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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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recommending. As you know, there are two ways we commonly use the word "feel." First, we often say:

I feel that you are an angry person, a wonderful fellow, or whatever. The "feeling" in this instance is really an opinion, my evaluation of judgment of you. But feeling has another, more basic meaning: I feel angry, sad, annoyed, happy. I am expressing my own primary emotion. The focus is on "I" not "you" or "he" or "she." I am saying something about my own state rather than saying something JIGSAW BASICS !29 judgmental about you. It is feeling in this second sense that we think is the effective unit of communication for small-group problem solving, because it can be heard more easily by the recipient, and so is more easily dealt with. It does not arouse defensiveness in the other person so it does not result in the desire on their part to run away or to fight back. When I say that I am feeling angry, I am expressing a fact. I know my feelings, there is no guesswork involved, no theories about your character (for example: I feel frustrated rather than I "feel" you are irresponsible). Now, if you want to interact with me, you will probably be interested in my feelings rather than defending yourself from a perceived attack. You may or may not want to determine whether or not you played any part in triggering them but the focus is on the task at hand, since it would be useful (and perhaps necessary) to work this out before we can continue with our task. On the other hand, if I deliver a judgment about you instead of exposing my feelings, you will probably not be interested in anything but your own self- defense.

Many older children are able to understand this. Younger children can simply learn to make "I" statements" rather than "you" statements, with the reasoning coming later.

To return to our classroom example, once the feelings have been clarified, the teacher might have to reassure the children that it is all right to have "bad" feelings. He could point out that everyone does, and that it is legitimate to express anger or anxiety, but that there are ways to do it that are more constructive than others. If Sara had said outright: "I feel bad when you call me that" or "That makes me mad," Jason would have known immediately that his tactic of teasing was not having the effect he intended. Moreover, he would not have had to go on to prove he was not a creep. He could, of course, ignore Sara's protest. But at least he would have to ask himself, "Is that a good choice of behavior for what I want to accomplish?" The dialogue described above is, of course, an idealized version of the process. It is usually not that quick or complete. But a hard-working group eventually reaches a point where interactions like this are neither impossible nor infrequent. One of the beauties of any small-group arrangement is that it provides the students with an opportunity for observing their own behavior as it affects others. It also provides opportunities for learning how to handle feelings of anger, impatience, shyness, or affection. Importantly, this learning occurs while the students are learning about the Civil War or the poetry of Emily Dickinson.

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THE "NO-PUT DOWN CLASSROOM" Creating an environment that is free of "put-downs" is part of the classroom management strategy of an increasing number of teachers. It also sets the stage so that group members can approach difficulties as problems to solve rather than blaming each other. As a step toward creating a "put-down free zone" some teachers have used variations on the following: students are asked to write down them all the put-downs they could think of, or the class as a whole brainstorms a list of putdowns. Once this is done, the teacher collects (or copies) the put-downs, places them in a receptacle, seals it, and disposes of it. The method of disposal varies, the a bag can be simply tossed in the garbage, or a "coffin" can be given a proper burial with an appropriate ceremony attached. These exercises serve to call attention to what is inappropriate and later a student can be reminded with, "Why, I thought that comment was dead and buried.”


How do we help the poor reader, the child who may be reading one or several grade levels below her peers, and who, consequently, is suffering both in practical and emotional terms? As schools move away from tracking students, the reading ability of the students in a single classroom may vary considerably. In a jigsaw group, some group members will inevitably find themselves dependent for vital information on a student who, because of reading problems or for whom English in a second language, cannot easily get that information to them. The problem for that relatively unskilled student is not only that he cannot read very well but also that he cannot hide the fact from his peers as he might have been able to do in a more traditional classroom. He is confronted with their impatience and their unfavorable judgments. As a result he is under pressure which potentially could inhibit his performance still further.

1 For a more detailed analysis of communication skills, see Chapter 8 in The Social Animal by Elliot Aronson (W.H.

Freeman, 1995).



There are several tactics a teacher can adopt in order to forestall such a destructive situation while at the same time increasing the flexibility of the learning environment. In a jigsaw group, anyone can make a useful contribution. For example the slower reader may be given a drawing assignment, or the teacher can assign material of different reading levels to each group, making sure that the less accomplished readers get the least difficult material. Instead of copying a unit from a text where vocabulary and concepts are set at too high a grade level, a teacher can briefly summarize a portion of the material for a poor reader. Of the material may also be recorded on cassettes. The recording could also, or instead, be assigned to quicker students to encourage in them a sense of responsibility toward their less skilled peers, while keeping them busy and challenged with an interesting, constructive task. Generally the recorded material is used in conjunction with, not instead of, written material in order to reinforce orally what the child is reading.


