The Dreaded School Group Project

Does your teen come home complaining about yet another school group project? Most likely they’re worried that they’ll end up doing all the work, or it’s going to be chaos, or they’ll end up with a bad grade because someone didn’t contribute.

Why so many group projects?

school group project stress

School group projects are meant to teach our kids how to work together with many other personalities and skill levels. This is a very useful skill to have for high school and college, and it prepares them for “the real world”. But year after year, school group projects end up being a huge cause of stress and worry for some kids.

As our schools move towards Project Based Learning (PBL), in an effort to teach our kids real life skills, our students will get more exposure to projects.  According to HEADRUSH, a Project Based Learning facilitator, “Effective collaboration helps students tackle complex problems, give and receive critical feedback, and challenge assumptions from multiple perspectives.”

But the same thing keeps on happening over and over again:

  • One student wants to figure out what to do and tell others how to do it
  • There’s always the one student who forgets to bring supplies
  • Another student doesn’t work on their part
  • One or two students end up doing all of the work

If your student is the one who takes on the whole project, they end up frustrated, stressed out, and just resentful towards the other kids in the group.

PBL is becoming more popular in may school systems, and therefore teachers are getting more training at how to construct and assign a project that helps students learn the structure of collaboration.  But, as I’ve found out from my own kids’ experience, students still need much more guidance on how to run a project, communicate with their team members, work through disagreements, and produce a great project as a team.

Can we help make school group projects better?

Better preparation in a group project will make it more efficient for all, get to the end with less stress, while your teen learns valuable life skills like planning and organization, time management, prioritizing, and communications with team members.  And hopefully also get a better grade in the end.   Same as adults get training at work on teamwork, collaboration, and working together, our students should receive better guidance and support on how to work through a group school project.

10 Tips for a Better School Group Project

Here are 10 tips that will help your student get through the school group project. They can use these ideas

1.  Review the assignment as a group.

Does the group understand the instructions?  What is the deadline? Will all the work happen in the classroom, or will you need to set time aside after school to work on it?

2.  Come up with a list of questions

Inevitably, the teacher’s instructions may or may not have all the information the group needs to finish a project.  The group should write down their questions and get clarification from the teacher.

3.  Talk about the end result.  

The group should be clear on what is the goal of the project. Take turns asking for suggestions or ideas of how to best approach the project.  Find something useful in each idea, see how you can make them work together.

4.  Identify roles and assign them.

The group should talk for a few minutes about what their strengths are, and what each group member feels like they can bring to the team. Is there an artist in the group? Is there a good speaker or a good writer? Who has access to the needed supplies? Who can do research, proofread, fact-check? Which student will lead the meetings? Who will keep track of tasks and when they’re due?   

5.  Work out a plan with deadlines.

How much time they have to work on it will define the plan.  The group should break down the project into steps, and decide how to space out all the work.  Is it a 6-week project? Start with milestones for every week.  Do you only have 7 days to work on the project? Then have your deadlines clear for every day between today and the due date.

6.  Assign tasks to every group member for every milestone

One complaint I’ve heard for years from my own kids and their friends is that one or two students end up doing all the work, while others just coast.  Every group should be fair in terms of the amount of time that each group member will have to spend working on the project. 

One way to do this is to agree to an amount of time that each person can work. For example, say each student will spend 30 minutes every day working on this project.  Once you have that time limit, assign activities to each group member based on this time limit and try to make it as even as possible. 

7.  Agree to how and when you will communicate outside school

If I had a dollar for every time one of my kids had a freak out because their other group members were totally MIA and were not answering texts… Almost 100% of the time it’s because no one thought to talk about schedules and when each student was planning on working on this project. Our students need to learn to ask questions to improve communications.

Do you have a teammate in sports practice until 8pm? You’ll know not to expect an answer before then.  Be clear on when you will have regular check-ins outside of school.  Check in the night before something is due and make sure as a group everyone completed their part.

8.  Follow an agenda for the group meetings

If the project is properly planned and broken down from the beginning, each group meeting should have the same basic questions.  Talk about whether you finished your tasks due that day. Is there an obstacle that is stopping you from completing your task? What is your plan for your next task?  

9.  Discuss progress being done by everyone

Is anyone is taking on too much (or too little!) and make adjustments. If someone seems overwhelmed because their part of the project ended up being bigger than expected, ask what the rest of the group can do to take on some of their work.  Is someone not pulling their weight? Ask specifically “what part of the project do you want to contribute to more?” 

Ideally, students should plan out and track their progress on the project.  You can find a simple tracking sheet in our ResourcesProject Weekly and Daily Tracking

10.  Do not be afraid to ask your teacher for feedback

Too many times my kids seem frustrated because they have discussed something in the group but they can’t come up with an answer. Sometimes they did not catch all their questions from the beginning.  Instead of spinning their wheels, they should not be afraid to ask the teacher input when you feel stuck as a group and need help in terms of what direction to take. 

A Better School Group Project

Luckily, a better school group project is probably coming your student’s way soon.  There are great resources out there for teachers to help them structure projects to maximize collaboration and teamwork skills for students. I do hope some of this instruction gets into what our kids should be taught about working together to solve challenging problems, communicating with their peers, and sorting out disagreements.

In the meantime, parents can help their own students by sharing these tips to drive improvement in group collaboration and get better results for the whole team! 

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