grading contract, updated winter 2012 #513dr

[amended from Peter Elbow

I often find grades to be distractions from learning. This course places a strong emphasis on participation and I'm concerned that grades might get in the way. Conventional grading often leads us to think more about grades than about learning and writing, to worry more about pleasing or fooling a teacher than about figuring out what you want to say or how to say it, leaving us reluctant to take risks. Sometimes, grades even lead to the feeling that you are working against the teacher. Instead, I want to create a culture of support, a culture where you, your colleagues and I function as allies, fellow travelers with various skills, experience and talents that we can offer to the group, rather than as adversaries working against each other for grades. 

Rather than giving individual grades for each assignment and basing them on an arbitrary point system to be tallied at the end of the semester, I will instead provide substantive comments on the majority of work performed this semester. I will also engage you in conversations about performance via progress reports. However, these assessments will not affect your overall grade in the course. Instead, they should function as guides to how you need to revise or rethink your performance. 

Through the use of a grading contract, I'm asking for a reconsideration of how you work in our classroom, what your role is as a student in a classroom, and what your relationship to one another is as colleagues. All of this really boils down to rethinking "responsibility." Traditional grading by a teacher alone keeps students from having much responsibility by instead assuming students can only be motivated by grades, not by learning or actual coursework. Grades create systems of accountability instead of providing environments for personal and social responsibility

In this course, the grading contract asks you to have responsibility to yourself and to the class to do the work required, to attend and participate during class time, to ask questions of me or your classmates if you're confused and to know what assignments have been turned in and where you stand in relation to the contract. As the teacher/guide, I have the responsibility to be prepared for every class, to answer any questions and consider any feedback, to provide helpful and honest suggestions on your work and to make myself available for questions and concerns outside of class. 

“A” Grades 
You are guaranteed a course grade of “A” if you meet all of the following conditions:
  1. Attendance/Participation/Presence. You’ll attend and fully participate in our scheduled class sessions and their activities and assignments. For our class, attendance equates to participation. Therefore, it is not enough for you simply to come to class. If you come to class unprepared in any way (e.g., without work done, assignments read, etc.), it will be counted as an absence, since you won’t be able to participate fully in our activities. This means any informal assignment given, or ones not outlined on our syllabus, fit into this category of attendance. 

    : Assignments not completed because of an absence, either ones assigned on the schedule or ones assigned on earlier days in class, will be late, missed, or ignored (depending on when you turn it in finally, see the guidelines #4, #5, and #6 below). 

    Any absence due to an university-sponsored group activity (e.g., sporting event, band, etc.) will not count against you as long as you FIRST provide written documentation in the first 2 weeks of the semester of all absences. This same policy applies to those who have mandatory military-related absences (e.g., deployment, work, duty, etc.). This will allow us to determine how you will meet assignments, participation, and the responsibilities of our contract, despite being absent. 
  2. Lateness. You’ll come on time or early to class. Walking into class late 2 or 3 times in a semester is understandable, but coming habitually late every week is not. If you are late to class, you are still responsible to find out what assignments or instructions were made, but please don’t disrupt our class by asking about the things you missed because you were late. 
  3. Sharing and Collaboration. You’ll work cooperatively in groups. Be willing to share your writing, to listen supportively to the writing of others, and, when called for, give full and thoughtful assessments that consistently help your colleagues consider ways to revise. 
  4. Late Assignments. You will turn in properly and on time all assignments. Because your colleagues in class depend on you to get your work done on time so that they can do theirs on time, all late assignments are just as bad as missed assignments.
    Exception: twice during the semester, you may turn in a late assignment. All “late assignments” are due 2 days after their initial due date, no exceptions. Please note that a late assignment may be due on a day when our class is not scheduled to meet. 
  5. Missed Assignments. A missed assignment is NOT one not completed; it is one that has missed the guidelines somehow but is still complete and turned in. In order to meet our contract for a “A” grade, you cannot have any “missed assignments.” Please note that assignments not completed at all are considered “Ignored Assignments” (see #6 below). A missed assignment is usually one completed after the 48 hours that would have made it only a “late” assignment, but it is complete. 
  6. Ignored Assignments. Any assignments not done period, or “ignored,” for whatever reasons, are put in this category. One of these means an automatic “C.” Two acquired gives you an “F”  – no exceptions. 

All Compositions need to meet the following conditions:

  • Complete and On Time. You’ll turn in on time and in the appropriate manner completed work that meet all of assignment guidelines. 
  • Revisions. If/when the assignment is to revise, you will reshape, extend, complicate, or substantially clarify your ideas – or relate your ideas to new things. You won’t just correct or touch up. Revisions must somehow respond to or consider seriously your colleagues’ assessments. 
  • Copy Editing. When the assignment is for the final publication draft, your piece must be well copy edited – that is, free from virtually all mistakes in spelling and grammar.  It's fine to get help in copy editing.

