How Learning Contracts Motivate Students

This semester I decided that I want to use portfolios in my future English classroom. I think this practice aligns quite nicely with a lot of the current research, particularly what Davies has to say. I would have students create an online portfolio to foster technology in my classroom. I would also have the portfolio blog pages be separated by “I Can Statements.” Then students would post all their work to the appropriate spot and highlight a couple pieces from each outcome to be marked at the end of the year. Constant feedback would be given, deadlines would not be set in stone, and communication between parents could easily be maintained by simply looking at the blog. Students could also showcase their work and progress at parent-student-teacher interviews or open houses. With that in mind, I wondered how I would set this up and keep students accountable.

Greenwood and McCabe (2006) suggest using learning contracts. These are “written [agreements] between teacher and learner in which the learner undertakes to complete mutually agreed upon tasks in a specified amount of time on his or her own initiative” (15). I think these documents would be great to use because students get to direct their own learning and have choices. Teachers could make sure that students were not just picking their favorite medium of representation by making students pick tasks from various categories. Students know what is expected of them from the beginning and they are held responsible. I think teachers could also differentiate easier using online portfolios with contracts because students could use any indicator they want. Teachers could also aid some students more than others and let advanced learners work at a pace and level that meets their own needs. I would give 20-30 minutes of general instruction that everyone receives, and then students could break off and work on their contracted tasks. During that time, I could do remedial activities with those that need extra help. Some students may be accomplishing less advanced work or tasks but since everyone is doing a different thing, no one should be singled out. Grouping choices and making sure all students get one-on-one instruction with the teacher can maintain an inclusive classroom.

One thing I am still trying to figure out is how to report under the outcomes. It seems like many assignments could fit under many outcomes. Maybe students could place an assignment under more than one outcome? Would you make one rubric per outcome? Would that work if students are exploring an outcome through all the various indicators? How do you teach students who are working on different things and at various levels? I think some intense classroom management strategies would need to be in place so that students self-manage and direct their own learning. I think this will be a lot of work but I have thought about it a lot lately and I really want to try it out. I think individualized online portfolios with agreed upon contracts are the best way (and only way I can think of now) to accomplish the current assessment trends. I just need to take it one step at a time….


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