Tuesday, May 10, 2011

A teacher is one who makes himself progressively unnecessary. - Thomas Carruthers

I taught the class, Introduction to Literature, which was an adult accelerated class with a institutionalized syllabus. This meant that a typical semester-long class was condensed into only four weeks – with the expectation that the students complete approximately 20 hours a week of study outside of class and consolidate their learning in a 4 hour face to face class. It was a fast-paced survey course of short stories, poetry, Greek drama and modern drama. The lesson in the first week of class was focused on short stories. The students were required to read ten different short stories and be prepared to discussion them. Recognizing that the students would need support in both analyzing and discussing the stories, I decided to use the Jigsaw Technique to give the students the opportunity to gain confidence in leading the discussion of a particular story through their expert group and then discuss five of the stories through the jigsaw group. After a break, the students completed the final five stories using the same procedure.

Instructions to Students
Discussing the Stories
Expert Groups
  • Talk through the assigned story, focusing on the literary elements
  • Prepare to lead the discussion on your assigned story in small groups
  • Write down some topics/questions for the group
  • Approximately 15 minutes
Jigsaw Groups
  • Each person is a leader for one story
  • One person should be a “secretary” for each story
  • Write down important ideas, comments and/or questions
  • Post the page under the story title on the wall
  • Have your books and notes open
  • All members should participate when discussing each story
  • Approximately 10-15 minutes/story

Reading ten short stories in a week and attempting to discuss all ten is a Herculean task, yet in this course, it was required. Since the students were also required to turn in their notes from reading the short stories, I thought most students would have completed the reading of each of the stories, but probably didn't spend much time analyzing the stories for their literary elements, which was an objective of the course.
I choose the Jigsaw Technique for several reasons. First, it focused the activity on the students, not me, the teacher. I believe that in a class discussion, the students should be doing most of the questioning and responding. With small groups, more students have the opportunity to discuss, especially compared to a whole class discussion. Second, it provided support for the students to gain confidence in leading the discussion. Recognizing that most students probably completed a cursory reading of the stories, the expert groups provided an opportunity for the students to clarify their understanding and create good discussion questions which would increase their confidence in leading a small group discussion. Finally, it is an efficient method to discuss a large amount of readings.

By including a written component, where each jigsaw group had to produce a summary of each discussion of each short story, I could quickly assess each group's progress and understanding. In addition, by consolidating all groups' summarizes, as a whole class we could gauge the major points of each story at the end of all the discussions.

After working all day, sitting in a four hour class can be daunting. However, students commented at the end of class that they were surprised how quickly the time flew by. One student said that he was dreading this class because he was anticipating having to sit and listen to a lecture for hours, but with the groupings there was a lot of activity and mental engagement so it “wasn't so bad.”

The Jigsaw Technique -Barbara Tewksbury, Hamilton College - http://serc.carleton.edu/NAGTWorkshops/coursedesign/tutorial/jigsaw.html

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