European Journal of Psychology of Education

, Volume 27, Issue 3, pp 439–449 | Cite as

The jigsaw technique and self-efficacy of vocational training students: a practice report

  • Céline Darnon
  • Céline Buchs
  • Delphine Desbar


Can teenagers’ self-efficacy be improved in a short time? Previous research has shown the positive effect of cooperative learning methods, including “jigsaw classrooms” (Aronson and Patnoe, 1997), on various outcomes (e.g., the liking of school, self-esteem, and reduction of prejudices). The present practice report investigated the effects of jigsaw technique in boosting the self-efficacy of students enrolled in a vocational curriculum. Over a period of four sessions, 33 male participants studied school materials either in jigsaw groups or in a traditional class (individual work). Their academic self-efficacy in math and French was measured before and after treatment. Results indicated that students’ self-efficacy increased after the four sessions, but only in the jigsaw group. This report provides additional evidence supporting the benefit of jigsaw classrooms based on a different outcome than the one used in previous research—namely, self-efficacy—and among a particular population—namely, vocational trainees. Implications for classroom practice are discussed. In particular, the present practice report demonstrates that implementing the jigsaw approach in classrooms might be an effective tool for enhancing the quality of vocational students’ school experience.


Jigsaw Cooperation Self-efficacy Vocational training 

Pierre could be a student in any classroom: He is a teenager who does not like school as he feels that school is not for him. His past failures have convinced him that, no matter what he is doing, he will never manage to get appropriate grades. In psychological terms, Pierre has a very low self-efficacy in schoolwork (Bandura 1977, 1997), meaning that he has a fairly low perception of his own performance capabilities in a given domain activity—in the present case, schoolwork. At the end of the academic year, Pierre has to make a decision between continuing in the regular school curriculum or orienting in a more vocational curriculum. In France, the vocational training curriculum aims to give students the opportunity to be taught technical and practical content that prepares them for a particular profession (e.g., in the industry domain). These curricula include degrees such as vocational training qualifications, certificates of technical education, and technical baccalaureates and include a significant amount of vocational and technical classes. When Pierre’s teachers mention an orientation in “vocational training qualification,”1 he starts to think this might be a very good way to get rid of all the theoretical classes like French or math, which he has been required to take during the last 10 years. Thus, Pierre arrives at an education center for industry training. However, when Pierre starts his vocational training, he discovers that he still has to study French and math—the precise domains he tried to escape by pursuing a vocational curriculum.

As this example demonstrates, many teenagers who enroll in vocational training do so “to escape” from regular curriculum, which results in two important implications. First, such students often suffer from a very low self-efficacy in the academic domain (Gurtner et al. 2009; Ménard and Semblat 2006). Second, most of these students are particularly resistant to traditional forms of teaching, especially in academic areas such as French and math. This creates an issue as theoretical domains such as math and French must still be taught in these curricula. What can be done in order to help these students develop more positive self-efficacy in these academic domains? The present research report argues that certain alternative methods—particularly cooperative learning methods—may be especially useful in enhancing the academic self-efficacy of students who engage in a vocational curriculum.

The jigsaw technique

As several authors (e.g., Nicholls, 1984) have noted, competition is the dominant value in educational structures. Indeed, recent research has demonstrated that students are aware of the fact that, to succeed in school, they have to outperform their peers—namely, achieve performance goals (Darnon et al. 2009; Dompnier et al. 2008)—despite the fact that the literature has fully demonstrated some detrimental effects of promoting competition and performance goals (i.e., trying to outperform others) in classrooms (e.g., Ames 1992; Butera et al. 2006; Meece et al. 2006). Many researchers have found that competition is particularly harmful for students, who are led to doubt their ability to succeed in the task (Elliott and Dweck 1988; Darnon et al. 2007; Smiley and Dweck 1994).

However, competition is not the only possible structure in the classroom. Indeed, many researchers have developed cooperative learning methods that can be implemented in classrooms (see the “Handbook of Cooperative Methods”, Sharan 1999, and for reviews, Johnson and Johnson 2009; Slavin 2011). These methods appear to have many positive effects (for a meta-analysis, see Johnson et al. 2007). Notably, Aronson et al. developed what they refer to as “the jigsaw classroom” (Aronson and Bridgeman 1979; Aronson and Patnoe 1997), so called because—just as in a jigsaw puzzle—academic material is subdivided into different pieces of information, each of which is essential for understanding the entire content of the class. The method involves three aspects. First, groups comprised of five or six students are formed. Each student is then assigned a part of the material on which they are expected to become an “expert.” To this end, students will have the opportunity to discuss their areas of expertise with other students not in their original group, but who have worked on the same part of the material. These discussion groups are known as “expert groups.” Finally, each student presents a report of what he or she has learned about his or her topic to the rest of the student’s original group.

