The Jigsaw Experience

The "Pieces Group." Jigsaw in practice.

The “Pieces Group.” Jigsaw in practice.

This summer I attended the jmUDESIGN Institute as a group facilitator. For one week I worked with colleagues from JMU and various VCCS colleges as we transformed our teaching practices into student-centered, engaging learning activities using ideas such as Flipped Classrooms and “Backward Design” to restructure and reimagine our courses. As a group facilitator my role focused on supporting and guiding my group through the week.

I didn’t realize how much I absorbed until last week.

Although I dedicated the last few months to revising my ENG 111 and ENG 112 courses in response to student feedback and expressed feelings of “overwhelmedness,” I consistently create new assessments each week in order to keep myself engaged and my teaching fresh. Last week I implemented one of the techniques we practiced at the jmUDESIGN Institute,  The Jigsaw, a learning activity that is defined by “the element of ‘required’ interdependence among students which makes this a unique learning method, and it is this interdependence that encourages the students to take an active part in their learning. In becoming a teacher of sorts, each student becomes a valuable resource for the others” (The Jigsaw Classroom).

The Jigsaw in practice

The Jigsaw in practice

Think of a jigsaw puzzle. What is it composed of? Puzzle pieces.
In the pedagogical jigsaw the students become different parts of a puzzle. There are two steps to the jigsaw, or at least to my version of it:

  • Step 1, “The Pieces Group”: Divide students into small groups of 4-5. Assign each group a different question to tackle. As you create these questions, reflect on Bloom’s Taxonomy and frame your questions in terms of higher order thinking (How and Why questions are my favorites for this). Be clear about how much time they have to work on this (assigning a time keeper is a good idea; I also project an online timer on the board in digitally-able classrooms). I also reiterate that each person needs to take clear, thoughtful notes. Then,
  • Step 2, “The Puzzle Group”: Students redistribute themselves into new groups so that each member of the new group comes from a different “Pieces Group.” This was tricky the first time my classes did it, probably because of my inability to articulate clearly what was meant to happen (and if you are scratching your head right now as I read this, I apologize. I include a sample of a real jigsaw below). In order to explain visually how this redistribution works, I gave each member of the “Pieces Group” a colorful index card, making sure that each group had a different color (pink, orange, yellow, and green). That way they can see at a glance if their new “Puzzle Group” is correctly composed of one and only one person from each of the different “Pieces.” Once you’ve made sure the second groups are arranged appropriately, set them loose to teach each other what they learned in their first group. Again, be clear on time limits. I encourage each student to take notes by reminding them that everything covered in class will connect to an upcoming paper. And, finally,
  • Step 3: (I know, I told you there were only two steps). This final step is when we all reconnect as a learning community. Sometimes I will have each group briefly answer one of the questions just to make sure they are on the right track. Often times I already know this because I circulate among the groups throughout the jigsaw, and so I prefer to use the wrap time to reflect on what went well in the groups and what can be improved the next time. For example, the majority of students in one of my ENG 112 completed all the reading. They had vigorous, interesting conversations that plunged below a surface-level reading of the text. My other ENG 112 was not as successful as only half of the students had done the reading. When we reflected on the jigsaw experience, this class acknowledged the difficulty of completing the task, the frustration of relying on group members who didn’t know what they were doing since they hadn’t read the text, and the disappointment of  running out of time.

Last week my ENG 112 students read “Impressions of an Indian Childhood” and “The School Days of an Indian Girl” by Zitkala-Sa. Before they came to class they also uploaded a Reading Diary in which they wrote:

  1. a 250-word response to the text
  2. a list of 10-20 unknown words with definition (or, alternately, a list of 10-20 known words with their more challenging synonyms and definitions)
  3. three thoughtful questions about the text
  4. a creative response to the text (or, if they are feeling uninspired, the most important line(s) from the reading).

In the jigsaw the five groups chose a single theme to focus on from this list: Hair, Clothing, Religion, Language, Miscellaneous. The questions they then answered, within the context of the theme they chose, were:

  1. Find a specific example for your chosen theme. Include the page number and relevant quotation.
  2. How does your example illustrate a function of assimilation?
  3. How does Zitkala-Sa rebel against what is wanted of her?
  4. To what extent is she successful?

After the “Pieces Group” explored these questions and the “Puzzle Group” put all the pieces together, we reunited as a whole learning community to discuss tactics of assimilation and the opportunities for resistance the potentially assimilated have. The Beautiful Questions here include:

  1. Is rebellion a zero-sum game?
  2. Why did the first permanent settlers choose to come to what is now the US? How were they treated? How did they treat the people already here?
  3. Why do immigrants and refugees come now? How are they treated? How do they treat people?
  4. What options for creative resistance do immigrants and refugees have now? What else could they do?

As we continue reading through other works by Indigenous American authors we will connect to the current immigration debates in the US as well as to the on-going refugee crisis in Europe, the Middle East, and Northern Africa. Clearly we are navigating our away toward and through complicated, intense, and controversial waters. My goal is that through the jigsaw and other collaborative learning activities my students will learn to listen to one another; challenge each other with respect and inquisitiveness rather than combative or passive rhetoric; hold multiple perspectives simultaneously; understand that the media-produced sound-byte sized debates are actually complicated narratives composed of multiples histories; and articulate their argument based on sound reasoning and appropriate context.

I want them to need more than a minute to make their point. I want them to demand more than a minute from the point-makers that surround them.

The Jigsaw in practice.

The Jigsaw in practice.