A Tentative Effort Expectations Contract Chart

A white sign with black text labeling the path as Effort Street (SW17)

Effort by secretlondon123 on Flickr, used under a CC-BY-SA 2.0 license

I’ve spent the day reading (and rereading) on contract grading, including all of these resources:

  • Inoue, Asao B. (2019). Labor-Based Grading Contracts: Building Equity and Inclusion in the Compassionate Writing Classroom. The WAC Clearinghouse and University Press of Colorado. https://wac.colostate.edu/books/perspectives/labor/
  • Stommel, Jesse. (2017, October 26). Why I Don’t Grade. Jesse Stommel. http://www.jessestommel.com/why-i-dont-grade/
  • Stommel, Jesse. (2018, March 11). How to Ungrade. Jesse Stommel. http://www.jessestommel.com/how-to-ungrade/
  • Craig, Sherri. (2021). Your Contract Grading Ain’t It. WPA: Writing Program Administration, 44(3), 145–146.
  • Blum, Susan D. (Ed.). (2020). Ungrading: Why rating students undermines learning (and what to do instead) (First edition). West Virginia University Press.

I stand by the short list of goals that I shared in my last post. If anything, I feel stronger about them. I am set with focusing on Completion meaning that “you do all that is asked of you in the manner and spirit it is asked” (Inoue, 2023, p. 327). Less of a specifications grading system (Nilson, 2015), the system checks to ensure that the basic things that are asked for are there. I’m leaning on the explanations from Inoue’s work here. There’s much more explanation in the book (which is available free from the WAC Clearinghouse), but I particularly liked the three questions he included for assessing the work students did during a week in FYC:

Each labor assignment is complete and counts if it meets in the affirmative the following questions:

  • Is the labor product(s) posted on time and in the correct place?
  • Does the labor product(s) include everything I asked for and meet the minimum word count?
  • Is there a labor tweet/Slack(s) posted as instructed (if applicable)?

(Inoue, 2023, p. 196)

My class will have different framing questions, but the idea will be the same:

  • Did the student turn in the work before the end of the grace period?
  • Does the work include everything listed in the criteria for the activity?
    • Is it the right assignment? (e.g., Is it a memo?)
    • Is it on the right topic? (e.g., Is it a good news memo about employee holidays?)
    • Is it a full draft? (e.g., Does it include memo headings and a memo body?)

I may be addressing some specific issues that arose in the past with my questions 😉 You know, like that one time a student responded to the assignment for a pitch presentation on their proposed report topic with a presentation that argued Lionel Messi is the GOAT. Um, no. That is not a Complete. Nor were the Recommendation Reports that were only outlines. Yes, that was a submission, but not a Complete.

I feel reasonably comfortable that this kind of framing questions will address to check student work to ensure that students are on track and doing what they are supposed to. Further, I see what I’ve come up with as more rigorous than what I was doing in the past. Students have to do all of the work with attention to its expectations to do well in the course. It wasn’t really a goal to increase the rigor, but I’m happy that it has turned out that way.

I’m also going with the essential idea of Inoue’s grade levels, though I am phrasing my system in terms of work completed rather than work that is missing to avoid the deficit focus. Like Inoue’s system, my tentative plan allows students to earn a B by doing everything in a way that meets basic criteria. To earn more than a B, I will follow Inoue again and provide a list of additional tasks that students can complete. Each task earns 1/3 of a grade. For instance, if a student with a B does one task on the list, their grade will increase to a B+. This extra work for grades higher than a B also increases the rigor in the course.

The table below shows the tentative contract for effort in the course. Naturally I will need to add a lot more information. In particular I need to include an explanation of what it means to earn a Complete as well as sketch out all of the tasks that are available for grades above a B. I want to adopt Inoue’s practice of allowing students at any level to improve grades by completing these extra tasks as well (2023, p. 330–331). So a student with a C+ could complete a couple of extra tasks and move up to a B. That gives students more options so that one bad week doesn’t ruin their chances.

Here’s that setup so far:

Grade Level Effort Expectations
A Meets all of the expectations for a B, and earns a Complete on up to three of the following (each raises your grade 1/3 step):

  • Earns a Complete on 100% of the Check-In Surveys and Weekly Activities
  • Substantially revises two Try-Its (?)
  • Writes a Midterm Assessment of your work in the course.
  • Substantially revise the 1st or 2nd major project
  • peer reviews?
  • what else?
B Earn a Complete on the following:

  • Five Major Project Submissions
  • 95% of the Check-In Surveys
  • 95% of the Weekly Activities (including Try-Its & Self-Checks)
C Earn a Complete on the following:

  • Five Major Project Submissions
  • 85% of the Check-In Surveys
  • 85% of the Weekly Activities (including Try-Its & Self-Checks)
D Earn a Complete on the following:

  • Four Major Project Submissions
  • 75% of the Check-In Surveys
  • 75% of the Weekly Activities (including Try-Its & Self-Checks)
F Earn a Complete on the following:

  • Fewer than four of the Major Project Submissions
  • 64% or less of the Check-In Surveys
  • 64% or less of the Weekly Activities (including Try-Its & Self-Checks)