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Topic: Summary-student responsibility part 2
Replies: 4   Last Post: Oct 24, 1995 7:30 PM

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Registered: 12/6/04
Summary-student responsibility part 2
Posted: Oct 23, 1995 12:34 AM
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Date: Thu, 05 Oct 1995 09:23:14 -0400 (AST)
From: Robert Lewis <>
Subject: Re: Getting students to take responsibility

I just responded to your invitation on the POD list, and then thought
you might appreciate the following paper. I wrote it for the University of New
Brunswick (our sister institution) Faculty Teaching Newsletter a few years back.

by Dr. Bob Lewis
Education Department, S.T.U.

It is 9:30 a.m. on a bright October day as students gather in the foyer of
Edmund Casey Hall. As each new arrival comes by on the way to coffee and is
recognized by classmates the question is asked almost casually. "Well, what do
you think?" The answers are varied:
"I made my contract."
"I missed my contract by about 5 questions."
"At least I have the option of a rewrite."
"I didn't ask."
"I got my A."
"I had nine wrong, so I was borderline. I don't have to
rewrite anyway, thank God."
These comments were among those recorded after a recent exam
in a course which is evaluated using student contracts. The students are
talking about where they stand now in their plan to complete a contract made
between each of them and their professor. Each is already committed to working
toward a specific mark, and the comments relate to success in reaching one of
several criteria in the contract. While the statements above reflect some of
the advantages of contract marking, they also suggest its limitations. The fact
that most students already know their status, only minutes after completion of a
major exam, may startle some; but it may not surprise those who have taught or
studied under a contract plan. Once levels of performance have been agreed upon,
evaluation for
marking need not be complicated by the fine discriminations
necessitated by averaging systems. The rewriting options which are
discussed so nonchalantly by students are central to the system,
and offer a number of virtues while also introducing a few new vices. That
students can talk about their performance without necessarily mentioning
specific marks provides a chance to individualize and reduce competition.
For those who may be looking for a new marking system, the
following guidelines and suggestions are offered by one who has been using the
contract system for over eighteen years. The
writer's continuation of the system speaks clearly about his
evaluation of it, but perhaps more telling is the preference for
contracting shown by students who have been exposed to it. The
author normally offers the traditional marking system as an option
in the second semester of his course. Over 95% choose each year to
continue to study under the contract system.
There are four essential elements to any contracting system:

1. An agreement for each student specifying the work to be
accomplished, both in quality and quantity. This can be
done on a completely individual basis, or professors can
offer a "standard" contract, with options to be selected.
2. Specified or negotiated marks to be awarded for completion.
3. Some agreement on how work is treated which does not meet
the standard set.
4. An agreement on how students may change contracts.

The easiest way to demonstrate how the system works is to list the "rules"
used in the class mentioned at the start of this article.
1. Students are provided a statement of required achievements
for each mark, providing a "standard contract" which nearly
all students choose. No plus or minus marks are involved.
Example: The "B" contract requires 3 tests and one
position paper all of at least B- quality and one
quantity (non-evaluated) activity.
2. Individually negotiated contracts are possible, but it is
assumed that most students will select a standard
Example: A student may suggest writing a term paper to
substitute for an activity. The Professor might
agree if it is a synthesis of ten readings (thereby
maintaining the quantity-no evaluation aspect).
3. Each higher mark level includes the requirements for lower
levels but increases both the quality and the quantity of
work necessary.
Example: The "A" contract requires three exams and two
position papers completed to at least A- level
and two quantity activities.
4. The same quality requirement is demanded of all quality
marked work. A high mark on one test cannot balance a
lower mark on another.
Example: A student gets the highest mark on Test 1, but
must still maintain the A- level on all subsequent
5. Rewriting is permitted for all quality requirements (tests,
essays, presentations) as long as deadlines are met.
Papers done after deadlines may not be rewritten if of low
Example: A student may continue to rewrite tests until
competence at the level contracted is reached, or
until the course ends.
6. Negotiation for changes in contracts are permitted, either
to raise contracted levels or to lower them.
Example: A student does very poorly on the first test,
and decides to reduce the contract from A to B,
thereby reducing the amount of test rewriting,
papers, and activities.
7. At the end of the semester or year, uncompleted contracts
are assessed in a manner similar to that used in a
traditional system. Marks of A- or C+ can be given at this
Example: A student has been unable to successfully reach
an A level mastery of a section, but otherwise has
fulfilled the contract. An A- would be given.
8. Students are guaranteed a mark no lower than that
contracted, assuming successful completion of all
Example: Most students know by the end of the semester
what mark they will receive for the class.
9. The professor reserves the right to raise marks for
exemplary work.
Example: A student contracted for B has reached B level
on one test, and otherwise has done work equivalent
to an A. Either an A- or B+ would be given.

