Jigsaw-Zigsaw: An Adventure for Every GEDI

This week, we learned a different approach for teaching and learning in the classroom. This blog entry is the story of that experience.

Two weeks ago at the end of class, each student was given a number which corresponded to a short reading assignment, and we were all told to return to class last week ready to go on our sections. With that, class was dismissed and we were all on our way.

As we trickled back into the classroom last week, we were greeted at the door by our Teaching Assistant (TA) team, Jyotsana, Greg, & Amy who directed us to tables in the classroom that were numbered like our readings were assigned the previous week.

Our seating assignment put students together who all had been given the same reading assignment. This created Expert Tables and we took the first 15 minutes or so of class to discuss with each other what we had read and to develop our list of high points and takeaways that came from our readings.

The TA’s then revealed a whiteboard that had us grouped in a new way, which separated us from expert tables into Jigsaw Tables where each of the 7 individuals in the new group was an expert on a different assigned reading.


During Jigsaw Tables, we were given 40 minutes to teach each other about our readings and to come up with a definition of Critical Pedagogy from what we had just learned (from each other).

And so here is what happened:

The following lists each group member and the takeaway points from each of their assigned readings.


Joe L. Kinchloe, “Paulo Friere (1921-1997)” The Critical Pedagogy Primer (2004), Pp 69-75

  • Paulo Freire: teaching philosophy is to take different perspectives
  • Challenge institutionalized ways of teaching; critical consciousness, extra awareness of thinking
  • Education should be available to people of all class, including marginalized populations



Joe L. Kinchloe “Moving to Critical Complexity” The Critical Pedagogy Primer (2004), Pp 108-110

  • Current education system is simplified by “standardization”
  • Students are unique in background and in ways of constructing meaning
  • Students have experiences that could teach others, including the teacher
  • Students have agency to find meaning on their own, rather than have information delivered to them
  • In what ways can we negotiate a “reductionist” space to accommodate complexity?



Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of Freedom “Pedagogy of the Oppressed”

  • Teaching is not knowledge transfer, but for teachers to guide students to construct meaning based on their personal identity and understanding
  • Students should also learn from each other, build confidence in their own abilities
  • Paulo Freire analysis the relationship between teacher and student at any level. He considers that education is suffering from narration sickness, in which the student is the depositories, and the teacher is the depositor. In the class, the teacher makes deposits and the students receive, memorize, and repeat. It is his Banking concept.



Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of Freedom, “There is no Teaching without Learning, Methodological Rigor, Research, Respect for What Students Know”

  • There is no teaching without learning: teachers and students learn from each other (reciprocity)
  • Methodological rigor:
    • both teachers and learners are active subjects
    • students should not be treated in “bulk” as if they are identical
  • Learning comes from curiosity: ask questions, think from different perspectives
  • Create an environment to enable development of critical thinking/learning/consciousness
  • The teaching process is more than knowledge transfer, encouraging the learners to create and recreate knowledge for themselves
  • There is no teaching without research: teachers have to be updated
  • Need to respect pre-existing knowledge students may come with and make use of it
  • Connect what’s taught to practice



Bell Hooks. (2010). “Critical Thinking” Teaching Critical Thinking, Routledge.

  • Conformity and obedience in school interrupted the kids’ nature as critical thinkers
  • The role of the teacher is to free students from obedience and conformity, restore and polish their thinking skills, provide an interactive space for students to freely inquiry knowledge rooted in what they know
  • Critical pedagogy or engaged pedagogy is meant to help restore the students’ will to think and self-actualization
  • Critical thinking is interactive as it is the evolution of views through analysis, evaluation, self-direction, self-discipline, self-observation and self-correction
  • Critical thinking is deep and requires discernment. It is work for knowledge
  • Critical thinking is proactive and passionate
  • Another role of the teacher is to serve as a role model of critical thinking and development of discernment
  • Critical thinking is both unique for each individual and collaborative for a learning community.
  • The center of “critical” is be able to decide what is important and what is trivial



Bell Hooks. (2010). “Democratic Education” Teaching Critical Thinking, Routledge.

  • Democratic education: each successive generation needs to fight for democracy
  • Connect theory to practice in teaching
  • Equality vs. equity: standard ways of teaching does not address student uniqueness; we need equity in our way of responding to students


Bell Hooks. (2010). “Engaged Pedagogy” Teaching Critical Thinking, Routledge.

