Group Projects require REAL life skills and strategies!

August 12, 2014 Susan Mulcaire

Is it group project time in your classroom? Have you ever considered that a group project is a great opportunity to teach middle school students some valuable real-life skills they will need for success in college and career?  Think about it: For the rest of their lives –  throughout high school, college, and then in the workforce, they will participate in group projects in the form of study groups, research, business or sales teams, committees or boards. Sure, there’s strength in numbers, but there’s also conflict and frustration. Group projects can be fraught with personality conflicts, unequal workload distribution, and unresolved disagreements, leaving students with a negative impression of team activities. But, a group project experience can be an ideal way to teach middle school students real-life skills of team work and team building. Here’s how:

1. Start your group project assignment with some mini-lessons about group dynamics and group psychology. Nothing too deep — we’re talking middle school here! Begin by engaging students in a discussion about prior group project experiences. What made the experience good? What made it bad? Discuss the characteristics of effective vs. ineffective groups. Students should understand that every member has a unique and valuable role in a group project. They should also understand that every member has an equal responsibility for the project’s success. Good and timely communication, clear and thorough task definition, and an equitable distribution of the project workload are key to their group’s success. On the other hand, poor communication, vague expectations, and an unfair division of work, can lead to frustration and resentment among members. That will affect group morale and, ultimately, the quality of the group’s product. At the very first group project meeting, members should create a specific and thorough plan for the project, including member contact information, task definition and a project schedule.

2. Engage in team building activities. Middle school students love games and friendly competition. Group project teams can have some fun while working together to successfully solve simple problems. The principles, dynamics and relationships they develop to solve simple problems, can apply to more challenging group activities. Team building activities can be mental – such as pitting teams against one another in friendly classroom games and competitions. They can also be physical, such as field races, tug-of-war, or a basketball game against other groups. A mix of both mental and physical team activities is the most effective way of team building.

3. Give group project members tools for resolving conflicts. Conflicts and disagreements will arise in any group project. Personality clashes, disagreements about the direction of the project, different work ethics and abilities, and lack of communication are some typical middle school group project conflicts. Teach students that conflicts should be addressed, not overlooked, or “assumed away. ” At the start of the project, ask students to anticipate specific types of conflicts that could arise, and establish a procedure for resolving them. To generate a solution, a conflict needs to be defined in specific terms. For example, if group project member Ariana misses a meeting, or doesn’t submit her part of the project on time, a complaint that “Ariana is not helping with the project!” will not define the conflict sufficiently enough to generate a solution. In addition, students should be taught the value of maintaining a fair and respectful communication style, accepting another’s right to disagree (as well as appreciating the creative value of disagreement in collaborative learning), and frequent communication. With the right tools for conflict resolution, students can bring together different personalities and talents, overcome conflicts and set backs, and achieve an outcome they will all be proud of.

The middle school group project is just the start of many group or team projects your students will experience in school and career. It’s a great opportunity to teach them valuable skills for fostering team work and success in middle school and beyond!

Students:

The key to a successful group project is communication. Group project members should exchange phone numbers (cell and home) and email addresses as soon as the project has been assigned. Hold a group meeting. (Hint: Use the Group Project Organizer you can find at “Fun Forms from the Guide.”) Make sure that each project member clearly understands what his or her project task is, when and where it is due. Distribute tasks fairly. Decide on dates, times and locations for project meetings and note the dates in your planner! Good luck!

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