The above plan may appear complicated. In practice, once
developed and communicated to students, it is actually rather simple. The
disadvantages to be found lie in another direction:
First, the system demands more work from the professor. Contracts must be
made, re-tests must be scheduled and written for
individual students, and careful records must be kept of each
person's progress and activities.
Second, the communication of results must be speedy and in a
form so that students can decide how to respond when quality work
falls short. Some advisement on re-contracting may be necessary,
and rewriting procedures must be clear.
Third, the heuristic nature of the system lends itself to
higher marks, and a greater work load for most students. Some
students do seem to float through the requirements with ease. A few
even reduce their study effort and depend on the rewrite options to
ensure that they achieve a desired mark. But, most report that
they increase study so as to avoid the rewrites. Students tend to
try for higher marks than they usually obtain because they see the
system as being more responsive to effort, and similar perceptions
may increase numbers in courses structured in this manner.
Finally, there is a degree of coercion inherent to the system
that may be philosophically repugnant to some students. A few do
feel manipulated by the system. Although they could ask to be
marked on a more traditional basis, they may also be reluctant to
ask for that kind of "special treatment".

The advantages of using contract marking include 1) the
effect of the system on study, effort, and morale, 2) the
flexibility of the system in allowing a wide variety of activity
and evaluation, and 3) the altered methods of measurement the
system permits.

1) Effects on students
The act of contracting increases the sense of control that
students have over their evaluation. By making a commitment to
work toward a specific mark, and by agreeing to specified outcomes,
the student can clearly see what is ahead. No one outcome can
remove the goal from the student`s grasp, for it is possible to
take additional action to recover from a poor test or hastily
written essay. Effort, rather than luck or teacher bias is seen
as causing success or failure.
Since the contract system described here avoids averaging, it
requires students to maintain high quality work on all content
areas. Allowing the professor to recognize work above and beyond
the contract provides an incentive for excellence beyond minimal
criteria. Still, some students find they cannot put as much effort
into one class because work in other classes is more important to
their personal goals. Contracting provides an honest response for such
situations and permits students to better plan their study time.
The most desirable effect of contracting on students may be
its potential for reduction of competition. For some students at
least, the motivation of the contest is replaced with the
satisfaction of achieving a prized goal. The result of reduced
competition seems to be that many more students contract for an A
than would have achieved that mark competitively. Although not all
students reach their contracted marks, students do not tend to give
up when faced with a bad score, resulting in generally higher
levels of marks in contracted classes. If it is accepted that
rewriting results in additional learning, it must be conceded that
higher marks are reflective of generally higher overall learning
for a class.
Students seldom feel in contracted classes as if they have
been "given" marks by the professor, but rather that they have
earned what they receive. This "ownership" is a highly positive
result, pointing as it does to subordination of marks to learning.
The contract causes the mark to be perceived as a natural outcome
of learning rather than a judgement made by a teacher.

2) System flexibility
The contract system increases the flexibility of the
evaluation system, and provides an excellent check on evaluation
tools. Any combination of tasks and performances can be
required, and that they can be tailored to student needs or
programmes. As long as a reasonable equity is maintained there is
no reason why traditional marking cannot exist alongside contracts.
The system described in this article includes numerous non-evaluated
components which would be difficult to include within a traditional
evaluation scheme. Thus, it seems that using contract marking
allows teachers to broaden the options offered students while
increasing the pertinence of course requirements.
Class tests have long been criticized for their limited
reliability and questionable validity. The rewriting option of a
contract system provides a hedge against the limited precision of
measurement, but it can also help validate and establish the
dependability of measuring instruments. Rewriting can offer both
student and professor a second look at the competence of the
student on the original instrument, or by re-testing with another
form of measurement it can provide some evidence of the validity of
the first instrument. It is hoped that students will increase
their knowledge before rewriting, and students often comment that
they "now know the material" afterwards. When this occurs
repeatedly the validity of the demand for rewriting is supported,
and by extension so is the initial measurement.

3) Altered methods
Contract marking, especially in systems which avoid averaging
of marks, redirect the effort of the marker. No longer is it
necessary to make numerical or mark distinctions between specific
papers. Either the paper meets the criteria specified in the
contract or it does not.
On objective tests the professor's decision can be as simple
as setting a dividing line between those papers which reach A, B,
or C level. Since there is no need for making distinctions between
papers which fulfill the contract very rapid feedback of results
can be achieved, and additional attention can be paid to the areas of
deficiency of those who did not reach their contracts. Marking
of essay tests or assigned papers can focus on suggestions for
improvement rather than on the determination of a precise mark. In
either case the student receives information which is helpful and
points toward greater competence.

Based as it is on heuristic models of learning, contract
marking has important advantages over more traditional methods. It can be
effective in increasing the engagement of students in their
own learning, in expanding the options available to professors, and
in making the measurement process more supportive of a formative
and developmental approach to learning. There is no denying that
more professor time is required, that the relationship between
teacher and student is somewhat altered, and that feedback to
students must be faster and more diagnostic than in traditional
systems. In some areas of study and with certain mixes of students
the advantages of the contract system should offer a compelling
alternative for university teaching.
Robert Lewis
St.Thomas University
Fredericton, N.B., Canada
5-OCT-1995 09:21:52.89
From: IN%"" "Stephanie Nickerson""
Subject: Getting students to take responsibility -Reply

What a terrific story! Your experience suggests that the teachers of
quantitative methods who say one can't use student centered methods to teach
such subjects simply are copping out. At the very least, they need some
guidance in order to think more creatively about how people learn. The social
support the class generated seems to me to be key when people are uncomfortable

When I use small groups, I usually assign members to groups. (I post the groups
on flip chart paper.) I have hypotheses about each of the student's learning
needs and abilities, and I try to put people with complementary skills and
needs. Sometimes I will try to challenge very quick students by placing them
with other very quick students. Sometimes I put students who are good teachers
with others who need patience in their peers in order to "get it." I change the
groups each class, usually, so that everyone works with everyone at least at
some point.