  • Engaged pedagogy: teacher and student mutually exchange knowledge
  • Sharing openness and honesty as an educator, to create an environment where students could feel like an equal

How do we define Critical Pedagogy ?

  1. There is mutual exchange of knowledge and experience between students and teachers
  2. Students are individuals with unique experiences and there is no single right way to deliver the lesson/material/knowledge
  3. There should be equity in the classroom
  4. Connecting theory to practice (or, connecting to real-world) and providing context for the theory
  5. Take what we learn and critically apply it to enact change and further society in a positive direction; to challenge social & political structure, to help the marginalized and fight injustice

How do we apply Critical Pedagogy to our own fields and educational settings?


Jason (Sociology): embracing perspectives different from your own in a classroom setting

              As a sociologist, critical pedagogy fits the mold of so many aspects of the discipline.  Paulo Freire spoke of critical consciousness which we can incorporate into learning in the classroom to challenge the status quo and encourage students take the knowledge they obtain and put it to use.  This signifies that education isn’t just a “thing” that you earn after four years with a diploma but is defined with how you use it.  Paulo Freire uses the metaphor of a mind bank which under authoritarian teaching methods, the instructor uses his or her role to present information in deterministic fashion.  This conjures up a discussion I presented in an earlier blog which highlights the idea of being lectures AT rather than TO.  Under these circumstances, Freire accounts for students being able to demonstrate they absorbed themes important to the instructor without thinking for themselves whether this is true knowledge, or whether this “knowledge” is accurate and meaningful.  This promotes the idea that knowledge has an end-goal or a finite level of achievement.  To counter this notion of the authoritarian teacher, we should embrace as teachers, that we too are still learning.   

In the field of sociology, my areas of concentration are criminology and social inequality.  The courses in this program encourage students to critically evaluate intuitional systems in place.  As Freire noted, teaching is a political act.  Especially on the topics of social inequality in which gender, racial, and social discrimination are associated with various social institutions, politics will always come under scrutiny.  When topics of this nature are discussed, it’s really the job of the instructor to illuminate different perspectives that may be different from our own.  We have all been told on the road to knowledge, there is no wrong answer.  I challenge that notion, in light of discussing inequalities and injustice, that in the vein of critical pedagogy, the only real wrong answer is the one that perpetuates these inequalities.  College students by and large are a privileged group of individuals.  They are given the opportunity to benefit from an education that isn’t available to everyone.  We should be preparing them to make a positive impact on the social, cultural, economic, political, and philosophical facets of the world.  After all, this is at the heart of Paulo Freire’s critical pedagogy: “the possibility for positive change.”  This is also the crux of the sociological discipline.


Grace & Sneha & Greg (Engineering): We’re too used to the traditional blackboard and chalk lectures, where we learn fundamentals and equations. But in addition to understanding the fundamentals is to understand the context in which these fundamentals were realized. What do they mean in a diverse setting with different people? Is there a way to enhance problem-based learning with greater consideration for environmental and social impacts? Can we learn more about human factors? Can we learn from other disciplines and different ways of thinking?



Let’s talk about learning by thinking from different perspectives.

Engineering education could be quite monotonous. We cover content, the so called “fundamentals.” We go through equations like daily meals that we  may or may not talk about. We discuss professional ethics. We touch on social, environmental, and economic impacts. We write in one style. Very briefly we venture outside our building to be introduced to a non-engineering subject. Then we graduate,  because we are considered to have “depth and breadth” in knowledge.

The irony is that engineering is not monotonous. Problems come in all scope and size. There is diversity in partnership, audience, and stakeholder. Project impact could be intangible yet far reaching. Enough said.

Let’s strive for greater interdisciplinary learning. Let’s collaborate on open-ended problems with diverse student populations. Let’s step out of our comfort zones and tackle foreign subjects. Let’s balance technical skills with soft skills.

Let’s connect theory to practice.


