Middle School Group Projects Teach Real-Life Skills
Group projects provide great opportunities to teach middle grades students valuable real-life skills they will need for success in their future schooling and careers as they participate in study groups, research and business teams, committees, and boards. Although there is strength in numbers, conflict and frustration can also result. Fraught with personality conflicts, unequal workload distribution, and unresolved disagreements, group work can pose a great challenge for students in contributing their expertise to the group's product.
A few strategies for teaching young adolescents real-life skills through a group project experience are
- Begin your group project assignment with some mini-lessons about group dynamics and group psychology.
- Have students discuss prior group project experience. What made the experience positive? What were the negatives? Have students write a class list of the characteristics of effective and ineffective groups, and post the list in your classroom.
- Engage students in teambuilding activities. Most effective for teambuilding is a mix of mental and physical activities. Teams can have fun competing in friendly mental games and competitions, field races, tug-of-war, or basketball. The principles, dynamics, and relationships group project teams develop to solve simple problems in their competitions will later apply to more challenging group activities.
- Teach conflict resolution tools. Teach students that conflicts will arise whenever people work together. Give them the tools for defining their conflicts in specific terms and addressing rather than overlooking them. For example, a complaint "Ariana is not helping with the project!" does not sufficiently define a conflict so that a solution can be generated, while "Ariana missed a key meeting," or "Ariana did not submit her part of the project," suggest solutions to the problem. With tools for conflict resolution, students can bring together different personalities and talents, overcome conflicts and setbacks, and achieve an outcome of which they will all be proud.
- Provide students with clear and thorough task definitions.
- Have students discuss specific types of conflicts that could arise and collaborate on establishing procedures for resolving them.
- Communicate relevant information in a timely manner and provide feedback and support to help them succeed. Remind them of benchmark deadlines and coach them to check the rubric to keep their priorities in mind.
- Support students in finding an equitable distribution of the project workload. Students should understand that every member has a unique, valuable role in a group project, and every member has an equal responsibility for the project's success.
- In addition, students should learn the value of maintaining a fair and respectful communication style, accepting another's right to disagree (and appreciating the creative value of disagreement in collaborative learning), and communicating frequently.
Using these group project strategies will support your middle school students in learning teaming and collaborative skills essential to their academic and career success.
Susan Mulcaire is a teacher, attorney, and author in Orange County, California. She was a presenter at the 2010 NMSA Conference in Baltimore, Maryland. Her Awesome Group Project Organizer helps middle school students organize and successfully manage their group projects: www.middleschoolguide.com. E-mail: email@example.com
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