Cooperative learning is a methodology based on teamwork and that aims to build knowledge and acquire skills and social skills. Among the different techniques most used, the puzzle technique stands out, in which students are an active part of the learning process. The objective of this article is to provide teachers with the tools and knowledge necessary to apply it, optimizing resources and maximizing benefits. For this reason, this technique is exposed, which adapts to the characteristics of the classroom and the student body and which takes care of diversity. This technique, the objectives it aims to achieve and the steps required for its application are described in detail below. Also, its advantages and disadvantages are shown. Finally, a practical example of this technique is presented in a Primary Education classroom.
The puzzle technique is a cooperative learning method created in 1971 by Elliot Aronson, an American professor at the University of Austin (Texas, USA). Professor Aronson together with his students devised this technique with the aim of reducing social conflict in the classroom. (Traver and García, 2004). At this time, the educational authorities of the city of Austin decided to bet on a school without racial segregation.
For the first time in the classroom, three ethnic groups coexisted: white, African American, and Hispanic. However, mistrust between these groups led to a very competitive atmosphere in the classroom.
For this reason, Aronson had the idea of fostering a more cooperative atmosphere in which the different groups could work together to achieve common objectives (Vicente, 2009).
2. The puzzle technique
It is called a puzzle because each student is an essential piece to the completion and complete understanding of the final product. Each student takes responsibility for a portion of the content and then shares it with the other members of their team. The only way for students to learn the other parts of the content that are not their own is to listen carefully to their peers. In addition, the performance of the work will be conditioned by the mutual cooperation and responsibility between all the members of the group. In this way, interdependence is ensured as the students are the tutors of their own classmates (Martinez and Gomez, 2010).
When proposing an interactive environment, this method supposes the presence of socio-cognitive conflict, the engine of learning (Ovejero, 2009). In the same way, it is framed within meaningful learning since it considers students as the true protagonists of the teaching-learning process. In addition, it addresses the diversity of the students, considering the different interests and abilities (Pujolás, 2004).
This technique can be used in various fields, although the greatest number of experiences are framed within the educational field. It can be used in different educational levels and subjects. However, it is usually aimed at the secondary stage because it is essential to have a series of skills and social skills to carry it out. However, it can be applied in primary education by instructing students and introducing the necessary interaction and expression skills (Ibáñez and Gómez, 2005).
Considering each student as a unique and indispensable piece in the puzzle that makes up their group is synonymous with greater student integration, greater motivation, and involvement, as well as, of course, an effective learning medium. By applying this puzzle technique it is intended to achieve the following didactic objectives (Valero and Vaquerizo, 2009):
- Increase academic performance and improve the learning climate.
- Encourage meaningful and self-directed learning.
- Promote autonomy of learning.
- Attend to the diversity of interests, motivations, and capacities of the students.
- Encourage the continued study of a subject, so that the student does not memorize, but knowledge matures.
- Promote teamwork and mutual support.
- Develop social skills to relate to the group and assertively present one’s point of view.
- Assume responsibilities, decision-making, and power of initiative.
4. Steps to implement this technique in the classroom
For the application of the puzzle technique there are a series of steps:
1. Group organization: students are divided into groups of five or six diverse and heterogeneous students with respect to gender and abilities.
2. Distribution of the subject: the material to be studied is divided into as many parts or subtopics as there are members of each team. So that each of the members of the group receives a part of the topic that, together, the whole team must study. These parts must be independent of each other.
3. Individual study: each member of the group seeks information, analyzes, and prepares his part of the subject, with the material that has been provided or with which he has searched.
4. Meeting of experts: the members of different groups but who have worked on the same part meet to clarify doubts and deepen on the subject under study, forming a “team of experts”. In this way, they share information and enrich themselves until they are “experts” on the subject.
5. Explanations of the base group: the base group meets so that, in turn, each member teaches their part of the topic to the other classmates. It is necessary to motivate the rest of the classmates to intervene in order to clarify the explanation.
