Avoid Extremes in Teams

Context: Students benefit in multiple ways from Groups Work and Self-Managing Teams, particularly when Teacher Selects Teams. You want to maximize learning and minimize team problems.


Forces & Problem: Forming effective teams can be difficult, even if Teacher Selects Teams. It can be difficult to balance individual factors, such as:

  • what is their level of ability – how quickly do they learn?
  • how much prior experience do they have in the topic or academic discipline?
  • how motivated or interested are they?

A team of students with more ability, experience, and motivation might move quickly and finish the activity before other teams; however, they might also explore more complex or subtle issues. A team with less ability, experience, or motivation might move more slowly and have more errors; however, they might work together, support each other, and discover that they are more capable than they thought. In a mixed team, some students might do most of the work, and others might not contribute or learn; however, all team members should be able to contribute and learn from each other.


Solution & Consequences: Therefore, when you assign teams, try to put high and middle students together, middle and low together, but not high and low. Teams that are too different tend to have more problems. Teams with a smaller range tend to work better – the stronger students can help the weaker students, but it is less likely that either will be frustrated or unhappy. However, stronger and weaker teams are likely to work at different paces, so you should consider possible responses, including Compare Answers, divergent questions (see DCV (Directed, Convergent, Divergent) Questions) to encourage discussion, and prompts to Think About How You Work that teams could answer during or outside of class.

Discussion: Don’t Isolate Team Members and Avoid Extremes in Teams are two of several factors to consider and balance when Teacher Selects Teams.

Recognize that no team assignments are perfect, and that students might have strengths, weaknesses, and perspectives that are not obvious to you or their teammates. For example, a less motivated student might be excited by the right example or application, and a highly motivated student might become overextended or bored and lose interest. Similarly, a weak student might have a few key misconceptions that could be clarified, and a strong student might have some unrecognized gaps.

Examples: Avoid Extremes in Teams based on several factors and measures, which might include:

  • grades from prior courses, overall grade point average, or standardized test scores
    (e.g. the SAT or ACT tests used for college admissions in the US)
  • a pre-course quiz on content (knowledge and skills) from prerequisite courses
  • a pre-course survey with questions like:
    • how important is this course to you?
    • what grade(s) do you expect in this course?
    • Which aspects of this course interest you the most? the least?
  • scores from prior assignments or tests in the same course (useful to adjust teams mid-course)

Author: Clif Kussmaul

Publication: C Kussmaul. 2017. Patterns in classroom facilitation for Process Oriented Guided Inquiry Learning (POGIL). HILLSIDE Proc. of Noridc Conf. on Pattern Lang. of Programs. 17. (Mar-Apr 2017)

Contributors to this page: Clif Kussmaul .
Page last modified on Sat November 11, 2017 13:14:00 EST by Clif Kussmaul. (Version 2)