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4 Ways to Help Your Child Excel at Group Projects

Mighty Mommy has experienced plenty of group project disasters. Learn how to turn these group assignments into a win for both you and your child. 

By
Cheryl Butler
6-minute read
Episode #518

Get the Whole Class on Board

Part of my frustration as a parent was not having a clear understanding of the purpose of the group project. Was it to break up the regular classroom routine? Was the workload for the particular topic too much for one person? Was it a way to kill extra time during the school year? 

Not being a teacher, I wasn’t qualified to explain what the educational benefits were. But as a parent, I could clearly see the downsides (purchasing the supplies, driving back and forth to the group work destinations, listening to my kids complain). Needless to say, I quickly began to resent these group assignments. 

One of the parents who chimed in on my Facebook post made a very astute observation: “I think group projects need some explanation for the kids so they understand what they are supposed to be learning from it. Otherwise the overachievers are upset that it’s not being done the way they would do it, the worker bees feel underappreciated by the overachievers, and the slackers are wondering why nobody gave them enough specifics about what they were supposed to do and why everyone is angry at them."

If the teachers could provide a rationale for the project, all the members of the group would (hopefully) see why the assignment is bigger than the individual. 

According to CIRT, “In order for group work to be effective, instructors must spend extra time creating a valuable assignment that lends itself to a fair method of assessment.  The assignment should be structured in such a way that all members of a group are required to participate and must provide each other feedback.”

Going forward, the next time one of my kids is assigned a group project, I’m going to do a bit more coaching from the sidelines and encourage my child to gather as much information as possible (including what the expectations are from every player). Being armed with knowledge is a far better tool than being a Negative Nellie.

Assign Appropriate Roles and Guidelines

The common complaint about group projects is that one person usually gets stuck with the majority of the workload. This would not be the case if roles were assigned at the beginning of the project, yet another opportunity for cooperation amongst the team.

A favorite resource of mine is Middle Web, a site dedicated to grades four through eight—those tricky tween years! I found the article Get Students Working Effectively in Groups written by Barbara Blackburn, Ph.D to be an excellent guide in streamlining a successful group project.

Blackburn suggests that the group project be based on an activity that allows every student in the group to participate and where the roles can change depending on what that assignment is. The article lists roles and responsibilities that are appropriate for a variety of group projects.

A “Materials Manager” would be in charge of gathering and distributing the items needed for the project. A “Fact Checker” will be responsible for double-checking the statistics and other pertinent pieces of information before the final project is completed. She even lists an “Encourager” as a team player who can be a constant cheerleader and lift the group up when the work might be weighing them down.

Another suggestion was to clearly explain the roles and responsibilities in advance and not assume that the students will understand what is expected of them. It's also a good idea to rotate jobs so that one or two students don’t always end up with leadership roles. 

Looking back on all the group projects my kids have participated in over the years, I absolutely believe that if students had a list of written rules and expectations going into a group assignment, the outcome could definitely be much more positive.

Disadvantages Become Teachable Moments

The consensus amongst most educators is that group work has far more benefits than detriments. However, a group assignent would only work if the teacher takes into consideration the following: 

  • Students work at different paces. If there are any learning-disabled children in the group, or kids who just need extra time to accomplish their work, accommodations may be needed to help ensure this student doesn’t fall behind or get ridiculed.
  • Slacker students are inevitable. As much as the teacher may try to engage everyone, it's just not always possible.
  • Introverted kids can easily feel dominated by students with more outgoing and aggressive personalities.
  • Depending on the dynamics of the group, it’s easy for students to get distracted and veer off track if they aren’t being monitored closely.
  • Group projects might require students to work together outside of the classroom, which can become a burden to families who have to shuttle their kids back and forth to another student’s home, the community library, or possibly hosting the group at their home.

These are legitimate frustrations for students and teachers (and parents!). One experienced teacher who responded to my Facebook query shared this bit of wisdom: Each time she assigns a group project, she tells the students that it's like working at their dream job. “You may have a long commute for your dream job, and the colleagues on your team might not carry their weight. How will you adapt? What could you say to the person who isn't meeting deadlines? Critical thinking, problem solving, decision making, and interpersonal skills are all intertwined in group work. The teachers aren’t just focused on content when they design these projects.” They're trying to give students the tools that will serve them long after their schooldays.

Have your kids succeeded with a group project? Do you have any advice for other parents?

Please share your thoughts in the comments section at quickanddirtytips.com/mighty-mommy, post your ideas on the Mighty Mommy Facebook page. or email me at mommy@quickanddirtytips.com. Visit my family-friendly boards at Pinterest.com/MightyMommyQDT.

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Student group image courtesy of Shutterstock.

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All content here is for informational purposes only. This content does not replace the professional judgment of your own mental health provider. Please consult a licensed mental health professional for all individual questions and issues.

About the Author

Cheryl Butler Project Parenthood

Cheryl L. Butler was the host of the Mighty Mommy podcast for nine years from 2012 to 2021. She is the mother of eight children. Her experiences with infertility, adoption, seven pregnancies, and raising children with developmental delays have helped her become a resource on the joys and challenges of parenting. You can reach her by email.