Jigsaw classrooms
April 9, 2001 1:50 PM   Subscribe

Jigsaw classrooms are an interesting attempt to foster higher learning and racial harmony. Seems like a win win situation to me. While no panacea for problems in school I don't see this hurting things.
posted by john (11 comments total)

Sounds like it diverts a tremendous amount of raw instruction time into procedural time. The actual instructional value is also dependent upon (a) the sources that the kids consult for their various topics, (b) the ability of the "expert" groups effectively to frame the right analysis which the experts can then take back to their heterogenous groups, without direct instruction from the teacher (who obviously can't be meeting with five expert groups simultaneously).
posted by MattD at 2:54 PM on April 9, 2001


i think this calls into question the primary function of schools.

i'd agree with mattd's concerns about the quality of knowledge that is being exchanged -- anyone remember the Calvin & Hobbes comics where Calvin and Suzie are "cooperating" on a book report? how would you like your grade to suffer because your local jigsaw-atomic-weapons expert was a moron?

the focus of the "jigsaw" classroom does seem to be more about forcing students to cooperate and work in a team, than on actually teaching and learning.

should schools be trying to force certain sets of social skills on students, or are they there to teach reading, writing and arithmetic?

while i have some pretty strong issues with the wording on the home page -- The jigsaw approach is considered to be a particularly valuable tool in averting tragic events such as the Columbine massacre. (any time someone tries making their point by fearmongering, they instantly destroy their credibility, imho.) but reading the first chapter of the book, there are plenty of good ideas in there.

he stresses creating an environment where there are "no losers." while i wish them well, some "natural scepticism as to the purity of all human motivation" wonders how plausible that is...
posted by fuzzygeek at 3:18 PM on April 9, 2001

fuzzygeek: the focus of the "jigsaw" classroom does seem to be more about forcing students to cooperate and work in a team, than on actually teaching and learning.

I disagree. it looks to me like it's turning students into active learners (instead of passive sponges) while it necessitates the development of social skills in order to succeed.

in my world, knowing how to find things out, communicate those ideas, and work effectively with others is the most useful knowledge anyone will learn. facts are fine, and they can be useful, and that's what schools have traditionally focused on. but it's not very useful life knowledge unless you happen to be dissecting a triangle.

posted by rebeccablood at 4:03 PM on April 9, 2001

rebecca is right. This type of learning is more likely to force students who aren't interested in learning to tackle the topic they are to be an 'expert' in, and learn it enough that they can explain it to other students.

This is a similar method of group collaboration to what I experienced in University, and I think that it could be good to force kids into seeing learning as something they need to do actively. Do you remember all the daydreams you had while passively listening to the talking head at the front of the classroom?

But, entering Columbine into the discussion does nothing but weaken their points. It's sheer stupidity on their part to see that as the biggest concern on people's minds.
posted by Neb at 5:00 PM on April 9, 2001

In our school district we don't need this sort of thing. We just admit the right kids from the right background. All others do not belong. Thus no problems.
posted by Postroad at 5:03 PM on April 9, 2001

I don't know about kids - and I didn't know it was called "jigsaw" - but a very similar technique works really well for adults working on large, multi-functional software implementation projects. We mixed business people, technical people, trainer, writers and support groups together and then "sliced and diced" them like this. Sometimes, people with similar skill sets worked together and reported back to the project team as a whole; sometimes, we divided people up by application area and mixed in people from different disciplines. We also did some active listening coaching, which really helped. From my exposure to that version of it, I'd say it was a great idea for getting kids to mix and interact.
posted by m.polo at 6:29 PM on April 9, 2001

I think that it's a methodology that can work very well in a classroom where people already have a strong base of knowledge, academic competency, and commitment -- a college-prep or honors level high-school course, or a college course -- but the idea that this can be an effective means of teaching in an untracked primary school class seems pretty far-fetched.
posted by MattD at 6:47 AM on April 10, 2001

heh, it's bad enough in a high-school honors course. I've had very bad experiences with group work. I know in my AP English class I was in a group of three, and we had to give a speech on the motif of horizons in Their Eyes Were Watching God, and we did nothing but sit around there the first day. Now, maybe if I had leadership skills or something, I could have done something, but as it was, I seemed to be the only person who cared about not failing the class. Or maybe Jessica just knew Dark Schneider would never fail her, because she's too cute. So, anyhow, I write an entire script for us. During my German class that day, I think. And give copies to them. I think Jessica participated by informing me she refused to say "thwarted."