The engineering world is advancing at a very fast pace-something that is novel today may be outdated tomorrow. However, the curriculum and syllabus in engineering education have remained the same for a very long time (or, at least that is how it has been in civil engineering education). The students today still learn the outdated techniques from many years ago. Even after four years of undergraduate engineering degree, a student may not be prepared enough to go out and work in the real world. It seems to me that there is a huge gap between the education that is being taught and what the real world demands. Hence, the curriculum that is being used in engineering should be updated often enough to reduce the “gap”. For this, the teachers, in first place, should update themselves and also create an environment that facilitates the learners to keep up with the advancements.
Furthermore, engineering has so much to do with problem solving. This is where innovation takes place. Students should be encouraged to think of a problem from different perspectives and to bring in ideas for solving the problem. Moreover, the theories that are taught in classes should provide meaning in terms of real world applications.


The engineering classroom can be a place where emphasis is placed on a “just the facts/theory/formulas” mentality. An environment muted from current events to focus on the important fundamentals which, in some cases, are unchanged for decades if not centuries. I would argue this philosophy is flawed. To educate the future generations of engineers, we must provide context to the ideas of the past and the implications of our work.

Engaging students in conversations about the societal, political, ethical, and cultural significance of what they study pushes our students towards a better understanding of how to use the knowledge we create together. Isolating problems to a single subject, topic area, or siloed educational discipline does a disservice to our students. This is not how problems are solved in the “real world”. Instead we work together, across our traditional educational boundaries to tackle the truly challenging problems facing our world. Showing students the context of how these difficult problems have been solved in the past and modeling the importance of working together in the future will generate more thoughtful and mindful contributors to our society. Engineers who don’t just ask “How can I apply what has been done”, but those who challenge “What can we do and who should we involve to create the best and most thoughtful solution together?”

Julin (Building Construction):

I am focused on the information technology in building construction. I have TAed a software class. There could be 60 to 100 students in the classroom. The students are required to complete one project after another based on tutorials. It is very rare for students, and even for me, to complete a project without running into any problems. The procedures and specific settings instructed in the tutorials can be very delicate. Besides, as the software manufacturer (Autodesk) publishes newer versions of software every year, the user interfaces can change from what is shown in the tutorials. There should not be treated as flaws of the class but as the reality of the building industry. All kinds of IT problems will occur. The professionals in building construction have to troubleshoot them frequently. Therefore, the intention of a software class is not just to all the settings and steps right, submit the assignments on time, and get a good grade. More important than getting things right, is getting things wrong and fixing it mindfully.

My observation from TAing the class is that the students who approach the problems critically and interact with the instructors and the TAs curiously can get the most from the class. Here I am emphasizing a curious mind and an effective interaction. These students constantly reflect on what they are doing and what the problem is, troubleshoot on their own, and then ask specifically for where they need help. In a proactive thinking and reasoning mode, they can get interactive tutoring from the instructor or TAs that is tailored towards their interest and curiosity. Not every student is learning in this most beneficial way. Therefore, the teacher’s role in the context of software teaching is to stop holding the students hands, to encourage them to practice more independent thinking and troubleshooting, and to feed their curiosity with tailored interaction.


Yang (Creative Technology): instructors have to dig into every student’s projects and give guidances; peer critiques

Creative and Critical Thinking

As a student in art and design department, maybe be a teacher in the future, creative and critical thinking is the core in my life whatever the role I played. It is dangerous for art and design student without the critical and creative thinking ability.  I encourage myself and all students in my class to take an advantage and never afraid failed. I know it is tough. Even it is a big challenge for the students in China. Before we study at the university, we faced the high oppressed in primary, middle and high school. For example, we would not leave the class without the allow of the teacher. We need to hands up before we speak in the class. I remember in the math class in primary school. All the students keep the same posture in the 40 minutes. Otherwise, the students will face the punishment. I know in different area students have the different experience. But when I was a fine art student in China Academy of Art I feel freedom and comfort in the class. It is a challenge for the student not just listen and repeat what the teacher’s transfer in classes, but also to think about what I want to gain individually.

Critical thinking does not mean unrespected. Creative and analytical thinking method is an essential access to success. A great many of example of artist experience shows the importance of critical and creative thinking. Pablo Picasso is a talented artist as know as the pioneer of Cubist. Has anyone researched the artworks before he changes the style to cubist? Picasso’s early artworks are different than the method we familiar.  Thus, for the students in art and design area, not only to understand what the knowledge and information the teachers transfer and sharing in class but also needs to ask why frequently, and also know the plan in future. Education is not the single efforts. It means not only the teachers engaging the students learning deeply. The students work hard and know the what they positive to learn. The responsibility for educator in high education level is to create an academic space to encourage and guide the students to construct the personal knowledge structure. Education is a way to find the initial concept and idea in mind.   


