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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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While it may be impossible to eliminate boredom from the school experience, teachers who have used the jigsaw technique report a great deal less boredom among their students than is the case in a more competitive classroom atmosphere. Our data support this observation: children in jigsaw classes do like school better than children in the control classes, and this is true for the bright students as well as the slower students. There is an old adage, docemur docendo (he who teaches learns). This is clearly the case in the jigsaw situation. Teaching can be an exciting change of pace for a student. It frees her from being a more or less passive receptacle of information and allows her the opportunity to try a new skill. Not only does this almost certainly reduce boredom, but if introduced properly it can also reduce the impatience that bright students otherwise experience when slower students are experiencing difficulty By developing the mind set of "teacher" the bright students can turn what might have been a boring, mark-time, impatient experience into an exciting challenge. And, as previously reported, not only does this challenge produce psychological benefits, but the learning is frequently more thorough.



Many classrooms have students who are chronically absent yet when they are in class they need (perhaps more than most) to be included in the jigsaw groups. The bored bright student might be able to serve as a "generalist" for the group and possibly for the class. Their abilities make it likely that they would already know the material and this would give them something active and useful to do.

One other point is relevant in this context. In developing the jigsaw method special pains were taken to minimize conflict and/or resentment among students. For this reason we designed jigsaw so that, although children learn the material in a cooperative fashion in jigsaw, they are tested individually and receive individual scores rather than an average of the group score. Thus a particularly bright student has the opportunity to score individually; in no way can her score be diminished by the exam performance of a less gifted student. This aspect of jigsaw has proven itself to be congenial with the desires of most students as well as those of their parents.

While jigsaw has proven to be one good way to reduce boredom, there are other ways. Indeed, one surefire way any teacher can reduce boredom is to refuse to stick to one method, whether it is competitiveness, individually guided instruction, multimedia presentations, or cooperative learning techniques including jigsaw.


Perhaps the most difficult problem new jigsaw teachers face is that of obtaining and developing appropriate instructional materials. The usual curriculum material must be divided into segments for the students to share. Some assignments have to be created from various resources, others can simply be reproduced from texts.


Nearly all books on cooperative learning include sections on jigsaw and recipes useful in devising lessons in a wide variety of subjects. There are even a few books that focus on jigsaw activities alone (see Coelho, 1989). With jigsaw everything must be transferred to cards that can be handed out once class beings. This requires time, which is always a precious commodity to the teacher. More specifically, it requires the efficient use of time. When we get rushed, we tend to plan less and be less systematic while just the opposite behavior is most efficient.

JIGSAW BASICS !36 As mentioned before, the ideal time for a teacher to prepare curriculum is when he is under no pressure to teach it, such as during vacations, and this is when most teachers do it. When time pressures are off, the creativity of the task can be enjoyed. Once these plans and materials are developed, teachers can share units with one another. When colleagues share prepared jigsaw lessons they not only save time but also model cooperation for their students. A team of teachers not only decreases the work load but also eliminates the loneliness that can develop when one is attempting something new.

There may be instances when the students themselves can help in the physical preparation of a unit, transferring materials to cards, cutting copied material into strips, and gathering illustrations. In some classrooms, a jigsaw group has been assigned the entire responsibility for a unit. In such a case, the students would devise the assignments, decide how to divide and distribute the reading material, and create questions and exercises. This kind of organizing activity is an effective way of learning material as teachers well know from their own experience when, for example, they discover the Civil War they have managed to avoid for a lifetime is coming up in the next chapter of the seventh-grade text. However, to be able to shoulder such responsibility in a cooperative effort, the students should have some experience in the group-process techniques of jigsawing. Thus, a unit on curriculum planning might best be left until Spring.

Finally, most school districts have sponsored in-services on cooperative learning. The curriculum supervisor of a district will often know what group materials are available for each subject and level.


Most teachers learn quickly that cooperative learning is noisy. Picture this scene. Children are scattered abound the room. Everybody is talking at once. Chaos. And the principal walks in. What is she likely to conclude? That the teacher must be an undisciplined person, unskilled, ineffective, for how can children learn anything in such a noisy atmosphere? Or perhaps, she thinks, the teacher does not care, is sacrificing academics and good behavior to some vague ideal of spontaneity.

