Using Grade Contracts

I use grade contracts as a way to help students focus on their learning and worry less about “writing for the teacher” in order to get good grades; the contract makes explicit what criteria students must meet to achieve their desired score.

Since coming to EKU, I have admired the approach to grading used by Paula Kristofic (recently retired from EKU), in which she laid out specific criteria by which students would achieve each letter grade (e.g., Students earning an A in the course will…). Inspired by her success with this approach (I heard from many of her former students how much they valued her approach), I read more about grading contracts and tried them out in ENG102 in Spring 2018 (I’ve posted elsewhere about my work with ePortfolios in that same course). Drawing from the work of Jane Danielewicz, Peter Elbow, and Asao Inoue, I created a contract for students that emphasized writing process, group interaction, information literacy, and willingness to experiment with new ways of writing. The ENG102 contract took away a lot of student anxiety about grading, allowing them to instead focus on learning; I believe that the contract was integral to the success of the ePortfolio approach I used in that class.

Learning from my experience with contracts in ENG102, in Fall 2018 I used a similar approach in designing a grading plan for ENG405 (Intro to Composition Theory). Knowing that participants in this course would be advanced students who would already be more motivated to learn than your average first-year student, I felt that I would not need as formal of a contract as needed in ENG102, and so used an approach much closer to Kristofic’s. For example,

To earn an A in the course, students should:

  • Complete at least 12 blog posts and comment regularly on peers’ posts. Posts are largely free of typographic and grammatical errors.
  • Complete all major projects, meeting the requirements for length and content, and completing each project in the full spirit of the assignment.
  • Contribute regularly and substantively to class discussions, peer review, workshops, and other in-class activities.
  • Create an ePortfolio that represents themselves and their work professionally and accessibly for an outside audience.
  • Not miss more than the allowable absences as described above in the absence policy.

You can see the full contract in the Fall 2018 ENG405 syllabus I’ve included below. Again, the goal is to encourage students to focus more on learning and the experience of the assignments, which are aimed at preparing them to teach writing to others, and not to get bogged down by worrying about grades.

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