Of course, there are even more problems when you look at grades. Do you grade on individual participation? Or do you give the people who do work and the people who slack off the same grade? Though, likewise, what if someone's capable of doing work, but too shy to speak up, and doesn't end up doing much?

Not to mention that, in elementary school, this would probably end up with people learning out of the encyclopedia, when you think teachers could do better.
posted by dagnyscott at 7:08 AM on April 10, 2001

dagny, you were in an AP class, and you were the only one who cared about not failing? How on earth did the others make it into the class, and why did they even bother?

I had a remarkable experience in third grade--remarkable also for the fact that it was in rural Oregon. I was placed in a class that had students ranging from first to sixth grade, about half "gifted" and about half "challenged." We all hung out together, played 4-square at recess together, and helped each other out with schoolwork. The class of about 20 had two teachers--something probably unheard of today. I remember helping out a slower kid with his math homework and thinking I was king of his world, until he turned out to be some sort of language savant. He couldn't add to save his life, but he ended up learning like four languages (and taught me how to spell "tsunami").

It was just goddamn magical, honestly. I never got beaten up (that came later), I never felt out of my depth with the older kids, and I really don't recall any ranking out of the slower kids. I don't know how they pulled it off, but this jigsaw school stuff sure brought it back--minus all the PC hoo-ha over Columbine and all. Plus, I got to kiss a fifth-grade girl when I was only in third . . . hell, I want to go back.
posted by Skot at 8:58 AM on April 10, 2001

I teach classes that are very team-oriented--lots of team grades, where everyone gets the same grade--and it's a challenge. And this is at the university level (in a good engineering school, with smart, motivated students). The variety of team dysfunction that takes place is truly vast. As a teacher, I have to be really, really hands-on, which is not easy to do in a class of 100 students, or things go downhill quickly. The "quiet ones,", the slackers, the pissed-off, the alienated are all problems you can solve if you pay attention and give lots of support. The born-leader student-council-president types in some ways are a worse problem, because they can't hold back and let other people lead. But you build in lots of checkpoints, you let the team members evaluate each other's performance, you do everything you can to promote accountability and, at some level, you trust the students, and things turn out OK. Not great--figuring out how to teach a course like this is an ongoing education for me, because by college students have deeply ingrained habits of competition with each other and distrust of teachers, and because it's so much harder to teach this way than it is to go in an write equations on a board. I'm not as good at it as I would wish. But I can at least see hints of well it *can* work.

Kids, though, are naturals at this, as Skot says. It's still work for the teacher, but a lot of the obstacles older students build for themselves aren't there yet. My son is in the kind of mixed-age classroom Skot describes, and they work on projects together and at their own pace, and it all works out well. Not perfect, but well enough. The little kids learn to be comfortable and how to learn and ask for help, the big kids learn leadership and find out how gratifying it is to help people learn…maybe it's not for everybody, but as Skot says, when it works, it's magical.
posted by rodii at 10:00 AM on April 10, 2001

dagny, you were in an AP class, and you were the only one who cared about not failing?

Well, not the only one in the class. Just in the group I happened to get stuck into.

I didn't get into the strange grading system we had in my jr. high computer class, where he'd test like one member of the class randomly and give that grade to the entire class. The rationale had something to do with car factories in Japan, and dented bumpers.
posted by dagnyscott at 6:14 PM on April 10, 2001

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