The jigsaw classroom is a widely used cooperative learning technique originally developed by Elliot Aronson in 1971 at the University of Texas, Austin as a way to promote cooperation in the classroom by making individuals dependent on each other in pursuit of a common goal. Since that time, the jigsaw technique has been modified and used successfully by educators in a wide variety of classrooms ranging from kindergarten to graduate school.
The basic premise of the jigsaw is that students work in small, interdependent groups with individuals given the responsibility for becoming “expert” in one aspect of a topic that they then teach to their peers in order to accomplish a group goal . In a common version of the jigsaw, students are divided into small groups of 4-5 members with each group responsible for becoming expert on a different aspect of the same problem or topic. Each group discusses the material for which it is responsible until all members of the group understand the material well. The expert groups break up and new groups are formed, with at least one representative from each expert group in each new group. Each individual then teaches his material to the other members of the mixed group so that everyone has a deeper understanding of the different aspects of the problem or topic. Students go on to do a group problem solving task or an activity that synthesizes the material they have learned.
The benefits of cooperative assignments like the jigsaw have been widely documented. Reviews of the research have consistently found that when compared with more traditional competitive or individualistic learning methods, cooperative learning has a positive effect on student achievement, improves student’s attitudes towards their subject area, improves relationships between students and increases student retention   . The effectiveness of cooperative learning depends on the particular method used. The most successful approaches incorporate two key elements: group goals and individual accountability .
Variations on the jigsaw have been implemented effectively in undergraduate courses across a variety of disciplines, including statistics , philosophy ; biology , geology , language courses , psychology  , chemistry   multi-disciplinary computational science and engineering , sociology  and interdisciplinary environmental science .
Studies of jigsaw use in undergraduate courses report positive effects when jigsaw assignments are structured to incorporate elements central to effective cooperative learning. These key elements include positive interdependence between students, individual accountability, face-to-face interaction, emphasis on interpersonal and small group skills, and group processing . Reported benefits include students taking more responsibility for their own learning, becoming more actively engaged, asking more questions and relying on each other for information rather than the instructor. In gaining practice in self and peer teaching, students deepen their understanding of the material and improve their communication skills. When every student’s contribution is essential, every student has the opportunity to contribute meaningfully.
-Bok Center, Harvard University
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