This method involves the components that make cooperative learning efficient (see Davidson 1994)—notably, positive goal interdependence and individual accountability (Johnson and Johnson 2009). Positive goal interdependence refers to a situation in which students perceive they can reach their goal only if the other team members reach their own (Johnson and Johnson 1989). To create positive interdependence among peers, the task requires that each group member learn the entire content of the material. This implies that the learning of all peers in the group is positively correlated (the more a peer has learned, the more the other members learn themselves). In addition to this complementarity, individual accountability is guaranteed in this method by the fact that the material is divided and each participant becomes an expert of one part. Therefore, material cannot be learned unless each member teaches his or her part effectively. According to Aronson et al., in this way, the jigsaw classroom creates “cooperation by design.” Recent studies have indicated that positive resource interdependence in cooperative work (i.e., each member possesses only one part of the needed resources or information to achieve the task) stimulates a positive climate and favors constructive interactions as well as students’ involvement in the activity (Buchs et al. 2004; Buchs and Butera 2009). Jigsaw methods introduce a positive resource interdependence that stresses the perception of complementarity and individual accountability: One can access information only by interacting and listening to what the other members of the group report.

Research has since documented the many benefits of using the jigsaw method in classrooms. Indeed, the regular use of the jigsaw technique enhances several outcomes, including the liking of school and students’ self-esteem and achievement (Blaney et al. 1977; Box and Little 2003; Doymus 2008; Johnson et al. 2000, for a review, see Aronson and Patnoe 1997; Walker and Crogan 1998). Research has further found that the benefits of the jigsaw classroom are particularly obvious for minority groups (Aronson and Bridgeman 1979; Blaney et al. 1977).

The jigsaw technique and self-efficacy

As the introductory example of Pierre indicated, most students who attempt vocational training have previously faced repeated failures in schools. Consequently, many of these students might have developed quite a low level of self-efficacy. For example, a recent study by Ménard and Semblat (2006) found that, the year before entering vocational training, half of the participants reported having encountered difficulties in learning; this amount reached 80% in certain domains. The authors also noted that these difficulties are larger in French and math. Moreover, these difficulties persist when students are enrolled in the vocational program. Interestingly, according to this study, many students attributed these difficulties to the theoretical aspects of the classes and reported having particular difficulties in general education courses. Similarly, Gurtner et al. (2009) reported that the courses in which vocational training students suffer the most from a low self-efficacy are general education courses.

Self-efficacy is critical at school because it influences students’ choice of activities, efforts, persistence, and task accomplishments (for reviews, see Bandura 1997; Schunk 1991; Schunk and Pajares 2005; Usher and Pajares 2008). Low self-efficacy is detrimental to several outcomes, including learning. Students enrolled in vocational curricula still have to learn important technical as well as theoretical contents. Thus, the essential question that emerges for these students is whether there is a way to improve their self-efficacy.

Some interesting directions can be identified in the self-efficacy research (Bandura 1977, 1997; Schunk 1991; Schunk and Hanson 1985). Four primary factors influence self-efficacy: mastery experience, vicarious experience, verbal persuasion, and emotional arousal (for a recent review of the influence of these four factors in self-efficacy, see Usher and Pajares 2008). Thus, self-efficacy is not a stable internal state, but can be enhanced (see also Alfassi 2003; Eden and Aviram 1993; Margolis and McCabe 2006). The first two factors are particularly relevant for the current study. The mastery experience (i.e., performance accomplishment) refers to the fact that, the more an individual masters a task, the more he or she will further believe in his or her ability to achieve that task. Success raises mastery expectations while repeated failures lower them. Recent research suggests that mastery experience tends to be the most influential source of self-efficacy (Usher and Pajares 2006, 2008). Thus, providing students with the opportunity to experience mastery, for example, by starting with moderately challenging tasks (Margolis and McCabe 2006) or by providing proximal goals (Bandura and Schunk 1981) is an effective way to enhance self-efficacy. As far as vicarious experience (i.e., social comparison and modeling) is concerned, people can learn from modeling (e.g., Lockwood and Kunda 1997, 1999; Schunk and Hanson 1985). Indeed, social models are a powerful tool for affecting self-efficacy. Seeing other students succeed in a task is an indication that one can also succeed in the task. Moreover, others’ behaviors serve as a guide for action (Schunk and Hanson 1985). Research in the area has demonstrated that vicarious experiences can successfully increase students’ self-efficacy.