Another practice that has become common is that of student coaching with the higherachieving students working directly with the slower students. This practice is more desirable than that of isolating a student with a tape recorder because it is yet another way to stress the development of interpersonal skills. The coaching teams are set up within each jigsaw group and serve to underscore its supportive values and the interdependency of the students. As we noted in our discussion of group composition, the benefits are mutual. The adept reader has the immediate, energizing reward of an image change: that is, he sees himself as a helper instead of as a hampered and bored student. The slower reader is being helped by someone who is more skilled but not perfect, a model within the limits of possible attainment, compared, for example, to the teacher, who is allknowing. In our experience, this procedure opens the slow reader to learning by reducing his need to feel intimidated and defensive. This, in turn, frees him to be more attentive and take more risks in his learning, provided that his coach has learned well her interpersonal skills.

When the jigsaw process is first getting underway, the teacher will probably be the one to suggest the coaching arrangement. Eventually, as cooperation becomes an established practice, the students themselves will make the choice to work in this manner. At first it is easier to imagine a faster JIGSAW BASICS !32 student offering to help than it is to imagine a slower student taking the initiative to ask for that help.

However, the kind of classroom the jigsaw teacher is developing is one where all the students realize that different levels of skills at any given moment are ordinary facts of life, a cause for neither shame nor vanity. The slower students or poorer readers often become quite accurate judges of what they can and cannot do, and are not too embarrassed to ask for help when they need it.

Once the coaching team is set up, the teacher helps the students make effective use of one another as resources. He shows them how to break a task into parts and also provides a structure for their interaction. For example, he might suggest that David first read the paragraph to Susan. Having heard the words and the rhythmical phrasing that serves to clarify content, Susan could then read the passage back. Then together they could decide on two important points and discuss how Susan is going to present them. As the teacher moves from group to group, he will want to be particularly attentive to how the coaching press is functioning. Is David getting impatient, for example, teaching down to Susan rather than working with her? The teacher may also ask the students to comment on the process: Does David find that teaching the material helps him to learn it? How does Susan think the system is working for her? Does she have any suggestions for David that would enable him to be more helpful to her? The sooner the slower students are encouraged to state their own needs and opinions, the more confident they feel, along developing a sense that they have some control over their own learning.


Providing a variety of materials and arranging for student coaches are two strategies for helping poor readers that have worked in jigsaw classrooms, but of course they are not unique to the jigsaw approach; they can be employed in any classroom structure. Now let us look at a solution that is unique to the jigsaw procedure; indeed, it forms a basic part of its structure. This is the expert group.

In this way, poorer readers or students for whom English is a second language are being helped by their peers, this time members of other groups who are responsible for the same section. The students in a expert group have a chance to hear the material read, are helped with the meaning of words, can share examples, and can try out their presentations. When the original jigsaw groups resume, even the slowest student has her section fairly well planned and rehearsed. Through this

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Inevitably in almost any classroom there will be a student who, in relation to his classmates, is immature or recalcitrant; the student who becomes known as the "troublemaker." In a jigsaw classroom we would be surprised if there were not at least one or two students who simply will not work effectively in a group or who may even go so far as to sabotage efforts at cooperation by persistent attempts at mischief. For example, Steve may have a game he likes to play: when Tametria is making her presentation, Steve makes the others laugh by mimicking her facial expressions and gestures. The leader calls him on it, not for the first time. And, also not for the first time, Steve says, with wide-eyed innocence, that he wasn't doing anything-Tracy was. Steve's repeated "sneak and defense" behavior might be an important survival tactic that he has developed at home, or it may simply be an attention-getting device. Whatever its cause, it is destructive to the group and he is exerting a powerful disruptive influence. Moreover, he is not learning anything. It would be a mistake simply to thrust Steve into a jigsaw group without preparation.


Students like Steve may need to work alone for a while under close adult supervision. Teachers we have worked with have made it clear to the recalcitrant student that working in a jigsaw group is an opportunity to be earned. The student can do this by making responsible decisions about his learning situation. For example, with teacher guidance, Steve may draw up a daily contract. It can be made clear to him at the outset that he is choosing to behave in a way that will exclude him from group work. First

he may simply be warned but then the consequences of his behavior will be spelled out in his contract:

he is choosing, through his behavior, to be excluded from the group. Likewise, he may work his way back into the group. For example, he may agree (1) to learn the new words on page 7 and (2) to write a short paragraph on each explorer. It can be impressed upon him that these are the tasks to which he committed. The teacher then begins to introduce him to cooperative activities. Perhaps he and another carefully chosen student are assigned to make a chart for the class. The point is, teachers find it wise to

–  –  –


We are frequently asked what happens to the brightest students in the jigsaw situation. Don't they become impatient, bored, or resentful of the slower students? Boredom is not uncommon in elementary school regardless of the techniques being used, and it would be grossly misleading for us to imply that children working with the jigsaw process were never bored or impatient. While today's teacher is better trained than her earlier expert, she must also contend with the higher expectancies and lower thresholds for boredom extant among most young children. No matter how gifted the teacher, how exciting the subject matter, how engrossing the activities, the classroom lacks the excitement, entertainment value, and pace of much of children's television. Moreover, because their minds are so quick, bright students tend to be among the most easily bored if events are moving too slowly for them.


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