Such might also be the thoughts of a non-jigsaw teacher upon observing a jigsaw classroom for the first time. The jigsaw classroom is noisy but as most experienced teachers know, there is noise that is just noise, and there is the kind of noise which is the sound of learning and living. An outsider to

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Jigsaw teachers have found it useful to prepare their supervisors and colleagues for their classroom innovations. Most educators today have at least been exposed to cooperative learning ideas and techniques so explaining what you are up to is no longer difficult. Teachers have learned that it facilitates understanding when they remind the other professionals in their environment that cooperative learning encourages student responsibility. The goals of jigsaw teachers are no different from those of their colleagues. Some teachers ask their colleagues to sit in on a jigsaw group and then share their opinions as to the effectiveness of the technique in teaching the content material. All too often, classrooms and their teachers are isolated units in the school. In some schools teachers are colleagues only insofar as they hold the same degrees and work in the same building. For a jigsaw teacher to open her method to discussion gives some substance to the word "colleague." We have provided a step-by-step description of a one-day inservice later in the book so that the experience of jigsaw and the development of its component skills is available to everyone. Teachers are strongly encouraged to participate in such workshops in school teams, perhaps grade level teams. They will then have the support they need on- site as well as others with whom to share the burden of preparing materials.

Students too must be able to articulate class objectives to outsiders, particularly to those parents who say, "That's not the way we did things in my day!" To this end, teachers and students often develop a routine for welcoming visitors and showing them around and explaining solutions to such parental concerns as grading and the appropriateness of jigsaw for their particular child.


There are times even among experienced jigsaw groups when the cooperative spirit seems to dissipate and the students lose interest. The jigsaw teacher is concerned with keeping alive a more enjoyable, more productive, and supportive mood.



We mentioned earlier that a change of routine by meeting in the expert groups can be helpful.

In addition, one fifth-grade teacher begins each new unit (for which new groups are usually formed) with teambuilding exercises, and once every few weeks begins the jigsaw hour with some variation on the Broken Squares exercises described earlier. This takes only five minutes, at the end of which time the students are ready to work more closely with each other. Other teachers have discovered stories or parables which inspire their students and build cooperative spirit; storytelling can teach and relax at the same time


We have been concentrating thus far on how to help the students. But what about the teacher?

Who helps the helper? As you know, even under the most ideal circumstances, teaching is not an easy, stress-free vocation. Most teachers get discouraged for any number of reasons during the course of a school year. This is especially so when they are initiating a new method - the pressure of new responsibilities, the insecurity of not knowing in advance what will and will not work. The advice we are about to discuss can be used effectively by any teacher using almost any technique, but the jigsaw teachers we have worked with have found it particularly helpful.


For example, there is some guilt or anxiety reported by most skilled teachers, reflected in their tendency to demand perfection of themselves 100 percent of the time. They fall into a slump, the bad day of week is all their fault, they are not reaching one or two students who are having trouble.

Anybody who is discouraged feels better if he can talk about it. It may seem functional for a teacher to be able to let off steam in the staff room. Unfortunately, this is not a helpful tactic if it stimulates a general "gripe" session. For example, a teacher who is momentarily discouraged may mention a student who was very disruptive that particular morning, which may elicit sympathy and support or perhaps a volley of stories that begin, "If you think that's bad, let me tell you the trouble I'm having."

After a session of this sort, when the teachers return to their classrooms they haven't solved their problem and are likely to feel even worse.

JIGSAW BASICS !39 Much more helpful than a casual coffee group commiserating together is a group of colleagues set up explicate as a support system. In our experience with teachers using the jigsaw techniques, those who were happiest and got the most out of it were the ones who were able to form a group for mutual support and consultation. Members not only support each other emotionally, but encourage rational problem solving. This creates norms to give teachers energy and direction, and they devise a systematic method for exploring new alternatives. Being a good consultant is itself a skill, but one that can be easily acquired.


The effective consultant hears her fellow teacher out, listens supportively, and then asks the kinds of questions that will clarify issues and generate possible solutions. Sometimes the discouraged teacher states explicitly the kind of help he is looking for. For example, he might say he is in a slump and simply wants to unburden himself. Could his colleague listen for a few minutes and say back to him what she thinks she hears him saying? Even when the teacher does not quite know what he wants, it can be very helpful to have the gist of one's own words played back by a consultant. This helps think through the problem. Then they might go on to consider the questions he could usefully ask himself in order to begin shaping a solution.

To illustrate: Carol is a student who is falling behind. Her teacher is particularly upset because Carol had started the year full of excitement and hope; this year, in this classroom, she was really going to work hard and learn something. The teacher believes he has failed her somehow. Has he? While his feelings are painful and worthy of sympathy, his question is not a particularly fruitful one in practical terms. So after acknowledging his feelings, the consultant might encourage him to ask himself: What specific learning problems does Carol have? What does the record say? What do I know about her attitudes? How could the technique we're using (jigsaw or whatever) be affecting her difficulties? Such questions developed and examined with trusted colleagues will benefit Carol. And, very importantly, because these questions are infused with practical energy, because they reflect the teacher's power to analyze and understand a problem and to be of specific use, they benefit him by allaying his fears and combating discouragement: there is something he can do. In sum, while a support system gives a teacher some opportunity to vent feelings and to have a sense of being heard, most of the time is spent on specifically defining a problem and thinking about different ways to solve it.

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