jigsaw: Trouble Shooting for your Classroom

2 thoughts on “The Jigsaw

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