Aronson, E., & Bridgeman, D. (1979). Jigsaw groups and the desegregated classroom: In pursuit of common goals. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 5(4), 438-446.
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The desegregation of schools after the Supreme Court ruling of Brown vs. Board of Education did not bring about the positive effects that had been expected. Students segregated themselves within schools and the self-esteem and academic performance of minority children did not improve. This article describes a program of research investigating the factors necessary for successful integration: sanction by authority, equal status contact, and the pursuit of common goals. The sanction by authority was established by the Supreme Court ruling, but it was not a sufficient component of successful integration. Classrooms also needed to create equal status among students and they needed to promote an interdependent rather than competitive structure.
The jigsaw classroom accomplished these goals by having students work together in groups toward a common goal. In a jigsaw classroom, each student is given a unique and vital part of information that must be put together, like a jigsaw puzzle, for any of the students to understand the whole story. Each student must learn their section and teach it to others. This means that each student gets to be an expert which creates equal status among students. Also, students learn to listen to one another and appreciate each other as valuable resources.
Results of multiple studies comparing interdependent (jigsaw) classroom structures and competitive classroom structures indicate that students in interdependent classrooms have greater self-esteem, greater liking for school, and reduced ethnic stereotyping. Academic performance among minority students also tends to improve in interdependent classrooms compared to competitive classrooms. The authors conclude that the underlying mechanisms that make interdependent classrooms successful include increased participation, increased empathetic role-taking, and the tendency to make the same kind of attributions for successes and failures to others as they do for themselves.
This article is a classic because it outlines the preconditions that must be met in order for intergroup contact to have positive effects. In doing so, it highlights that contact alone is not sufficient. The article also proposes a successful intervention that can be easily applied to any classroom.