George Lucas Educational Foundation

Mandatory group projects

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Even though I am a teacher I am asking this question as a parent. In several of my son's classes over the last several years there seems to be more and more mandatory group work. I have no problem with students completing projects as part of a group, it's good practice for life. However the problem arises when they must complete these projects outside of school. Nowadays it is almost impossible to find a good time for everyone in a group to get together to work on said project (even in the adult world we encounter this problem) between the various extracurricular activities and various family commitments and timelines. Then you have the problem of some students doing all the work and other students doing none of the work yet riding on the coattails of their classmates. My son's grades have suffered dramatically as a result of this practice. He struggled through this scenario this past semester in Biology. His grades remained in the D range all semester, sometimes they would get dangerously close to an F. He then aced his semester final but was still left with a D as a final semester grade. Like I said in my previous paragraph I see where there is merit to group work if handled properly. Because of how busy we have become as a society I feel the majority of the so called "group work" should be completed during school hours. There should also be some way to grade students individually within the group for their contributions to the overall project. As a teacher I can understand why teachers assign group work. It makes their grading so much easier and as a teacher I can appreciate that. My guess is that many of his teacher's are new to the profession and are for one trying to keep the grading light for their own sanity and for two are trying to incorporate cooperative learning and project based work into their classrooms. However, they lack the experience necessary to teach effectively in this manner. However, because I am used to teaching younger students I am willing to admit that maybe there is more at work here then what I am able to see. In other words, am I missing something? Any feedback would be appreciated.

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Nikki Glinski's picture

I don't have any advice for you but I wanted to say how sorry I am for your situation. I appreciate reading your story because I think it will help teachers who are new to the profession or who don't have children to understand that families aren't always able to meet all the demands we put on our students.

Best of luck to you and your son.

Brigitte Haas's picture
Brigitte Haas
Teacher for the Deaf/Hard of Hearing

Hi Mary-Leigh
I work across a variety of grades as a Teacher for the Deaf/HH and have encountered the same frustration with my middle school students. One student in particular is the one who rides on the coattails of her classmates and it is quite frustrating for me, as a teacher, to see this happening. When I approached the teacher about it, I was told that the purpose behind group work is to provide the students with the opportunity for problem solving, communication, and team work. I feel that it is frustrating when some students are doing more than others and yet the entire group receives the grade. I do think that it is important to have team or group projects for the reasons of problem solving, communication, and team work, however I think that there needs to be some individual grading involved as well. I'm not sure I answered your question about how to handle this with your son, but maybe I was able to offer more insight as to why even veteran teachers are using this model in their teaching of the curriculum.

Good luck!

Katie's picture

Hi Mary-Leigh,

After reading your post I wanted to offer some suggestions that might help with the group work. These are actually more suggestions for you son's teacher because they have seemed to work for me in the past. I know you don't want to tell his teacher what to do, but maybe suggesting a few things would make it easier on everyone..because I am sure you are not the only parent feeling this way!

Whenever I do group work, I give the students at least 2-3 days in class to start the project. For instance, we are going to be doing a project on the human body systems using PowerPoint. We have given them a 2 week deadline. However, we are giving the students 4 days in the computer lab and media center to do reasearch and get started. I also offer students the chance to come in early for time to work with their groups, that way if students cannot meet up during the weeknights or weekends, they can come in and work in my classroom.

Another thing is giving them a chance to peer grade one another. I just give them a simple little slip with letter grades that they circle for each student in their group. They also have to write what each person did in the group including themselves. I have them do this at the end, alone, so that no one will know what grade they were given by their group members.

When giving group assignments, the teahcer has to be flexible with time, because like you said it can be hard to get students to work together outside of school. The teacher should give them as much time as she can in the classroom and then offer more time either before or after school just to give some options.

Not sure if this helps..but just wanted to share my experience with this so far...

Jennifer Powers's picture

I can completely understand your frustration with this matter. Even as a new teacher I would not assign a group project outside of class for all of the reasons that you stated. I have done group projects in my class and they are great for so many different reasons, but I definitely believe that they should be done in class. Not only can the group get together but I can ensure that everyone works together and not only one person does the work. Unfortunately I have no suggestion for you except talk to the teacher.

Melissa's picture

I find that while teaching students English as a second language, that it is benefitual for them to do group projects, especially in the mainstream classroom. If all of the students are able to talk in a group about a given topic then all students will achieve a better understanding of that topic.

However, I do see your frustration. I believe that these group projects should NOT be taken out of the classroom, because of the life styles of the students varies greatly from family to family. A lot of the time, I have difficulties with the parents participating or helping with the regular homework for the student. It is difficult for someone who doesn't understand the language to provide adequate support for any homework.

So, I feel that if the teacher should want to do a group project, it should stay in the classroom, and they should try the other methods as stated in the previous comments to try to support ALL of the students in the class. (Self evaluations, Peer evaluations, Delegating the work so that all have an equal part, etc.)

Kelly's picture

As a science teacher, I assign many group activities/projects. However, all group activities/projects that I assign are done in class. And even then, I make sure that I assign each person in the group a particular job to do. I give an individual grade for the assigned part of the project. This way, each child is responsible for their part, and they are graded on their part.

I found that in the past, there was always one or two students that put all of the work off on the same people and enjoyed sharing a good grade without doing any of the work. This is one way that I have handled it in my classroom and it seems to work well.

I would never assign a group project outside of the classroom.

Mary-Leigh's picture

Thanks everyone for your feedback. It is reassuring to see that I am not totally off base in my concerns.

Katrina Sneed's picture
Katrina Sneed
Once upon a teacher, now stays at home

Unless your son is at an age where he can drive then no I do not think that the teacher should require the group work to be done outside of class. There should be given class time where the group can meet to fulfill the assignment. Also I agree that students should be graded individually or they should have the opportunity to peer grade each other. A suggestion you might give the teacher is to give one grade for the group project as a whole: for problem solving, communication, and team work. And then an additional grade to the individual students for their contribution to the group assignment.

Brandi High's picture

I feel that if a teacher assigns group assignments, there should be ample time for completion provided during school hours. As a teacher in the schools, you see what kind of home some of these children come from and you wouldn't want your children going into those homes.

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