Full versus abbreviated jigsaw
Leadership Insights

Professional Development Activities for Teachers: The Jigsaw and its Alternatives

By Terry Wilhelm May 28, 2013


Full versus abbreviated jigsawMany principals use professional journal articles and books to help build their teachers’ shared knowledge about best practices and site-specific improvement initiatives. Perhaps the most common method for doing this is the jigsaw — dividing up the reading among the members of the staff, taking time for individual reading, then inviting each person to share out to the full group.

A second common strategy is to assign specific chapters or sections to departments or grade levels, asking each group to read the selection on their own before the meeting and make a formal presentation on their section when their turn comes up.

Both methods can work well if used sparingly and done well, but they also have drawbacks. Teachers quickly become bored with the jigsaw if it is the only strategy used. Assigning chapters or sections saves meeting time in that the actual reading is done beforehand, but carries the risk that not all members of a given team will actually complete their reading, and often the preparation and presentation falls to only a few, or even a single member.

Here are some ideas for getting the most out of a jigsaw. Our next post will outline alternative strategies for real-time professional reading during staff meetings or professional development sessions.

How to maximize a traditional jigsaw

The extra step in a full jigsaw — one that makes the strategy much more powerful, but is often skipped in the interest of time — is to create an “expert group.”

  • To set this up, assign sections so that people who are seated together are all reading different texts (counting off through the entire room by the number of sections is the simplest way to do this).
  • After everyone (or almost everyone) has finished, regroup the staff so that everyone who read the same section sits together to discuss and come to consensus on the major points of the reading.
  • Ask each expert group to appoint a timer and facilitator; everyone must take their own notes. Allow between five and 10 minutes for this discussion.

Once the expert group discussion is finished, everyone returns to their home table. Proceeding in the order of the sections in the reading, each “section expert” will summarize his or her section for the table group. If there are more table group members than sections, those who read the same section and were in the same expert group share this task. Again, have each home table group appoint a timekeeper so that all the groups will finish at approximately the same time.

Expert groups = higher engagement

The advantage of the full jigsaw over the modified version described at the beginning of this post is that it requires a higher level of engagement from all group members and thus returns better professional learning results.

With either the full or modified version, the principal or other full-group facilitator should debrief the process and invite general reflections about the reading after all experts have taught their own sections to their home groups.

A note about whether everyone needs to finish reading every bit of their section:  Given that everyone reads at different rates, it is not necessary, if using the full jigsaw, for each person to finish reading every word of their section, since the expert group will include people who did. As you bring the individual reading time to a close, reassure those who are not quite finished that if they are still reading, it will be OK, because they are about to become part of an expert group where they will be caught up. As a courtesy to all your staff members, you may wish to email the full article to the staff beforehand, or inform everyone which chapter will be jigsawed if using a book, inviting those who want to read it before the staff meeting to do so.

Fold-up cards: a tool for slower readers

One further strategy I use to prevent a lot of chatter that interferes with the concentration of slower readers as fast readers finish is the use of fold-up cards. Informing the group that I am personally a slow reader, and that fast readers’ conversations that begin before I’m done interfere with my focus, I remind them that every group has fast and slow readers. I pass out halved index cards, and demonstrating with one myself, I ask that as each person finishes their section, would they please fold the card in half and stand it up in front of them like a little tent. I tell them that after they have done so, they are invited to peruse other sections if they wish, but to please refrain from talking to other neighbors who are early finishers. This will help me know, as the facilitator, when everyone is finished, and it will respect our colleagues who, like me, are slower readers. It sounds gimmicky, but it really does help, and the slower readers appreciate it.

The series:
Part 1: Full vs. abbreviated jigsaw
Part 2: Reading cascade
Part 3: Final word discussion protocol
Part 4: Chunked and timed protocol
Part 5: Partner reading
Part 6: Levels of sharing out and think-write-pair-share

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