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 AND CULTURAL DIVERSITY American education has been in a state of crisis for almost as long as we can remember. This has ...»

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In one of our groups there was a boy whom we will call Carlos. Carlos was not very articulate in English because it was his second language. He had learned over the years to keep quiet in the classroom because, frequently, when he had spoken up he had been ridiculed by some of his classmates. In the Jigsaw method, Carlos was assigned Joseph Pulitzer's middle years. But the Jigsaw method is not magic; when it was Carlos's turn to communicate his paragraph to the other students, he had a great deal of trouble and was very uncomfortable about it. Indeed, he later told us that, early on, he actually liked the traditional way better. This is not surprising; in the system we had introduced, Carlos was forced to speak, whereas before he could avoid discomfort simply by remaining quiet.

The existing situation was even more complex. It might even be said that the teacher and Carlos had entered into a kind of implicit conspiracy: During the first few weeks of school, the teacher had gradually learned not to call on Carlos because when she did he would stumble, stammer, and fall into an embarrassed silence, and some of the other children would make fun of him. Her decision undoubtedly came from the kindest of intentions - she simply did not want to humiliate him. But, unfortunately, by ignoring him, she had, in effect, written him off, which reinforced his counterproductive behavior. In addition, the teacher's attitude implied that Carlos was not worth bothering with--and this message was unintentionally conveyed to the other children in the classroom. Children notice things and draw their own conclusions; they came to believe that there was one good reason why the teacher was not calling on Carlos: She felt he wasn't smart enough.

Indeed, it is likely that even Carlos himself began to draw this conclusion. When one looks at the dynamics of that situation, it is no wonder that research had shown that desegregation often resulted in a further decrease in the self-esteem of underprivileged minority children.

Let us go back to our six-person group. Carlos had to report on Joseph Pulitzer's middle years, and was having a very hard time. He stammered, hesitated, and fidgeted. The other children were not very helpful; they had grown accustomed to a competitive process and responded out of this old, overlearned habit. They knew perfectly well what one does when a rival kid stumbles - especially a kid from a different ethnic group whom one believes to be stupid. They ridiculed him, put him down, teased him. During our experiment a couple of the youngsters in Carlos's group said such things as "Aw, you don't know it," "you're dumb," and "You don't know what you are doing."

JIGSAW BASICS !12 In our first experiment, the groups were being loosely monitored by a research assistant who was moving from group to group. Observing this situation, our assistant intervened by saying something like: "O.K., you can say things like that if you want to; it might be fun for you, but it's not going to help you learn about Joseph Pulitzer's middle years, and you will be having an exam on Pulitzer's life in about 20 minutes."

Notice how the reinforcement contingencies have shifted! No longer do the children gain much from putting Carlos down, and they stand to lose a great deal. After a few days and several similar experiences, it began to dawn on the children that the only way they were going to learn about Pulitzer's middle years was by paying attention to what Carlos had to say. Out of necessity they gradually began to develop into pretty good interviewers. If Carlos was having a little trouble communicating what he knew, instead of ignoring him or ridiculing him, they began to ask probing questions. They became junior versions of Barbara Walters or Charlie Rose, asking the kinds of questions that made it easier for Carlos to communicate what he was thinking. Carlos began to respond to this treatment by becoming more relaxed, and as he relaxed his ability to communicate improved. After a couple of weeks, the other children realized that Carlos was not dumb, as they had originally thought, and began to respect him, open up to him, like him. Carlos began to enjoy school more and began to see the Anglo kids in his group not as show-offs and tormentors but as helpful and responsive. He began to like them.


What happened in Carlos' group is a good example of the technique and how it frequently worked to produce beneficial effects, but it hardly constitutes acceptable scientific data. For that, we must turn to the field experiments performed by Aronson and his colleagues in Texas and California in which the effects of the jigsaw techniques on interpersonal attraction, self-esteem, and happiness in school were investigated systematically. Initially, in Austin, the jigsaw technique was instituted in several classrooms for six weeks and assessed for its effectiveness by taking measures at the beginning and end of the period - comparing the performance of the children in the jigsaw classrooms with the performance of children in more traditional, competitive classrooms being taught by some of the most effective teachers in the school system.

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1. Children in the jigsaw classrooms grew to like their groupmates even more than they liked others in their classroom.

2. Both white and African American children in the jigsaw classrooms liked school better (or hate school less) than the white and black children in competitive classrooms. Absenteeism among jigsaw students decreased dramatically.

3. The self-esteem of the children in the jigsaw classrooms increased to a greater extent than that of children in competitive classrooms.

4. In terms of the mastery of classroom material, children in the jigsaw classrooms outperformed children in competitive classrooms. This difference was primarily due to improvement in the performance of underprivileged minority students; specifically, while white children performed as well in either type of classroom, black and Hispanic children performed significantly better in jigsaw classrooms than in competitive classrooms.

5. As the result of their experience in jigsaw groups, children learned to empathize with one another; that is, compared to children in traditional classrooms they found it easier to put themselves in another person's shoes and experience the world as if they were that other person.
 These basic results have been replicated and extended in several school districts in different parts of the country.

