Middle School Teachers, Stop Assigning Group Projects (Or Change How You Do Them)

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READING TIME: 3 min.
table covered in homework and breakfast
Photo by cottonbro

After four kids and 17 years of parenting, I’ve come to realize that the middle school years are the worst. Kids struggle dealing with the one-two punch of intense social and academic pressure.

Exhibit A: my middle school daughter.

School group projects are the bane of her existence.

She’s a good student. She goes to school happy, genuinely interested in learning, and willing to put in the effort it takes to earn the grades she wants.

Well, mostly happy.

Nothing ruins her school day more than to be assigned to a group project.

If the teacher allows the kids to pick their own group members, it becomes a desperate race to join a desired group and avoid the dreaded “we already have enough members” cutoff.

If the teacher assigns the groups, she inevitably gets paired with a couple of boys more interested outdoing each other in gross-out jokes than the project. I’m not sure if the teacher thinks her work ethic will rub off on the other kid (not going to happen), or if she’s averaging a perfectionist, over-achieving student with a couple of disinterested students hoping to get an acceptable (but not great) result.

Either way, she puts my daughter in a tough spot.

If she wants to get a good grade on the project, she can either do all or most of the work herself, or commit social suicide by ratting out her partners in hopes of getting assigned to another group.

I think you can guess what she inevitably chooses to do.

School group projects are intended to prepare students for workplace teamwork. But after 20+ years in corporate America, I can tell you that middle school group projects are about as far removed from real-world, on-the-job teamwork as playing Mario Kart is to Formula One racing.

In the workplace there is a hierarchy, and if your co-worker doesn’t pull his weight, there’s a natural consequence—the boss notices and they’re no longer your co-worker.

But back to my daughter and group projects. Like bad cafeteria food and smelly gym locker rooms, group projects are probably always going to be part of the middle school experience.

Ratting out her classmates is not an option. Middle school social dynamics are difficult to navigate as it is without having the word “snitch” attached to your name. But doing the lion’s share of the work is not a good option either.

Here’s my solution:

When a teacher assigns a group project, I think she should ask each team member to answer the following questions (preferably in writing, and not disclosed to the other team members):

• What work did you agree to do at the beginning?
• What work did you actually do?

Hold all of the kids accountable, grade based on effort, and don’t ask a kid to risk becoming a social pariah by snitching on a classmate.

Middle school parents, what’s been your kid’s biggest struggle? Leave a comment.

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