Collaboration and reconciliation

The Jigsaw Classroom logo

Collaborative learning strategies give students the tools and experiences to build positive peer relationships and work together to achieve a desired goal.

Every two years, Reconciliation Australia organises a national research study, known as the Australian Reconciliation Barometer, that measures the progress of reconciliation between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and non-Indigenous Australians. According to the 2014 Reconciliation Barometer (PDF file), interaction between Indigenous and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples is low. The value of personal, collaborative interaction is highlighted by the fact that, ‘When people learn about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and cultures through personal experience or education, they are more likely to believe the relationship is very important compared to when people learn from the media.’ (Reconciliation Australia 2014)

Research suggests that using structured collaborative approaches with students from diverse backgrounds, in which all members are have a key role in achieving the set learning goals and are valued for their contributions such as the Community of Inquiry approach and the Jigsaw Classroom, are effective in reducing racism.

Collaborative strategies and approaches

A ‘Community of Inquiry’ is a group of people – students, teachers, colleagues – who use discussion to engage in deep thinking, explore big ideas, and grapple with the challenges and possibilities of a puzzling concept, idea or circumstance (Museum of Victoria n.d.).

Nussbaum (2010) argues that engagement in such a democratic forum helps to promote equality, given that Socratic inquiry is not concerned with determining the status of the speaker; rather, every person is considered equal as it is the strength of the reasons that is of the utmost importance. Of course, power positions exist in the community of inquiry between members (through differences in, for example, class, gender, race) and between the teacher and students (Murris & Haynes 2012). A commitment to openness which takes into account differences between and among people such as that provided by Kohli (1995) is more likely to ensure equality.

The discussion generally follows a process in which students reflect on the questions raised and respond to one another, putting forward their view and associated reasons as they collaboratively try to make progress in answering the questions. As described by Lipman (2003) ‘a community of inquiry attempts to follow the inquiry where it leads rather than be penned in by the boundary lines of existing disciplines’. The facilitator’s role is crucial in that they must support the discussion process by asking for clarification and reasons, asking further questions, summarizing and evaluating points made, as well as helping the students to do so, and assisting students in deciding how the next discussion should begin. This is quite different from the dialogue dominated by a process of recitation.

The Jigsaw Classroom

Similarly, research on the use of Aronson’s Jigsaw approach has shown it to promote learning, motivation and a reduction in racial conflict in school children. Importantly, one of the central tenets of  the jigsaw classroom is equality of each participant; ‘Just as in a jigsaw puzzle, each piece — each student’s part — is essential for the completion and full understanding of the final product.’ (Social Psychology network 2016).

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Haynes, J & Murris, K 2012, Picturebooks, pedagogy, and philosophy, NY Routledge, New York.

Kohli, W (ed.) 1995, Critical Conversations in Philosophy of Education, Routledge, New York.

Lipman, M 2003, Thinking in Education, 2nd edn, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge. Museum Victoria, Conducting a Community of Inquiry, viewed 30 August 2016, <>.

National Science Foundation, Social Psychology Network, viewed 30 August 2016, <>.

Nussbaum, M & Eldon and Anne Foote Trust Philanthropy Collection 2010, Not for profit : why democracy needs the humanities, Princeton University Press, New Jersey. Reconciliation Australia, Reconciliation Australia, viewed 30 August 2016, <>.

 Image: Logo from the Jigsaw Classroom website,