I admit I have always been intrigued by the idea of a grading contract. Some of it is part of my ongoing desire to help my students become self-regulating and independent learners, but there is also that seductive notion of using grading contracts to avoid “grading jail” as Ryan Cordell suggests.
However, the time has never seemed right for a number of personal and professional reasons, but I now believe the time is right – the stars are in alignment – for me to venture into this pool. Fortunately for me, there are wealth of resources and advice and examples available for me to follow. I love teaching in this day and age.
Profhacker’s Billie Hara writes about Using Grading Contracts and raises some of my own concerns and questions about their use that I possess. I was then and remain skeptical about their use with a first-year writing class. How many of my students actually possess the self-discipline and self-knowledge that such a system requires?
However, I continually struggle with organizing and grading two specific assignments in my first-year writing classes – class reading and discussion and writing workshop. I value both assignments for what we learn and discover as a class about our class content as well as ourselves, but participation is always uneven no matter how I enforce or structure it and grading and keeping track of participation is always a huge time suck. Both are collaborative assignments, which is part of the problem, and for both assignments I want students to focus more on exploration and learning and process than on perfection, which is also a challenge. While I was mulling over possibilities for yet another assignment revision. Dave Cormier blogged about Avoiding Resistance to Grading Contracts and I began to consider the possibility that a grading contract might be the solution I was seeking. I am still wary of using a grading contract for the course, but I think using grading contracts for specific assignments, such as these collaborative endeavors, might shift the focus off the process and the burden and responsibility from me to the student. I’ve got some time to mull this before I dive into course planning for the fall but I am excited about the possibilities. Jeffrey McClurken writes about using Student Contracts for Digital Projects and that is an approach that I could certainly adapt for my Professional Writing class in which students develop a large project over the course of the semester.
Even as I dismissed the notion of using a grading contract for my first-year writing students, I realized that grading contracts might work very well for my upper level and graduate classes. This is especially true as my graduate students are all teachers as are the majority of my upper level students (OK, pre-service teachers for the latter). Once I realized that we could use the contracts not just to solve my problems but also as teachable moments within the class my imagination was caught. Cathy Davidson explains how she uses Contract Grading and Peer Review for her digital literacies class. Dave Cormier also shared his early version of his learning contract.
I am very excited about the opportunity to lessen my grading burden but also to shift my focus to learning rather than assessment which is where I want it to be. Under a more traditional model there always comes a point when you have to focus on assessment and it often seems to undermine the confidence and perceived success of some students. Of course, this is how I feel now, at the first-date stage, when anything seems possible. We’ll see how I feel after we’ve had our first disagreement and I run this plan by my students.