|Not that kind of jigsaw...|
Jigsaw puzzles are great fun for some of us: my younger daughter and I love it. But my husband and my older daughter would rather eat a spoonful of dirt. However, a jigsaw learning activity is engaging for everyone when well set up.
Here’s one I just did with my 10th grade English class this week, and I have never seen students more engaged for such a length of time with the material and with each other. In my experience, there are 3 keys:
- A topic that students have a stake in.
- Jigsawed materials that are relevant to the topic but varied in content, style, and challenge, within which students have choice.
- An end-product for which students have a felt need to understand both their material and everyone else’s.
Our topic is human dignity—what is it, and why is it important? Our central piece of literature is the Holocaust memoir Night. Before reading it, though, we did some background reading on the Rwanda genocide and watched clips from the movie Hotel Rwanda to bring the issue closer to the present and highlight that “us/them” divisiveness is not just white vs. black (as in our previous novel Cry, the Beloved Country)—it’s also Hutus vs. Tutsis and Germans vs. Jews and many other things in other times and places. As we read the book, we note instances, causes, and effects of disregard for human dignity, as well as the few examples of people fighting the flow to stay human and treat others as such. We also note how the author uses the tools of literature to make those images powerful.
After reading, I wanted students to get even more background information on a variety of topics related to human dignity that they could pull into their final synthesis paper. So I offered 3 very different but very relevant pieces:
- The UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights—a legal document, so difficult reading level, but shortest of the documents; written in response to the Holocaust and referred to in current political commentary.
- “What Makes Us Moral?”—a Time magazine article citing psychological and sociological studies and experiments in an attempt to explain how humanity continues to produce both Mother Theresa’s and Adolph Hitler’s.
- An excerpt of the introduction to Half the Sky—a work by Pulitzer Prize winning journalists Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn on, as the subtitle says, Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide. This has both statistics and stories of individuals.
Students chose the piece they were most interested in reading. They read and annotated it on their own, then gathered with others who had read the same piece. In these groups, they asked clarifying questions to make sure they understood it themselves, then decided how best to summarize it for their classmates who had read other pieces, and which elements might be most relevant to and useful for the synthesis papers.
Then students remixed into groups that had one or two representatives who had read each of the pieces. During the process I heard 10th graders animatedly discussing whether the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights is actually attainable, and if not, what its purpose is; explaining the negative impact of gender-discerning ultrasounds in the 1990s on the current availability of marriageable women in parts of China; and asking (and formulating answers to) questions like, “Does your author think humans are perfectible?”
The activity took longer than I had planned because students were that engaged in both of the discussions—working with each other to figure out what the piece said, what classmates needed to know, and how that helped further their understanding of human dignity and its importance.
I really need to figure out how to do this more often.
Do you have a jigsaw activity that has worked well in your class? If so, would you share it? If not, I invite you to give it a try.