Contract Grading FAQs

How does contract grading work in this course?

The contract is a way for you to understand exactly what you must do to earn your desired grade. This system allows you to practice and take risks in your writing in order  to find your voice and try genres you may be uncomfortable with. The two best ways to improve your writing are to read and write, so this course asks you to do a great deal of reading and writing in order to pass. To make a B or A, you will read and write even more. Your commitment to the process of writing – what makes us writers – is valued through this grading. This commitment, this process, is what is necessary to continue growing as a writer.

You will sign up for your desired grade at the start of the course by signing and returning the contract for the grade you are working toward. Throughout the course, there will be three due dates for each major genre covered in class. You will turn in drafts to me on these due dates for comment and approval. Depending on your contract, you will also come to see me during office hours about your draft. I will return your drafts with written comments for improvement and approval for inclusion in the final portfolio.

What if I fail to meet/ exceed my contract responsibilities?

If you fail to meet the standards of your contract or exceed the standards of your contract, it is up to you to contact me and renegotiate your contract/ grade. If you fail to meet your contract, and fail to renegotiate with me, I will grade your portfolio based on my assessment of its quality. Late portfolios will incur penalties of at least one letter grade per day, unless you have talked to me beforehand. If you do not turn in a portfolio, you will fail.

What if the quality my work is not good enough?

This is a beginner course. We are going to try many genres and it is unlikely that you will be familiar with all of them. However, as long as you try to do the assignment in a way that fully addresses the requirements, you will receive full credit.

The final portfolio will be heavily revised and edited to be free of major errors. Portfolios that are not edited will receive a minus (A -, B -, C -) on the final grade. Portfolios that are not revised will be reduced one full letter grade. For example, a student who signed up for an A contract, but turned in an unrevised, unedited portfolio, would earn a B – in the course.

Students do not have to take my suggestions (or that of their peer group) when revising. However, final works must be heavily revised from the original complete first drafts to receive full credit. Students who fulfill their contracts may earn plusses on their final grades if I judge their final portfolios to be of exceptional quality.

What if you don’t approve my drafts for the final portfolio?

If I do not approve your draft, I will return it to you for revision. You will continue to revise until I approve your draft. The main reason I would not approve a draft is if it was incomplete or failed to fully engage the assignment.

What if I have a different idea for a genre or assignment?

Come talk to me! You can renegotiate your contract with me and help shape your experience in this course. Do you write plays? Would you rather do an interview in the community than attend an event? I may be open to your ideas to replace one assignment or genre for another. Though I am eager to hear proposals, it doesn’t hurt to consider some things before we meet.

* Is my proposal clear?

Be specific in your request. Do you want to replace an assignment for something of another genre? Which assignment do you want to remove and which genre do you want to insert? What will the parameters of your new assignment be? Write out possible directions to your new assignment. Remember to include details like length, due date (the date of the assignment you are replacing or a new proposed date), and other constraints and parameters specific to your new genre.

* Is the work comparable?

Are you asking to do (at least) as much work as the original assignment? I am more likely to approve an assignment that is asking to do the same amount of work. If you are unable to think of how to make the assignments equal, let me know this and we can talk about options you may have.

* Is there enough time left in the semester?

When are you asking me to change assignments and why? This could have more bearing on whether or not I approve your proposal than anything else on this list. When you think about your grade and your final portfolio from the first day you set yourself up for success.  I love to hear proposals from people excited by their ideas for creative fun. I especially love proposals that take risks, stretch limits, and go places that are often left empty. Some people know from the start that they want to do something different and it is best to talk to me about it, even before a formal proposal, early on, so we can work toward these exciting projects.

As the semester progresses, opportunities often pop up and other people start to see the possibilities for divergent assignments. When this happens, talk to me as soon as possible, so you will know if your proposal is approved long before the final portfolio is due.

When the semester is heading to a close, it is important that you make a compelling case for any changes you want to make to your portfolio or contract. I need to understand what you will do, how it will replace what you are making up, and why this is equitable. Even if you don’t know what to do, it is important that you talk to me if you are unable to complete your portfolio or contract obligations.

Where can I find out more about contract grading?

This style of contract grading is based on Peter Elbow’s “B Contract.” Ira Shor, William Thelin, and Isabel Moreno-Lopez have also written about their versions of contract grading. One of Elbow’s essays, “A Unilateral Grading Contract to Improve Learning and Teaching [co-written with Jane Danielewicz],” is a good overview on the subject.