The teacher must go in a group to observe the process. In the event that you detect a problem in a group, for example, that a student is bothering you, you must carry out an appropriate intervention. Likewise, at the end of the class, it is necessary to carry out some type of test on the material studied (test, questionnaire, oral test, etc.) so that students have the impression that the activity they have carried out is important and is not a question of the play.
Implement this Puzzle Technique in the Classroom to improve Knowledge & Talent
In the evaluation of this technique, various aspects such as the degree of knowledge of the group and of each of its members will be assessed (Ibáñez and Gómez, 2005).
In order to carry out this evaluation, three questions must be answered: What to evaluate? How to evaluate? and when to evaluate?
What to evaluate ?: Aspects such as contributions by the students, the difference between previous knowledge and those that they have managed to achieve individually from all parts of the subject will be taken into account and not only from those who were “experts”, the existing motivation when carrying out the task, the resources used to search for information (magazines, books, web pages, etc.), the relationships, interactions, and social skills that are promoted by carrying out this task or also the additional material that Each “expert” uses the knowledge they acquired to explain to their group.
How to evaluate ?: Several instruments can be used in different contexts and times. Some of the instruments that can be used to evaluate are direct and systematic observation, analysis of the work, and the behavior of each student, among others.
When to evaluate ?: At the beginning of the process, each student will be given a questionnaire to find out what knowledge they have of the subject they are going to study. In this way, the teacher will be able to compare how much he has learned. Subsequently, a continuous evaluation will be carried out throughout the process.
Finally, in the final evaluation, the maturity and knowledge acquired by each of the experts and by each base group will be assessed.
Some of the advantages that we can cite when using the puzzle technique for kids in the classroom are the following (Ovejero, 2009):
- It contributes to improving the motivation of the students.
- Increases student satisfaction in relation to their learning.
- Helps reduce conflict in the classroom.
- Encourages positive interdependence among students.
- Reduce absenteeism in the classroom.
- It contributes to improving self-esteem especially for students with low academic performance.
Here are some of the problems that may arise when working in the classroom with this puzzle methodology (Vicente, 2009):
The dominant student: Many teachers randomly choose a student from the group to lead the discussion. One of their functions is to encourage the rest of their peers in the group to participate equally in the final discussion. Students perceive that the functioning of the group is much more effective if everyone can participate and present their contributions, comments and questions. One way to counteract the dominant student is to give the group more prominence.
The slow learner: The teacher must ensure that students with low study skills do not make contributions to the lower-than-average level group. One way to combat this problem is to use “expert groups” to enhance the contribution of these students by bringing in the other “experts” before presenting it to your homegroup.
Brilliant students who get bored: The degree of boredom in the classroom is less when using this technique than with traditional methodologies. Brilliant students must be made to perceive their new role as “teachers” as a challenge. This will transform a boring learning experience into an intellectually stimulating one
The puzzle technique promotes student learning and motivation by getting students to share the acquired information in a group. This technique is based on cooperative learning that consists of working in small groups to perform collective tasks. It is important to carry out this technique in classrooms because cooperative learning motivates students to learn.
Usually, teachers use the textbook in the classroom as the only tool to teach subjects to students. However, being guided only by the textbook can be boring for students. With cooperative work, students are brought together in smaller groups and they are given any topic, dividing it into parts and giving each part to each member of the group. When looking for and assimilating the information obtained, children work with their peers and learn a lot of information without hardly realizing it. After this process, when they meet with the base group, they not only learn the knowledge acquired by themselves but also, by understanding the information of the rest of their classmates, they learn a whole topic in a dynamic way and promote group work.
This technique has a number of positive aspects such as increasing the self-esteem of each student. In addition, it makes students listen to each other, improves individual and group academic performance, decreases competitiveness, helps to value their peers on a personal level, and also as a source of information and reduces conflicts between students, something that is very beneficial.