While the jigsaw technique was developed as an attempt to bridge the gap between children from different ethnic groups, these results make clear that its function is not limited to multiracial situations. In any classroom situation, the jigsaw method curbs some of the undesirable aspects of excessive competition and increases the excitement children find in cooperating with one another.

Thus the research demonstrated that what seemed to be a deeply ingrained kind of behavior competitiveness - can be modified. Our aim is not to eliminate a child's ability to compete; a certain amount of competition can be fun and may, in many circumstances, enhance performance without producing negative consequences. What we want to do is teach cooperativeness as a skill so that when JIGSAW BASICS !14 a person finds herself in a situation where cooperativeness is the most productive strategy she will not view everyone in sight as competitors and doggedly try to defeat them.

Also, cooperative learning in general, and the jigsaw method in particular, can be a useful addition to individualized learning programs. When individualized instruction utilizes independent study it frequently results in reducing the child's opportunity to develop social skills in the learning environment. Complementing individualized instruction and other classroom experiences with cooperative groups could provide a beneficial balance as well as an interesting set of experiences. In this context, it should be noted that the children in these experiments were exposed to the jigsaw technique for only a small fraction of their time in school - often as little as three or four hours per week. The rest of the time they were learning in a generally competitive atmosphere. These results show that children can learn the skills of cooperation and that cooperative activities can have an important and beneficial effect on their lives, even when these activities are presented in a basically competitive atmosphere. This is encouraging because it means that parents and teachers do not need to choose between cooperation and competition; both can occur in the same classroom. Moreover, by working in jigsaw groups, the children learned that it is possible to work together in a helpful way without sacrificing excellence and that working together increases their positive feelings about themselves and their happiness in school. Finally, it is our contention that experiencing cooperativeness will increase tolerance for temporary failure both in others and in oneself; our hope is that this technique can lead to a reduction in the anxiety that is too frequently associated with performance in our society.

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STUDENTS We have found that young children - even kindergartners - are perfectly able and willing to engage in cooperative behavior. At the same time, we should note that our attempts to institute the jigsaw technique prior to the fourth grade have not always gone smoothly. There are two major issues.

First, virtually all of the students in a group need at least a minimal proficiency in reading for jigsaw to work; one cannot always count on this general proficiency among all children in the first few grades. Second, the understanding of the basic elements of jigsawing requires a certain degree of conceptual ability. While we've found that most six-year-olds can eventually grasp what is required, it often necessitates a longer period of time to thoroughly acquaint them with the system than is the case for youngsters ten years old and above.

At the upper end of the classroom continuum, there seems to be no limit. Middle school and high school level groups work particularly well. At the university level, students can be placed in jigsaw groups and meet on their own time outside of class. Each student is responsible for a portion of the reading material (a number of research articles, one aspect of a subject area, and so forth).

Students then report to their group and discuss the topics. The only intervention made by the instructor consists of a brief training session designed to spell out the degree of specificity required in the actual reporting so that a semblance of uniformity could be achieved. That is, in technical reporting it is conceivable that if the students are not instructed, some reports might be overly JIGSAW BASICS !16 detailed and others might be too sparse. A brief instruction about the appropriate degree of complexity can be invaluable. Virtually all of the university students who have utilized the jigsaw opportunities reported good results: mastery of the material in far less time than if they had read it on their own, plus the added enjoyment of companionship and the intellectual stimulation brought about by the sharing of a variety of perspectives.

Another way jigsaw has been used is during "inservices" that require covering reading material in a short period of time. In this case, participants are assigned individual chapters and given time to read. Next, expert groups are formed of those assigned the first section of the material, those assigned the second part, and so forth. After discussing the key points of what they have just read, they plan the best ways to communicate this information to others. After this, groups are formed so that all the reading material is covered within a single group and each person shares her knowledge with the others. This has been used as a quick and efficient way of covering as much as an entire volume in a one-day workshop.

CURRICULUM A carefully planned curriculum can go a long way toward making students' introduction to jigsaw go smoothly. Ideally the teacher will have prepared the curriculum during a school vacation or other non-teaching time, giving the task uninterrupted attention and making the process of designing the curriculum a pleasant one. If this is not feasible; we strongly recommend that the preparation of the curriculum be completed - at least - before jigsawing actually begins.

A wide variety of subject matter can be adapted for use with the jigsaw format. On the whole, narrative material that emphasizes reading and comprehension skills is the easiest to work with in groups. Because of this, the area of social studies - including history, civics, geography and so forth - is perhaps the most naturally suited to the technique. The major skills involved are reading and comprehension. Jigsaw has been successfully used, however, in teaching math, language arts, and biology, although those subjects are more difficult to adapt.

We have also found that jigsaw works best with material that is not conceptually novel (requiring students to use skills they have not yet learned). Just as we would not attempt to assign The Life of Joseph Pulitzer to a group of six children who didn't know how to read, by the same token we would not assign "subtraction" to a group of students who had not yet acquired this skill. Thus, JIGSAW BASICS !17 introducing addition or subtraction for the first time in the context of a jigsaw group is probably not a good idea, although jigsaw could certainly be used for practicing these skills. We know of teachers who have successfully employed the jigsaw method for the instruction of math, language arts, biology, English as a second language, and other subject that required new skills to be learned. In these areas jigsaw has been used primarily to review material previously taught by more traditional methods..

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