Sara (Landscape Architecture): Typically, an instructor guides students on their projects, following the lead of the student and their individual interests. Instructors help students discover how to the research needed to answer the problem at hand and help by asking relevant questions that make the student think critically. We use problem-based learning to address real, site-specific issues in landscape design.

This semester, I get the privilege of being a Research Assistant to a cool and exciting project that is funded by the National Park Service. The Chattahoochee National Water Trail, located in Metro-Atlanta, Georgia, is a 48-mile reach that flows through the heart of one of the most densely populated regions in the United States. Using this site as a learning experience for our 5th year Landscape Architecture Students, we are guiding the teams so that they develop their own concepts and visions for the water trail in a way that reflects their ideas. At the same time, we are gently pushing them one way or another towards the research and information they need to talk about the problems they have identified as important for their project.

In this way, we are teaching our students how to think critically about their projects in a very individual way. Because each of the teams has settled on different conceptual drivers, the information that they need to plan and design varies from group to group. The teaching staff helps tease out the important questions from the students. They already know where they want to go with the project, but perhaps don’t fully understand how to get there yet. That’s where we come in: through individual desk critiques and pin-ups for the whole class, we are able to have discussions about the project that help the students continue to develop their ideas.

I’m going to go ahead and say the methodology of problem-based learning is used in landscape architecture programs everywhere. It is utilized in a way that we help our fledgling designers develop into critical thinkers who will go on to become leaders in the design disciplines.


It was my intention to link everyone to their blog the first time they were mentioned in this post. But, since I couldn’t find each contributor’s blog on the course website, there are a few people who are not linked to their own blog. If you are one of my group members and you would like your blog linked, either comment with your address below OR email me at sklh@vt.edu and I will get your link added to this post.

Also, our group blog post was originally going to be sprinkled with .gifs, but it didn’t work out that they could be posted because of the way we created our joint Google-Docs file to work on the draft of this post. Sorry everyone.

Image Credits:

Jigsaw Puzzle Featured Image 


  • Hi Sara, thanks for posting for the group. You can link to my blog using this address: https://blogs.lt.vt.edu/zhanyu/blog/

  • Wejdan says:

    It’s great to see how critical pedagogy utilized in different fields, I like how each one of you guys explained and shared how they adapt it!!

    • Sara Lamb Harrell says:

      Thanks Wejdan! It was such a fun exercise in the classroom last week; we wanted to preserve the spirit of our group-learning experience. (And personally, I thought it was so interesting to hear the stories from each of my colleagues–so we decided we wanted to share all of that with the class as well!)

  • Shiqiang says:

    Critical pedagogy and innovative thinking can help students learn more beyond the class and textbooks. This semester I’m taking one class consisted of lots of reading, discussion on open-ended questions, interviews, and weekly blog reflections. I have learned quite a lot from the class but spend quite a lot of time every week. As a graduate student with heavy research workload, I can only sacrifice my sleep time. So from my personal experience, as more time and energy are invested into critical thinking from both students and teachers, critical pedagogy can be promoted not only from teacher and student perspective in a classroom, but also from the credit/research requirements for graduation and program/degree expectations. This can help students balance their time and energy, and have more flexibility to practice critical thinking.

    • Sara Lamb Harrell says:

      Thanks for your comment, Shiqiang. You bring up a valuable point about striking a balance between (graduate) school workload and a student’s home-life.
      Courses that are designed for critical thinking do require a lot of time for students to be successful (and to get the desired effect/achieve the learning goals) and this often creates conflict for students. I can empathize with your comment on the sacrifice of sleep for school work! I do it, too. It’s a vicious cycle!

      So in response to that shared experience (I’m confident that there are other students and instructors reading this blog/comment that can relate to this) what can we do to help our students with this conflict in their lives outside of the classroom? A commitment to the course material is expected from the students, but is there anything we can do to help support our students in their learning without driving them to compromise their health and wellness?

