The purpose of this study was to examine the effects of workgroup size and structure during collaborative work on complex tasks. We randomly assigned 36 third- and fourth-grade classrooms to 2 workgroup sizes (pairs vs. small groups) and to 3 background structures (individual vs. collaborative vs. collaborative with structured role, goal, resource, and reward interdependence). After 4 weekly classroom performance assessments (PAs) in these conditions, 1 workgroup from each classroom, which incorporated the lowest- and highest-achieving student (as well as 2 middle achievers in small groups), was videotaped outside the classroom. Analyses of variance conducted on videotaped data indicated that, regardless of students' achievement status, pairs earned higher scores than small groups on participation, helpfulness, cooperation, quality of talk, and PA work. Although dyads produced greater collaboration for low-achieving students, small groups generated more cognitive conflict among other students. Productivity did not differ as a function of background structure. We discuss implications for optimizing grouping arrangements and preparing students to work productively during collaborative activities on complex tasks.
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