All Assessments and Peer Responses need to meet the following conditions: 

  • Complete and On Time. All assessments should be complete and submitted on time and in the appropriate way so that your colleagues will get your assessments of their writing the way the class has predetermined. 
  • Content. All assessments should follow the directions established by our evolving class discussions about them. 
  • Courtesy and Respect. All assessments should be courteous and respectful in tone, but honest. It’s okay to say something doesn’t seem right in a draft, or that something doesn’t really work. Respect means we are kind and truthful. It’s not the “golden rule” (treat others as you would have them treat you), but a modified one: treat others as you believe they want to be treated. 

Clarification on "A"
A particular passing grade depends on behaviors. Have you shown responsible effort and consistency in our class? Have you done what was asked of you in the spirit it was asked?

However, the grade of "A" depends on acknowledged quality. Thus, you earn a "B" if you put in good time and effort; we should push each other for a "B." In order to get an "A," you have to make your time and effort pay off into writing of genuine, recognizable excellence that responds in some concrete way to your colleagues' and my concerns (and also meets the conditions for a "B"). This means that not only is revision important, but a certain kind of revision, one demonstrating a reflective writer listening, making decisions and moving drafts above and beyond expectations. Writing in the "A" category will respond to assessments and be reflective of itself.

Notice that for grades up to "B," you don't have to worry about my judgment or my standards of excellence;  for higher grades, you do. But we'll have class discussions about excellence in writing and we should be able to reach fairly good agreement.

Knowing Where You Stand
This system is better than regular grading for giving you a clear idea of what your final grade looks like at any moment. For whenever you get feedback on any essay, you should know where you stand in terms of meeting the expectations of the course. I will also encourage and guide some of these discussions on an individual basis in the form of progress reports. But if you’re doing everything as directed and turning it in on time (no matter what anyone says), you’re getting a "B." As for absences and lateness, you'll have to keep track of them, but you can check with me any time. 

Grades Lower Than "B"
I hope no one will aim for lower grades. The quickest way to slide to a “C" or lower is to miss class, not turn in things on time, and show up without assignments. This much is nonnegotiable: you are not eligible for a passing grade of “C” unless you have attend at least 86% of the class sessions and meet the guidelines above. And you can't just turn in all the late work at the end. If you are missing classes and behind in work, please stay in touch with me about your chances of passing the course.

The Breakdown 
So, here’s the way grading works in our class. In order to get the grade on the left, you must meet or exceed the requirements in the row next to it. 



# of Absences

# of  Late Assigns.

# of Missed Assigns.

# of Ignored Assigns.














1 or 2








4 or more

4 or more

4 or more

2 or more



All assignments that are turned in as “late” after the 2nd are considered “missed.” All “missed” assignments after the 2nd are considered “ignored.” 


Each student may use one plea to the class in order to receive a special dispensation or exemption from the contract, or to be given a temporary break from the contract. A plea can only be used in extraordinary circumstances, those beyond the student's control or that are special in some other way and that have kept her/him from doing assigned work. Each plea will be voted on and a 2/3 majority is needed for approval. 

Option 1: Public Plea
This is the default and the one I'll push for in 99% of all cases. 

Option 2: Private Plea.  
As contract administrator, I will decide in consultation with the student whether a private plea is warranted. In rare and unusual cases, there may be extreme, extenuating circumstances that keep an individual student from meeting the contract's stated responsibilities. In such cases, the student must come to the teacher as soon as possible, and before breach-of-contract, so that s/he and the teacher can make fair and equitable arrangements, ones that will be fair and equitable to all in the class and still meet the university’s regulations on attendance, conduct, and workload in classes. In these special cases, the class will not vote on the issue (and may not even know about it).  

Please note: the first recourse in most matters will be to take all issues to the class for a plea, not to make special arrangements with individual students who cannot meet the contract requirementsThe contract is a public, social contract, one agreed upon through group discussion and agreement, so the majority of negotiations must be public negotiations. This caveat to the contract is NOT an “out clause” for anyone who happens to not fulfill the contract; it is for rare and unusual circumstances out of the control of the student, and usually so personal in nature that a plea to the class is not doable or reasonable. If I (the teacher), in consultation with the student, decide that a private plea is warranted, then the class will be informed that a private plea has been made and decided upon via email. 

By staying in this course and attending class, you accept this contract and agree to abide by it.