Do You Like Jigsaw Approaches to Teaching?

Tim Shanahan

Teacher question:

What do you think of the jigsaw method for organizing the reading in a science or social studies class? I teach 5th grade in a suburban school.

Shanahan response:

Jigsaw is a cooperative learning activity developed in the 1970s (Aronson, et al., 1978). Basically, the approach is to divide the curricular topic (e.g., dinosaurs, Morocco, amphibians) into subtopics, to divide these portions among individuals/partners/small groups. Each student/group is to become the “expert” on that subtopic. These newly minted experts then put their knowledge to work, perhaps by contributing to a class project (e.g., designing a diorama) or by bringing their classmates up to date through peer teaching. 

In any event, research into its effects on learning have produced mixed results, with some studies finding it outperforms business as usual teaching methods (Hattie, 2017) – and others concluding that there were no apparent learning benefits (Crone & Portillo, 2013; Law, 2011; Moreno, 2009; Moskowitz, et al., 1983, 1985; Stanczak, et al., 2022). 

Why no mention of its effects on learning to read? Because that hasn’t been studied – even with regard to its effects of jigsaw on how well students can read the texts in a particular subject area).

That gap is a provocative one since what is usually being jigsawed is the texts. Students either read different texts or different parts of the same texts.

I’m dubious about literacy payoffs.  

Here’s why:

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