1. Characteristics of a group

1.4 Group Composition

As a general rule, a heterogeneous mix of students in each group provides the best chemistry for interaction and achievement of task. Such qualities as age, sex, nationality, and personality may be taken into account, though one can never be sure what mixture will lead to good participation. Individual students will contribute differently according to which other students they are grouped with: there occurs what is known as an "assembly effect" - a kind of convergence of needs and behaviours, which is often impossible to predict. Indeed the tutor may be part of it, for example when a group of dependent students are led by an authoritative tutor.

From the point of view of cognitive learning, with problem solving for example, the mixing of quicker or more intelligent students with their slower counterparts can enable a teaching process between the students to take place. Yet often the most powerful influences are the personal likes and dislikes of fellow members. People tend to agree with individuals they like and disagree with those they dislike even though both may express the same opinion. By and large, groups composed of compatible people learn well when they want to learn. The opposite may often be the case with a disaffected group.

In allocating students to groups, the tutor may want to ask questions like:

  • What are the main differences between students?
  • What kinds of task are suitable?
  • Which students seem to identify with and support each other?
  • Which students are likely to be continually at loggerheads?
  • What exclusive cliques do there seem to be?
  • How well do the personalities enmesh, trigger each other in a positive way?

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