Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Jigsaw Reading

My sixth grade classes have a textbook which is impossibly long and simply cannot be finished in one school year.  While I think the material is leveled correctly for my advanced classes, it is quite difficult for the intermediate-level classes to get through the readings due to the amount of new input they are confronted with.  The real problem, though, is that the lessons in the book are designed for 2-hours of daily lessons whereas I only see my students twice a week for 40 minute sessions.  So, it's been a painful necessity to skip massive amounts of material to 'finish the book' as my school would like me to do.

I've wanted to try jigsawing the readings in order to explore the possibility of covering more of the material in less time, but I just haven't had enough time to set up this kind of lesson.  However, since we started a new unit this week, I worked with the time I had this morning in implementing a jigsawed reading activity to varying degrees of success and failure.

The activity I envisioned involved working with my standard arrangement: three teams of four students per class. I wanted to divide a lengthy passage located in the beginning of the new unit into three sections, giving a different section to each team, and have the teams answer worksheet comprehension questions relating to the information in their own section of the passage.  Each team would then have to interact with the other teams to obtain the answers to the worksheet questions which related to information not present in their own bit of text.  I liked this idea because I hoped it would elicit a lot of student-student discourse and would help us move through the material quickly while still absorbing the targeted content.

We are starting a unit on wonders of the world in which a lengthy passage about Stonehenge is presented as an opener.  I typed up the passage and divided it into roughly equal sections for each group to grapple with; the intermediate-class groups received one long paragraph each while the advanced-class groups received three to four.  The worksheet I typed up had nine short-answer questions, of which each group had three specifically tailored to their own passage with another one or two they might be able to answer as well.  

In both the intermediate and advanced classes, I warmed up by having the students look at the unit's opening page which said "Wonders of the World" and contained pictures of Victoria Falls, The Great Wall of China, and Stonehenge.  We discussed what a world wonder actually was and I elicited that they had three important qualities: they can be natural or man-made, they often have cultural importance, and they're impressive.  We then read a short introduction to the Stonehenge reading which related the weight of a stone at Stonehenge to the weight of a bus, so we read it quickly and I asked them to make a plan, with their groups, about how they might move a wheel-less bus from our parking lot to the street without using machines.

I did this activity with the intermediate classes on Wednesday and with the advanced classes today, but I think they went much smoother with the advanced classes.  On Wednesday, the warm-up activity took a bit longer than today due to both the students' lower proficiency levels and a relatively high goof-factor, but I think it got the students in both levels of classes in the right state-of-mind to do the Stonehenge reading.  

Unfortunately, the intermediate classes struggled a bit more than I thought they would with the questions directed towards their own group's passage and we didn't have time for them to complete the activity by interacting with each other and finishing the worksheet.  Part of their difficulty stemmed from the unexpectedly long warm-up while another part arose from the fact that the questions on the worksheet were all mixed together and it was not readily apparent which questions each group was expected to answer.  I had hoped that they would recognize the questions they could answer on their own, but in hindsight, I could have labeled them to make the task easier.  So I scaffolded as best I could as I monitored the activity.  Very unfortunately, because of the holiday on Monday, I won't be able to finish the activity with them until next week.

However, the advanced classes did very well with this activity.  I learned from my warm-up mistakes yesterday and moved the classes along more quickly today.  However, I did not label or relate the questions on the worksheet to their respective sections of text, hoping that the extra time I allotted for the activity would make up for that added difficulty.  I was also sure to be more clear, when I gave directions, about wanting them to address only the questions they could answer with their own slice of the passage.  

After about six or seven minutes into the activity, I got their attention again and told each group to self-select two "diplomats" to travel to other teams and look for answers to those teams' questions.  I also told them that a team's papers could never leave that team's group of desks, so the diplomats would have to really learn the answers and communicate with other teams in order to clear up ambiguities.  The kids got really into this part of the task and there was a lot of discourse going on.  

In two of the classes, I had enough time to begin checking the answers they came up with and I was very pleasantly surprised by the results.  Groups had acquired answers from other teams accurately and were able to demonstrate a functional understanding of those answers, as I found out by asking probing follow-up questions.  Still, I'll need to finish checking their answers with them tomorrow and follow up with a production task using some of the targeted language and concepts... I simply haven't had time to plan out how I'll do that yet.

Looking back on this activity, it strikes me that I could have made it more communicative very easily by simply requiring that the diplomats not be given access to other teams' worksheets, requiring instead that they converse to acquire answers.  This may have necessitated a few extra minutes for that phase of the activity, but that would have been well worth it since I think a lot more meaningful discourse would have been generated.  That being said, I still observed lively and on-topic conversation occurring around the room and it seemed like everyone, including the wallflowers, was getting into it.  To encourage teamwork and team discourse in the initial phase, and then clarification requests in the team-team interaction phase, I wandered the class with my bucket of jewels, giving them out to students who were being communicative and staying on-task.

This is definitely an activity I'll come back to in the future as we were able to cover quite a bit of ground today.  I'm not confident that the kids have taken the targeted material into long-term memory yet, but that will be for tomorrow.

1 comment:

  1. Sounds quite useful in the long run. The long-term memory could only be addressed next week at the earliest. In the interim maybe a blogging task in which they need to work with the ideas from the reading (recycling tlc)? Also -- if you're going to the trouble to type up the texts, could you modufy them a bit for your intermediate students?