Human beings are naturally gregarious and tend to form groups, that is, "two or more individuals who influence each other through social interaction." Groups fulfil a series of needs for humans, such as survival needs, psychological needs, informational and interpersonal needs, which compel individuals to become part of a group. Clearly, the classroom acts as an environment that facilitates the formation of a group, creating certain needs that students will find fulfilled within the group and also providing the group with common goals, which are the reason for the group formation and the main cohesive force that unites people into groups. The physical closeness that the classroom guarantees increases the statistical likelihood of interaction, creating a sense of "groupness" (1).
In the case of adolescents, their cognitive development opens up a whole new perspective for them, which can sometimes be overwhelming. Certainly, the possibility of being part of a group in which their peers are dealing with the same kind of anxieties is going to facilitate the process of adaptation. Each of the members of the group is feeling an urge for experimentation, and the desire for acceptance by peers is a strong factor that might lead to risk taking and stretching of one's limits and the limits imposed by authority figures (parents, teachers, etc). (2) Teenagers will find the encouragement (or at least the motivation) they need to take these risks within the group.
Students behave differently in groups than individually. Due to the cognitive, emotional and physical changes they are going through, they feel confused and look for support. In spite of introducing a confusion factor, their development provides a variety of possibilities that were not present at earlier stages. Their cognitive development enables them to take learning more seriously, paying attention for longer periods, showing interest for a wide range of topics and working more co-operatively. Adolescents become more responsible and need independency as well as challenge. Unfortunately, these advantages that this stage brings into the learning situation might become blurry when considering the whole class. Adolescents' need for peer acceptance will determine that most of times they will not show so much interest in the topics dealt in class, no matter how challenging or related to their reality they might be. Although a new range of topics become meaningful to them, and each student is developing his/her own opinion on the matter, sometimes this new concern and diversity of opinions will not be as apparent as they should, because some of the most influential (most probably the leader) members of the group will determine the perspective that the whole class is going to adopt towards the topic, and will be followed by the rest of the class due to fear of not being accepted.
Another important difference in students' behaviour when forming a group has to do with performance. When the...