      One of the techniques I’ve tried is to encourage students to TRY to complete all assignments if possible, but at the same time I advise them to not spend too much time because at a certain point, it’s not helpful to keep pushing if you’re to a point where you’re not taking care of yourself. We offer time built into the classes for students to work with us on their assignments and ask questions, and most take advantage of this opportunity. Learning different skills, such as speed-reading or other approaches to taking in material can help. But even the best speed-reader will need time to digest what they’ve just taken in and to also reflect on it–especially if there is a Blog or other required written component.

      How do you cope with the demands of graduate school and the sleep deprivation? Can you talk more about your ideas on the principles of critical pedagogy and how it can be applied to degree/program requirements and expectations? That’s a pretty novel concept to me and I am curious how that might be integrated into higher ed.

    • This is a great point! Assignments and learning that uses critical thinking takes more time, effort and mental energy than less critical thinking assignments. They also can take more time to grade, because not all students will come to exactly the same answer. And we should consider this when we are asking students to do critical thinking in our classes, give more time and maybe fewer assignments.

  • Jaclyn Drapeau says:

    Great post! I appreciate that you included main points from each of the expert groups AND explained what critical pedagogy might look like in your respective areas. Like Grace, I was with the group that read about Complex Critical Pedagogy; there were a couple of different points that I took away from those pages, but one of the most important was that students teach us as instructors and professors as well. So I totally agree with Jason’s statement, “To counter this notion of the authoritarian teacher, we should embrace as teachers, that we too are still learning.”

    • Sara Lamb Harrell says:

      Thanks Jaclyn! We wanted to present this post in a way that our readers would understand that it was written by several authors/contributors. The fact that we covered different topics from the expert groups to the zigsaw-mashup inspired us to approach it in this way.

      I love the concept of students and teachers both learning together and that it is a dynamic that is stressed in critical pedagogy. I know from my own experience that I learn so much from my students throughout any given semester… I just didn’t have the vocabulary to describe it until this class/this lesson on critical pedagogy.

      • I missed this class but liked that i got to “eavesdrop” on your table’s discussion through this post. After reading about what you did in class I realized that I taught a similar Jigsaw activity in my class last week. I assigned small groups a soil micronutrient and asked them to design a cycle diagram for that nutrient, because most textbooks skip micronutrient cycle diagrams. They could use any resources they found and they had to explain their cycle to the rest of the class. I was really impressed by how students utilized information I gave them and then went looking for more on their own and how each group represented the forms and processes of each nutrient in their own way. Now, the students have access to a collect of micronutrient cycles that they all can use to study and learn. It really is amazing how much we can learn, share, create and explore when we (and our students) are given the opportunity, space and encouragement to critically think for ourselves!

        • Amy Hermundstad says:

          This is such a cool example, Bethany! Last Wednesday in class was the first time that I had seen the Jigsaw approach in action so it is really cool to hear about other ways that it has been and can be implemented.

        • A. Nelson says:

          Here I am, so amazed by how cool soil science is! This sounds like such a great activity.

        • Sara Lamb Harrell says:

          Thanks for commenting Bethany. I’m glad that our post helped you catch up on what you missed (but apparently you didn’t miss much because you are already using this strategy in your teaching!)

    • Thanks for the comments Jaclyn! To be fair, I suppose I am still technically a student since I’m still working towards my degree but I’ll stand by my statement. I think its an important point to make. Whether we learn new perspectives or ideas from our students, or we continue formally learning ourselves, we are always still and honing our craft.

  • Kaisen Lin says:

    I like the title of this post. This week’s group post is an adventure for every GEDI. What you show here is exactly what our group did. We started with sharing the take home message from each group and came up with a definition of what critical thinking is. We worked as a group for the post and at the end shared our thinking on how to apply critical thinking in our future teaching individually. I am glad to see some other group did the same thing and I really enjoy reading your post!