As mastery experience and vicarious experience are two central factors that affect self-efficacy, at least two reasons exist to argue that students’ self-efficacy could benefit from the use of the jigsaw technique. First, jigsaw techniques give students a great experience of mastery. Indeed, each student has the opportunity to become an “expert” and explain the content of his or her work to the rest of the group. The explanations the expert provides as a tutoring activity are known to strengthen the tutor’s mastery (Annis 1983; Topping 1992; Webb et al. 1995). Such an experience presents the characteristics of what Bandura (1997) referred to as a mastery experience (see also Schunk and Pajares 2005). Furthermore, the jigsaw experience can give students the opportunity to become more involved in positive social comparisons (i.e., vicarious experiences) than individual designs. A similarity to the source increases the extent of the individual’s benefits from the vicarious experience (Schunk and Hanson 1985). Contrary to traditional classrooms, in which the teacher is the primary source of information, with the jigsaw method, the sources of information are peers—namely, those more similar to oneself than the teacher. Interestingly, McCabe (2003) recommends “work with peers” as one way to improve students’ self-efficacy (see also Schunk and Pajares 2005, for the importance of peer networking in the development of self-efficacy). Yet it is important to note that not all kinds of social comparison increase self-efficacy (Stapel and Koomen 2005; Tesser 1988). Stapel and Koomen (2005) underscored that social comparison can be particularly positive with a strong cooperation orientation or within a cooperative context, thanks to the assimilation effect: The better the other person is, the better one feels about one’s own ability. On the contrary, a contrast effect occurs within a competitive context (or with a strong competitive orientation); in this case, the better the other person is, the worse one feels about one’s own ability (see also Butera and Mugny 1995). Jigsaw classrooms are precisely cooperative and, in this sense, should create the conditions for an assimilation effect to occur.

Overview and hypotheses

In the present report, the jigsaw technique was tested as a way to enhance vocational trainees’ self-efficacy. More particularly, during four sessions, participants were engaged in studying specific academic texts in either jigsaw groups or a more traditional class (i.e., through individual work). The study was conducted in France. Participants’ self-efficacy in math and French was assessed prior to and following the four sessions. It was hypothesized that the sessions would enhance students’ self-efficacy when they worked cooperatively (i.e., jigsaw) but not when they worked in a more traditional class (i.e., individually).



Participants included 33 male students with a mean age of 18.36 (SD = 1.67) who were randomly assigned to one of the two conditions (N = 16 for the individual learning condition; N = 17 for the cooperative learning condition). It is worth noting that in France, the majority of students enrolled in vocational training are male students. This can explain why in the present sample, all participants happened to be male students. Students enrolled in different degrees of a vocational training (post-secondary vocational training qualification, certificate of technical education, and technical baccalaureate) were equally present in both conditions. In both conditions, the participants were told that their usual “support sessions” would be replaced for four sessions by different sessions conducted by a new teacher. They were told that the goal of these sessions was to help them with math and French.


The two groups of students completed a total of four sessions lasting 2 h each, which were conducted by the experimenter (who was not the regular teacher for either group). One week separated the different sessions. The content of the sessions had been constructed in collaboration with the teachers. Session 1 presented specific tips on how to improve schoolwork. One of the texts was about text writing (e.g., how to write clearly and how to argue in a text), the second text focused on oral presentations (e.g., how to prepare an oral presentation and what should be avoided during oral presentations), the third was on how to get organized in one’s schoolwork (e.g., what should be done before, during, and after a class and how to do homework), and the fourth was about how to prepare for an exam (e.g., how to train oneself before exams). In session 2, students were led to work on the identification of various literature styles. The first text examined narrative texts, the second descriptive texts, the third argumentative texts, and the fourth informative texts. The two last sessions contained exercises in math and French and were based on the same structure. These exercises had been constructed with the teachers and were designed to train students using content they had been taught in their regular courses. The content of the sessions was exactly the same in both experimental groups and lasted the same time. Only the form varied.

