by Karen Nichols
Have you tried grade contracts? There was a discussion about them in our POD (Professional and Organizational Development Network in Higher Education) listserv. They've been around for several years now, but I've never tried to use them. I can certainly see pros and cons to having a grade contract, and I'm sure the subject being taught will influence how the contract is set up.
After reading the recommended articles (links posted at the end), it seems the grade contracts take the essential elements of the syllabus and change the general requirements to more personal goals. So perhaps a grade contract would be an effective way to make sure the students have read and understood these course requirements.
The tricky part of a grade contract is that you are spelling out for the students what they must do in order to earn a "B" (or an "A" or a passing grade) in your course. It seems that a grade contract reinforces the emphasis so many of our students place on the grade earned rather than the material learned and I am not sure I can agree with that.
Having a set of straightforward tasks that must be completed at a certain level of competence in order to earn a specific grade also seems it will remove a great deal of subjectivity from the whole process. To some, I'm sure they would see this more objective measure as a positive, but in my French classes, I often reward effort or take into account other intangible elements so I'm not sure the grade contract would serve the students as well as no contract does.
Even though it seems I'm against the contracts, I'm really curious after reading how students' grades improved with them. I may try them in my online French class this summer. Check out these recommended resources and see if a grade contract may help you and your students, and let us know if you decide to try it!
Sources from the POD listserv
From Comp/Rhet: http://works.bepress.com/peter_elbow/39/