    • Sara Lamb Harrell says:

      Thank you, Kaisen. I was impressed with all of the blogs this week. I thought at first that it might not turn out as well as it did overall, but each group took the time to really dig into their readings and were very open in sharing how these philosopher’s lessons are applied across diverse disciplines. I’m glad you liked the title of our blog post this week. I was stumped at first, but the Ha-Ha moment over the “Zigsaw” story in class was too good not to jump on. 🙂

  • Carlos F Mantilla P says:

    So I am coming late to the party, and probably I will repeat what others have said (because I did not read all the comments). I am in Civil Engineering, and even in our same program you find diversity everywhere, including how professors approach to teach the same course. Yet, as Sneha pointed out, it seems that what is being taught/discuss ends up being the same, and has remained the same for many years, with changes in form (chalk board to powerpoints, maybe to online courses) but not in substance, the professor still delivers what it is believe to be important. Not sure who said it, but we need more interdisciplinary teaching, we could strive for professors switching sections, designing problems that involve analysis of environmental and social impacts, and not just the physics of it.

    • Sara Lamb Harrell says:

      Hi Carlos, thank you for your comment. You’re not late to the party! I agree with you on interdisciplinary teaching. I have gotten the most out of classes where teachers accepted students from a broad range of backgrounds as well as those classes which have been taught by one or two+ professors of record. Each additional person added to the discussion adds richness and experience to the fold. The complex issues of society are not going to be solved if we remain isolated in though in our silos. Seems to me like this extends into the work force, not just in education. I see a world where interdisciplinary learning and problem solving becomes the norm. To me, the engineers need landscape architects and we need you engineers on board in the early stages of conceptualizing problems, inventory, and analysis–following through to the implementation and post-occupancy review. We will create better solutions to the problems with a holistic approach!

      • Carlos F Mantilla P says:

        Hi Sara, I just saw you had reply to my comment, seems it is a limitation of the “vt blogs”, I was by chance checking the GEDI class website, and somehow ended up checking this, hehehe… we really need to shake things a little as you mentioned…have a great 2018

  • Zach Gould says:

    I love the idea of Praxis as a solution to the monotony of engineering education. Once students are thrown into the real world boring chalk board lectures become an impossibility. Theories and equations could be learned in the field so as to really drive home the essence of engineering and communication WHY we learn these fundamentals in the first place. This would involve a return to a more Dewey like conception of apprenticeship education but I think it would be invaluable in demonstrating the dynamic, exciting qualities of engineering to students.

  • dinagadalla says:

    I particularly liked the input of establishing interdisciplinary works and welcoming them to the engineering field. This is definitely missing in educating engineers and could immensely add to the current fundamentals being taught if incorporated in an appropriate way. Which could also help in reducing the education-workforce gap.

  • brooks92 says:

    It is so bizarre to hear from multiple engineering students that there is not a strong experiential bent to teaching styles. As a spectator, engineering seems like the most hands-on, problem-solving based discipline of any! I would love to be an engineer (if I had the time or ability); you actually make things! I can’t think of anything more rewarding. Well maybe Paediatrician, but there is not many.
    I used to live with a couple of engineers (in the UK mind) who were constantly working on assigned projects, building drones, pipes, bridges, etc. I had just assumed that this was the norm because it makes such intuitive sense, but evidently not. What is the engineers justification for ever deviating from such an approach?

  • MiguelAndres Andres says:

    Thanks for sharing the experience of the Jigsaw. I however did not find it very useful for the way it was applied. I think that each of us wrote a piece of the assignment and then we put it together. As individual pieces they work, but as a one piece document, I find a lot more challenging. I think the assignment would have been more successful if we would have had more structure, or even a higher more defend assignment, this way, all of us would have contributed our part into one piece assignment, and not multiple segments within.

  • David says:

    This activity brings a lot of confidence in students learning. This helps in developing knowledge. I remember my college days when we had a group discussion and I always keep my contender’s mouth shut down.

  • Do you offer some award to the most effective team? I would like to go with Jigsaw Tables as my best team.

  • David says:

    Seems very healthy discussion. The students have done really splendid. I am impressed with the efforts these students have done.

  • This event improves in self-development of students. Good Luck for the future.

  • Jason says:

    What a great way to group the teams.
    Would love to see more of such discussions in the future.


  • Thanks for sharing the article. Can you tell me about a few tools which can help in developing critical thinking skills for people who are not good at thinking.

  • These are tremendously positive efforts that the students are displaying. Glad to see that happening.

  • nebulous says:

    Greg, & Amy who directed us to tables in the classroom that were numbered like our readings were assigned the previous week.

  • agario says:

    This week, we learned a different approach for teaching and learning in the classroom. This blog entry is the story of that experience.

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