The jigsaw class contained three main moments. First, groups of four students were created. Heterogeneity was ensured by the fact that each groups contained students from various vocational training degrees. Each trainee was assigned the responsibility of one part of the material (e.g., for session 1, text writing, oral presentations, how to get organized in one’s schoolwork, or how to prepare for an exam) and had to work alone on his part of the material for approximately 30 min. This material contained a text and a set of questions to answer in order to become more familiar with the text. Next, “expert groups” were formed; students engaged in discussions with their peers from the other jigsaw groups who had identical parts of the material. This phase lasted approximately 20 min. The experimenter was available for questions or clarifications regarding material to ensure that experts mastered their respective parts. Finally, each individual returned to his jigsaw group in order to teach the other group members about the content of his part of the material as well as listen to other members of the groups as each student in each group had the role to teach the whole group about a specific part of the material. This part of the work lasted approximately 30 min. After the cooperation phase, the experimenter summarized the main information of each text and was available for the participants questions.

In the control group, for all four sessions, the trainees had approximately 50 min to read and work on the four texts. The experimenter then asked some of the students to come to the board to provide their answers to the questions accompanying the texts. The experimenter corrected each question with students (approximately 30 min). As in the experimental group, the experimenter summarized the main information of each text and was available for participants questions.


The trainees were asked to answer a self-efficacy scale at two points during the semester: during one of their classes prior to the four sessions and at the end of the final session. They responded using a five-point Likert scale, ranging from 1 (strongly disagree) to 5 (strongly agree). The measure contained eight items, with four items related to self-efficacy in math (i.e., “I believe I have the ability to master the content of the math class”; “I think I will succeed in math this year”; “I am able to succeed in all the exercises we have to do in math”; and “I think I will have good grade in math this year”) and the same four items in regard to self-efficacy in French. This scale was inspired by the academic efficacy subscale of the Patterns of Adaptive Learning Scale (Midgley et al. 2000). It was translated and adapted to the present context and to math and French. The internal consistency of the scale was established before (M = 3.34; SD = 0.74; α = 0.84) and after the sessions (M = 3.55; SD = 0.73; α = 0.84).


A two-way ANOVA [intervention type (traditional vs. Jigsaw) X (moment (before vs. after training] was conducted on the self-efficacy score. The main effect of intervention type was not significant, F < 1: the self-efficacy score was the same in both session formats. However, the main effect of the moment was significant, F(1, 31) = 4.88, p < 0.04, η 2 = 0.14. Thus, students reported a higher self-efficacy at the end of the four sessions (M = 3.55; SD = 0.73) than prior to the sessions (M = 3.34; SD = 0.74). More importantly, the interaction effect between the moment and intervention type was marginal, F(1, 31) = 3.18, p < 0.09, η 2 = 0.09. This interaction is illustrated in Fig. 1, which indicates that the progress between the measurements taken before and after the sessions (pre- and post-test results using the self-efficacy instrument) depended on the intervention (i.e., the training technique - jigsaw or traditional). The simple slopes indicated that self-efficacy significantly increased only in the jigsaw class—F(1, 31) = 8.22, p < 0.01, η 2 = 0.21 (from M = 3.3; SD = 0.73 to M = 3.67; SD = 0.73)—but not in the more traditional class, F <1 (respectively, before, M = 3.38; SD = 0.76, and after, M = 3.41; SD = 0.73).
Fig. 1

Mean self-efficacy as a function of the moment of the measure and the intervention type (traditional vs. jigsaw)


Previous research has demonstrated that cooperative jigsaw classrooms could enhance students’ motivation and positive outcomes (Aronson and Bridgeman 1979; Aronson and Patnoe 1997). The present practice report provides additional evidence of the beneficial effects of using the jigsaw technique in classrooms. Indeed, in the present study, an increase of self-efficacy in French and math was observed after the use of the jigsaw technique; such an increase was not observed with individual learning of the same content. Moreover, in the present report, vocational trainees were examined. Most previous research has been conducted using participants in a regular curriculum. The vocational training curriculum differs from regular curriculum in the sense that the reasons why students enrolled in such a curriculum are often their failure in the regular curriculum. Consequently, many of them suffer from particularly low self-efficacy in schoolwork (Ménard and Semblat 2006; Gurtner et al. 2009). For such a population, it becomes particularly challenging to find ways to enhance self-efficacy. The present research helps address this question by demonstrating that four sessions were sufficient for significantly improving students’ self-efficacy, but only for students who had the chance to participate to the jigsaw group.

