Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Jigsaw Learning . . .

In the OD Today: Experienced teacher uses modern methods to get students learning

It’s called “jigsaw,” and requires students to perform tasks in groups, derive the tasks’ results and then teach what they learned to other students. . . . 
The jigsaw process, she said, almost creates an individualized education plan for each student regardless of that student’s level – helping teachers reach the lower-achieving students while still challenging the higher-achieving ones as they proceed through the lesson.

This begs the question, is it the teacher that is reaching the lower-achieving students or other students that are doing the job?  Who is being paid to transfer knowledge to the students?  Who is more likely to produce accurate information to the students?

The "Jigsaw Classroom" was originally conceived as a way to socially integrate different racial groups -- i.e., its objective was social engineering, not fostering the transfer of knowledge.  "Jigsaw" is a variant of the "cooperative learning" technique where students "construct their own knowledge."

"Jigsaw," "cooperative learning," and variations on the theme all work to reduce the importance of the teacher -- and the "older generation" -- as a source of knowledge. They also give a false perception of "expertise" to the student participants. These techniques have been around for about 40 years.

We have a serious problem with academics in this country, and with inexperienced "know-it-alls" running society's institutions.  Are these problems connected to these teaching techniques? 


Anonymous said...

One would think that the description of the program would have been printed on April 1. It has to be a joke that eighth graders could construct their own knowledge whatever that means.

Dave said...

Uh, I've never read in the literature that "The 'Jigsaw Classroom' was originally conceived as a way to socially integrate different racial groups -- i.e., its objective was social engineering, not fostering the transfer of knowledge." Do you remember where you read that?
What I have read and seen for myself in the classroom is that Cooperative Learning can work very well. Although I can't cite the studies off the top of my head, it has been shown that students learn more readily from each other and as a former teacher I can personally attest to it. Cooperative learning in no way relieves the teacher of his work. In fact it is harder to set up and manage. But the results justify the technique in the mind of any teacher willing to put forth the extra effort to help more of his students to reach higher levels of knowledge. Don't you remember how boring the standard teaching methods were for you as a student?

Anonymous said...

It is absolutely foolish to promote the idea that 8th graders can teach other 8th graders. Or, are we saying that 8th graders teach more effectively than highly paid teachers? The concept has the odor that teachers prefer to teach smart 8th graders and turn dumb 8th graders over to them. I can see well accomplished high schoolers tutoring others in lesser grades. But, 8th to 8th stretches credulity.

Strikeslip said...

Dave - The link I posted is where I found the connection to desegregation.

I did not mean to imply that teachers using cooperative learning are lazy (although, for some, that can be a motivation). If done "correctly" (if this technique can be considered correct) cooperative learning is MUCH MORE WORK for the teacher . . . which CREATES the need for smaller classrooms, teacher aides . . . and sky high school taxes.

It is also much more work for the students -- as in "wasted effort." Time spent performing "research" -- combing through information to find the knowledge that needs to be acquired -- is time that would be better spent being directly instructed in the knowledge by the expert teacher, and then engaging in a Socratic exchange with the teacher to reinforce that knowledge and connect the new information with what the student already knows.

Cooperative learning from peers risks students "imprinting" each other with erroneous conclusions which then have to be unlearned and then relearned correctly.

Cooperative learning distracts students from acquiring subject-matter knowledge by placing them in situations that have social overtones. Pity the awkward student. It's no coincidence that incidents of bullying and students going off the deep end and hurting each other are on the rise.

Personally I could not imagine majoring in science in college like I did if I had been taught science in high school the way they teach it now with the emphasis on labs and students working in groups. Science should be interesting, not drudgery ... but drudgery is what it has become.

Which leads to another bad outcome of this teaching technique: our shortage of students going on to major in math, science, engineering and medicine. That is due to the aforementioned "drudgery" factor, and the fact that students have acquired so little subject matter knowledge that they don't have the foundation to succeed at higher levels.

Dave said...

Well, Strike, I disagree with your conclusion, but you point out what can go wrong with cooperative learning. Most teachers use a mix of methods. I still think students researching and learning THROUGH each other, not FROM each other, is a taste of life as we experience it as adults. It can also be a much more exciting learning experience with more depth than standard lecture. I also spent 30 years in a fast paced high tech industry as what's called a knowledge worker and although I went to classes and seminars, 80 % of the constant learning took place in meetings and research that are similar to the concept of cooperative learning. This is a good topic and it's certainly worthy of discussion, but I am not sure this is the place to debate it. One last thought I'm struck by and that is we complain that educational methods are hidebound by lazy teachers, but when one steps forward to try a new concept we tell him to go back into his classroom and teach our kids they way grandpa learned his lessons!

Strikeslip said...

Grandpa's methods are too newfangled! Socrates had it right! :D

Anonymous said...

Dave refuses to define where the line is drawn in age and competency of students. Is he suggesting that first graders can formally teach each other? Or, should it start in grade 5 or 8 or 9 or 11? Using a high tech illustration does not address the primary question. Why don't we just pay part time trainers to train the students to teach and start phasing out full time teachers? Perhaps this is the answer to our escalating school tax bills.

