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Your 7th grader arrives home from school and makes a statement that many middle school moms dread:  

   "My teacher assigned a group project today."

With a shudder, you recall your son's last group project. He was assigned to
a group with three other kids. They argued over how to get the work done. Some of the group members were, shall we say "slackers", making a minimum effort, at best. Another member felt (rightfully) that she worked harder and contributed more to the project than the others. Two of the kids forgot to go to the group meetings, and one (yours) was late getting his part of the project done.

A group project can be one of the more frustrating experiences of middle school. If you step back and take a look at the dynamics of a typical middle school group project, you can understand why. Group projects are made up of kids who:  

have different ability and maturity levels
have different work ethics
have conflicting school, after school and weekend schedules
may live far apart, making it hard to coordinate the project and out-of-school meetings
may not get along
may not even know each other
have not clearly defined their tasks
may (ok—probably) goof off at group meetings.

What are the keys to successfully managing a group project ?  Here are some tips:  

Good Communication : Make it easy for the group's members to contact each other.  Encourage students to share email addresses, phone, cell and fax numbers, and other contact information, so they can communicate when they need to. Solving this problem is as simple as passing around a piece of binder paper at the first meeting and having all the members write down their contact information. Then, make sure each one gets a copy, and puts it in their binder!  

Share ideas : Group project members must be willing to listen to one another's ideas and opinions about how to complete the project. There's always a variety of personalities, and talent in a group, but often it's the "Alpha Student" who dictates the direction of the project.  It's important to give each member time to think about the project, formulate a plan, and have an equal amount of uninterrupted floor time to express their ideas.  

Plan carefully : The success of a group project depends upon careful planning. Encourage group members to consider their project step-by-step, including how it will progress until the due date. They should consider the supplies they will need, and discuss scheduling problems. Most kids focus only on the final due date. Schedule periodic progress checks or "mini due dates" to keep the project moving along and to identify problems before they become emergencies.

Share the load : Resentment can build when some members of the group have more work than the others, while some members slack. So, when the project is in the planning stage, each student's responsibilities and tasks should be discussed by the group, and written down with a full description. This way, the group can make a fair division of labor, and every student knows exactly what is expected of them. Students should also discuss and note when, where and how their part of the project is due.  

Set meetings and group goals : Schedule periodic meetings so group members can report on their progress. Establish goals for meetings. This keeps the group focused and productive when they are together. If they don't know exactly what they are supposed to accomplish at a group meeting, they'll probably goof off. Consider electing a Team Leader who can speak up to help keep the group on task. (A good job for that Alpha Student!)  

Group projects are something of a right of passage for your 11-14 year old. I wish more teachers would view the group project experience as a window to their students' futures. For the rest of their lives,  throughout high school, college, and then in the workforce, they will be members of group projects in the form of study groups, research, business or sales teams, committees, boards, etc.  The middle school group project is a great introduction to the dynamics of team work. Instead of being an exercise in frustration, the group project could be an exercise in learning about group dynamics and group psychology—how to bring to together different personalities and talents, and how to successfully overcome scheduling and other conflicts in order to create a product or achieve an outcome.  

Btw, on my website there is a (free) Group Project Organizer that your 6th, 7th or 8th grade teacher may be interested in using to help students learn some of the skills for   successfully managing a group project. Just direct them to to [Link Removed] 

Smulcaire, Your links have been removed, please consider upgrading to premium membership.

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