In the 20+ years that I’ve had kids in school, I've seen it all. But the one thing that can still push me over the edge is when one of my kids comes home and announces that they're part of a group project.
It doesn’t matter which of my eight kids is the recipient of this dreadful news. The fact is that in my experience, there hasn't been a single group assignment that didn’t end badly. If it wasn’t my child absorbing most of the workload, then it was getting paired with kids who lived at the other end of town. Naturally, I’d be responsible for buying all the supplies and then shuttling them back and forth for weeks until the project was finally completed.
My youngest is now in 7th grade. Middle and junior high school seem to be prime targets for these group affairs (case in point: my daughter just finished her second one in less than eight weeks). Frustrated and in near tears after this latest fiasco, I reached out to my teacher friends on Facebook with a desperate plea for help:
“Teacher friends—please give me one good reason why our kids are subjected to group projects—and make it a good one!”
Within seconds, my Facebook page blew up! I received over 75 comments from teachers, parents, and students. I culled through all their candid thoughts to bring you these four tips on how you can help your child get the most out of the group project experience:
- Why Assign a Group Project?
- Get the Whole Class on Board
- Assign Appropriate Roles/Agree on Guidelines
- Disadvantages Become Teachable Moments
Here is each one in more detail.
Why Assign a Group Project?
To be honest, in looking back over the years when my kids were in the trenches of school group projects, I realize that I didn’t necessarily help their cause. I automatically assumed the experience was going to be negative. I never gave group work any credit, but after reaing dozens of teacher comments in response to my Facebook plea, I’m seeing the group project in a whole new light.
One retired special education teacher summed it up beautifully. “A group project should have individual and group accountability in terms of grades and the teacher needs to structure that. In-class work is essential so that the teacher can observe the dynamics of group interaction and guide those struggling and not doing their share. Group projects encourages important skills like negotiation, delegating, communication, social interaction, emotional intelligence, and teamwork which students will need in any future career.
The Center for Innovation in Research and Teaching (CIRT) cites both the positives and negatives of Group Work in the Classroom. Along with this article there is a useful video explaining the many benefits to group work. Both the video and the information forced me to rethink group projects. Here's why they are advantageous.
In a group project, students:
- Learn accountability
- Strengthen communication
- Build problem solving skills
- Showcase different learning styles
- Learn time management
- Learn the art of compromise
- Engage in social interaction
- Are exposed to a mix of personalities
- Respect the opinions of others
- Prepare for a real world career