As such, this study presents important theoretical and practical implications. From a theoretical perspective, this report provides additional evidence of the benefits of using the jigsaw technique with a different measure than the one used in previous research—namely, self-efficacy—and with a particular population—namely, vocational trainees. Moreover, the self-efficacy research has demonstrated that self-efficacy can increase (Bandura 1997). Consequently, most authors in the area recommend that teachers find instructional designs that can help students increase their self-efficacy (see, for example, Usher and Pajares 2008). In line with this idea, research has further documented that self-efficacy can be affected by instructional, contextual, and social factors, and some researchers have provided concrete practical guidelines on what can be done in classrooms to improve students’ self-efficacy—particularly students considered to be “at risk” (e.g., Alfassi 2003). The present study represents an additional step by showing that the jigsaw technique is also a tool that can be used to enhance students’ self-efficacy.

More importantly, this report demonstrates that teaching students strategies and helping them with class work (which was done in both conditions) do not seem to be sufficient to help them improve their sense of self-efficacy in French and math. Indeed, in the control group, where methods and support were provided in a traditional way, students’ self-efficacy did not change despite the fact that strategies were taught in the sessions. However, in the jigsaw group, it did. This outcome underscores the necessity to question not only the content of a class, but also the way in which the class is taught. For students who, due to past failures, might have associated schoolwork with numerous negative affects, alternative forms of teaching have to be created. Cooperative learning might represent in this sense a helpful tool for improving these students’ self-efficacy.

Some limitations of this study should be noted. First, the interaction effect is moderate (effect size), but only marginal, which might be due to the quite small sample; future research should replicate the finding with a larger sample. In addition, including a retest of self-efficacy after a time gap between intervention and return to the traditional setting could determine whether the improvement in self-efficacy is maintained over time. Whereas the present research focused on self-efficacy, future research should test whether this enhancement in self-efficacy also has positive consequences for learning. School is a place not only for learning, but also where children and teenagers can develop a sense of their own efficacy, values, and well-being. Unfortunately, in part because of the very strong pressure on performance, they can also develop a negative perception of their own efficacy, particularly among the specific population examined in this report. Thus, showing an increase in self-efficacy is not meaningless, even if one does not know whether such an increase will in turn affect achievement. However, to go further, including a measure of math and French performance, as well as a measure of the learning of the content of the classes, could help clarify this point. Finally, we proposed that the jigsaw technique improved students’ self-efficacy through two processes: modeling (i.e., vicarious experience) and mastery experience. However, it is difficult to determine whether the mechanisms through which students’ self-efficacy improved were those two mechanisms or a more general dynamic resulting from implementing the jigsaw approach in classes. In particular, students were referred to as trusted experts. Such verbal persuasions might have raised their emotions. In other words, one cannot exclude that—beyond vicarious experience and mastery experience—jigsaw leads students to experience verbal persuasion and positive emotion. Testing these different processes as potential mediators of the findings herein would in this sense represent a meaningful contribution to the present research.

Despite the need for additional research to confirm the present findings, the current practice report provides additional evidence that implementing the jigsaw approach in classrooms may be an effective tool for enhancing the quality of students’ school experience. Vocational training curriculum is often seen as a devalued course of studies that, unfortunately, often results in limited resources being invested to rethink the methods. However, it is important to reconsider the structure of schooling and the traditional methods of teaching. These students clearly have the potential to be motivated and learn; we just have to think about alternative ways to teach them the skills they will need in the future. Cooperative learning via the jigsaw technique is a tool that may well prove beneficial for increasing students’ self-efficacy in vocational training courses.


  1. 1.

    In French, “Certificat d’Aptitude Professionnelle” (C.A.P.).



We wish to thank the staff of the Centre de formation des apprentis de l’industrie, particularly Sébastien Jeanneau for his involvement in the present research program. This work was supported by the French Agence Nationale pour la Recherche (ANR-08-JCJC-0065-01) and by the “Conseil Régional Auvergne”.


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Copyright information

© Instituto Superior de Psicologia Aplicada, Lisboa, Portugal and Springer Science+Business Media BV 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Céline Darnon
    • 1
  • Céline Buchs
    • 2
  • Delphine Desbar
    • 3
  1. 1.Laboratoire de Psychologie Sociale et CognitiveClermont Université, Université Blaise Pascal, and French University InstituteClermont-Ferrand CedexFrance
  2. 2.F.P.S.E, Sciences de l’éducationUniversité de Genève, Section des sciences de l’éducationGenève 4Switzerland
  3. 3.Laboratoire de Psychologie Sociale et CognitiveClermont Université, Université Blaise PascalClermont-Ferrand CedexFrance

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