What’s the Magic Number?

Students in my Government classes have recently completed work on long-term, collaborative projects.

Initially, I assigned the teams – after asking students for input about which of their classmates they preferred to work with (and which they’d rather avoid). I also spent some time considering ways to ‘anchor’ each group with a strong student leader and spread students who struggle among as many groups as possible… in short, I was hoping to be intentional about developing collaborative groups. I assigned:

9 project teams of 3 students each;
8 project teams of 4 students each; and
3 project teams of 2 students each.

Teams of 3 earned: A, A-, A-, B+, B+, B+, B+, B, B  (avg = 3.4)
Teams of 4 earned: A, B+, B+, B+, B+, B, B, Inc (avg = 3.3 without Inc)
Teams of 2 earned: A-, B, Inc  (avg = 3.35 without Inc)

Aside from the fact that two teams have yet to submit all of the required components of the assignment, I note no significant differences in final grades. (We can leave the conversation about grade inflation for another posting!) I did note a recurring theme among students’ reflection essays: groups of 4 tended to develop clear ‘leaders’ who complained about 1) having been burdened with ‘unfair’ workloads; and 2) other members of the group who didn’t “pull their weight”…

I’ve been re-thinking some of the fundamental assumptions that I bring to group design. For example: should it raise a red flag when 2 students working together (or 3) produce similar work product-in terms of quality-as a team of 4?

What is the ideal number of students for each collaborative team?

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About Dr. Ostroff

Head of Upper School at The Emery/Weiner School in Houston, TX
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2 Responses to What’s the Magic Number?

  1. DaveOstroff says:

    Thanks for your comment, Adam – I agree that if collaboration becomes “more work” (as in there’s more work to divide up the roles in a quad, for example)then we’ve lost our authentic purpose for working together… also, when a pair produces work that is of similar quality to a quad, we’ve got another piece of evidence that says “four is too many” for a productive group. These are key points if one of our goals is to offer proof to our students that engaging in collaboration produces higher quality work!

  2. adamcohen1977 says:

    Well to be honest I personally prefer working as part of a pair or trio… I have found that for myself, if the group becomes larger than that, there is more work done to divide up the workload evenly and etc. With the end result being that members of groups 4ppl and more work highly varied amounts.

    For you individual project – I think that you raise an interesting question in regard to “where does group size become inefficient?” I think that your right that a flag should be seen when a pair produces the same quality work as a quad… But in this specific instance, I think there needed to be more pairs to give an accurate comparison.

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