Anonymous said...

"It is absolutely foolish to promote the idea that 8th graders can teach other 8th graders. "

Ever hear of the Socratic Method?! It works! It's absolutely foolish to ignore that!

Strikeslip said...

It is a learning experience for someone to engage in a Socratic discussion led by an expert in a subject.

It is a waste of time when, among peers, the ignorant are leading the ignorant.

Anonymous said...

Yes, Socratice was a teacher. Aristotle and Plato followed. All were older than 8th graders even though the eigth grade aged of those days were much more mature and wiser that those of today.

Dave said...

Oh, c'mon! Cooperative Learning isn't handing the reins over to a frightened 7 year old passenger. You guys are hilarious. At the very least go read this and learn something. Then you can disagree with it all you want with your own research.
Cooperative Learning isn't Charter Schools, for cripes sake. It's just one of the tools in a teacher's kit.

Strikeslip said...

Dave -- Cooperative learning isn't a tool. Rather, it is a monkey wrench that has been thrown into a system which once was designed to pass down knowledge from one generation (teacher) to the next (student). That system no longer works effectively.

John Dewey, mentioned in the article you cited, bears much of the responsibility for today's academic complaints.

Anonymous said...

And, Dave. Oh yes, eight graders are mature, intellectual giants with natural teaching instincts.

Dave said...

I know that I was! :)

Seriously, the kids are neither responsible for lesson content or the setting of performance goals. Did you read the references I suggested?

Strikeslip said...

Dave - I'm sure you were!

I read the Wikipedia reference you provided, and it not only confirms my perception of "cooperative learning," but also the problem with education today.

Cooperative learning has become ubiquitous. I encountered a variant when I was on the school board and a couple parents wanted to know why their children were spending a month in 7th grade working in groups studying the soles of sneakers. I asked for the lesson plans, but rather than mastery of a list of physical science concepts as the objective, the objective was that the students would be able to design the soles of sneakers for form, fit, fashion, etc. Were they learning science? product design? or marketing? The director of instruction then pulled out the then-new "higher" science standards to show that "Students will be able to use science to solve real world problems" or something like that. It was absurd. Students at that grade level do not have the subject-matter mastery to be able to "use science to solve real world problems," and should not be led to believe that they are capable of doing so. In the time taken to do this project, I would have been able to teach a ton of concepts and have them mastered using conventional methods. Engaging students in projects like this is wasting their valuable time.

Dave you need to read that Wikipedia article closely to see what is really going on. Here are some highlights:

"Dewey believed it was important that students develop knowledge and social skills that could be used outside of the classroom, and in the democratic society." Students will learn "social skills" on their own time . . . if school butts out of taking up non-school hours with tons of mindless projects. Dewey's "democratic society" may or may not be yours or mine -- Dewey was a socialist.

"Deutsh’s contribution to cooperative learning was positive social interdependence, the idea that the student is responsible for contributing to group knowledge". Deutch is a social psychologist. Again there is a socialization purpose here rather than academic learning. If we are encouraging "interdependence" are we not discouraging independent thinking ... and innovation?

"Students who showed to be more competitive lacked in their interaction and trust with others, as well as in their emotional involvement with other students". Want to bet that such "competitive" students are given lower grades? Again, the focus in on the non-academic. It sounds like competitiveness is being discouraged.

This is just a sampling.

Dave said...

Strike, Sneaker Teacher should have been relieved of his duties. I wonder how students passed standardized tests if they weren't learning what the state says they should learn? There is a Judgment Day.

And Dewey and Deutsch didn't invent cooperative learning. Like any self-aggrandizing theorists, they academ-ized it, adding their own wishful spin and selling a lot of books. Lenin would have been jealous. Not to say all education isn't somewhat socialization.

A teacher quickly puts his Ed 101 coursework behind him and learns to teach in the trenches. I never took an Ed Theory course without a ready supply of Dramamine. (Remind me to tell the story sometime of how I chose a summer of learning to drive tractor trailer over accepting an invitation to an honors graduate seminar.)

I still say cooperative learning as practiced in most school rooms is one tool in a teacher's kit that can enhance and enliven learning. It's not a Socialist Manifesto.

Strikeslip said...

Well, Dave, I will have to respectfully disagree with your viewpoint on cooperative learning and leave it at that.

As far as Ed courses go, I only had one that was of any use -- the one where I learned how to do lesson plans with clear objectives that could be tested. That was it.

As far as Sneaker Teacher being relieved of his duties, no such luck. The "Sneaker Soles" project actually was an award winning project promoted by the Science Teachers Assn of NYS.

Dave said...

You were evidently in the minority to learn to write a measurable objective. I've met few teachers who even understand why that's important. I did that in the '70s for a large corporation and we were quite serious about measuring them since we had real customers paying real money to attend our courses.

Thanks for the discussion. Agree or disagree, you have one of the most interesting blogs around.