In this lesson, we cover the student learning contract, an excellent tool to help students who are having difficulty staying on task or those who want to work independently. The basic components are covered along with examples.
Student Learning Contract
When you reach adulthood you gain certain benefits: no bedtime, cookies for dinner, renting a car, to name a few. However, with these benefits come responsibilities. Suddenly your signature carries weight. You can sign (cue dramatic music) a legal contract. Some of these things are really straightforward: I agree to pay you so much money, you give me a product, done. Others - iTunes I'm looking in your direction - are absurdly long and complicated, crafted by a coven of lawyers to be as obtuse and enforceable as possible. A recent trend in education has been making it so students get to experience the joy of contract signership (I know, not a word) at younger and younger ages. We are, of course, talking about the student learning contract.
A student learning contract is a written agreement between the student and teacher. That sounds incredibly simple because it fundamentally is quite a simple contract. For the most part, the only two people involved in the creation are the teacher and student. Sometimes a parent signature is required, but this is usually up to the teacher or school. The contract outlines basic goals and objectives the student and teacher agree upon and both sign it to indicate that the contract is now in effect. Student learning contracts can also include elements of behavior and responsibilities, with many teachers integrating their classroom rules as well.
The basic goal of a learning contract is to make sure that the student's objectives are clearly communicated to the student and they are acknowledged. They can be used for a number of reasons. Many teachers will use a learning contract for a student who is chronically turning in work late or missing assignments completely. Others use them for students who act out or have behavioral challenges. They can also be used quite effectively for students who are engaging in independent learning exercises or for gifted students working on separate activities.
The real benefit of a student learning contract comes from student buy-in. When crafting the contract with the student, they are gaining some control over their education. Certainly the teacher has final say, but when making the contract, the teacher can give the student some leeway in how and when they want to work on what assignments. The student also has to engage in critical reflection of their own work: What type of assignment do I want to complete? What do I feel I am best at? Finally, it teaches the student greater life skills, like setting and working towards goals as well as developing intrinsic motivation.
Student learning contracts come in all shapes and sizes. In K-12 schools, they may be incredibly simple as they aren't a legal document, but higher education learning contracts actually have the force of law behind them and are therefore far more complex. To begin with, we'll outline some of the basic components necessary for the framework of a student learning contract.
Student and school details
The first section of the contract should contain, at a minimum, the student name, the school, the class, and the teacher. This can also contain a sentence introducing the student and having them agree to a basic statement of effort.
This is the real meat of the contract. In this section the student and teacher (and sometimes parents) work together to formulate specific objectives the student needs to accomplish. These can come in two varieties. Some may be more vague (for example, 'Gain an understanding of life under communism'), while others are very specific (for example, 'Read chapters 2-4 in textbook by Monday's class'). This all depends on the student, teacher, and the reasoning behind the learning contract.
The learning objectives are usually accompanied by a methodology of achieving the objective. Again, this can be something as simple as the student agreeing to read 15 minutes from their textbook a day or something more general, like limiting their class interruptions. Each objective should also have attached to it a way of measuring success and a completion date.
An example of this would be the student's objective of, 'I will control myself in class and not disrupt other students' learning.' The student and teacher would then work on strategies for how this could be accomplished, such as 'Not interfering with other students' workspaces' or 'Not speaking when others are speaking'. The evidence of this accomplishment would be kept by the teacher, who would mark on the board if the student was observed being disruptive. Finally, the time frame the contract covered would be established, which in this example case might be 'The month of March.'
The final section is for both the student and teacher to sign the contract, signifying their agreement to the terms laid out. An important fact to remember is that since the contract is a written one, it cannot be modified in anything other than writing and with a new signature. This is the legal standard of modifying contracts, but it is helpful to prevent students from saying something and then thinking that it has modified their learning contract.
A student learning contract is a written agreement between the student and teacher. It contains specific objectives that the student will meet, frequently accompanied by strategies, methods of measuring the student's progress, and a timeline for completion. These contracts are used for both students who are having difficulty as well as students who are working independently or ahead of the main class. The contract is composed of, at a minimum, the student's name and school or class details, the objectives accompanied by strategies and measurement methods, and the student and teacher signatures.