I teach students in courses that lend themselves to experiential methods,
management and organization behavior, training and development, human resources

Stephanie Nickerson Graduate School of Management and Urban Policy, New
School for Social Research 80 Fifth Avenue, Suite 800
New York, New York 10011 212 229-5740
5-OCT-1995 10:02:43.71
From: IN%"AMICK@A1.SBT.TEC.SC.US" "Margaret Amick"
Subject: class teaching

Yes, I did read the complete message! Your experiment with the class
members teaching the lessons seems to have worked for you.

Unfortunately, I would not have suggested the idea because of a *BAD*
experience I had as a student in high school (over a hundred years ago). All the
students in the french class were making either Ds or Fs. The teacher decided
to have one student teach the class per day. When it was my turn, I can
honestly say that I worked hard to try to understand the material but did not
have the competency or courage to stand in front of the class and display my
incompetency. I didn't like the teacher before and this activity reinforced my
dislike. Obviously, I got through the day but it left its mark. By the way, she
was very pregnant at the time. Everyone failed the final exam; she went over
the exam and gave the answers; held another final exam session and coached us
during the exam for us to pass.
This course kept me out of Beta Club---very important at the time. I have
made every effort to not take a foreign language since then. Math and computers
have been lifesavers for me as the substitute for foreign language.
The way you handled the class was brillent. A *GOOD* instructor can pull
this off. Would like to hear more of your innovative ideas.

Margaret Amick, Ph.D. Curriculum Coordinator State Board for Technical
and Comprehensive Education Columbia, SC
MAIL> reply
Subj: RE: class teaching
Hi Margaret,
It only takes one bad teacher to poison a student as you noted. It is a
potential problem when group leearning is used or abused. I generally find that
students are very helpful in determining what is appropriate for them to do in
class. The group process helps develop a comfort level between us so they tell
me if they do not want to participate in an activity. I respect their concerns
and make public activities voluntary. As an aside in the case I related one
woman was terrified about going to the board so she worked out an agreement with
another woman at her table to write out the examples while the other person
whois a little bit of a ham explained them. Soon the two of them were discussing
their problems at the board and the shy student took over and explained the
process to the class. She was
amazed at herself. However, she concluded that she still preferred to stay in
her seat in order to avoid the cold sweats. We had a good laugh about that one.
Thanks for your observations and comments.

Ted Panitz
Date: Thu, 05 Oct 1995 11:34:00 -0700 (PDT)
From: "Foster, Mary Beth" <>
Subject: Getting students to take responsibility
Cc: lrnasst <>...

I teach Study Skills for Introductory Psychology. I have found a couple of
things encourage students to take responsibility for their own learning:

1) in conferences and in whole class discussions, instead of telling students
what they can do about a problem, I ASK them what they can do about it. They
almost always have better ideas than those I would have pushed on them, and
since THEY suggested them, they are more likely to "own" them and maybe follow
through on them. During in-class "troubleshooting" sessions (e.g. "What
problems do you have with notetaking?") I let the students make suggestions for
solutions to each others' problems.
2) I have them do readings on various study skills topics from a coursepack. On
a random basis, I give reading quizzes. They are instructed to write down the 2
or 3 best ideas they found in the readings; I do not tell them the topic of the
readings, so they have to have done them to know what to write down. I tell them
at the beginning of the semester that the easy way to ace all of those quizzes
is simply to mark the good ideas as they read (or even make notes of the good
ideas). Then before class they can review what they marked. This not only
"sneaks" them into txbk marking notetaking, but it also puts the responsibility
for finding good ideas and remembering them squarely in their court.
Date: Thu, 05 Oct 1995 15:31:23 -0400 (EDT)
From: "Alan S. Altman" <>
Subject: Re: Getting students to take responsibility

You might try getting the students to weigh a house. Got the idea from the peer
assisted learning listserver in Dundee Scotland. Have the students weigh an
entire house, with all of the ramifications attended to it; sq.footage for
foundations and the specific material, costs for same,
plumbing,electrical,fixtures, lighting, labor, loan interest, blueprint
costs(how many copies), I MEAN EVERYTHING !! Your looking at algebra, finite
math(averaging),geometric formulas for area etc. Since I teach in the social
sciences, that's the best I can do. Good luck

Alan S. Altman
Date: Thu, 05 Oct 1995 16:02:45 -0600 (MDT)
From: "Edward B. Nuhfer" <>
Subject: Re: Getting students to take responsibility

> I would like to initiate a discussion around the subject of HELPING STUDENTS

[BIG clip]

Ted, The Student Management Team program which a number of us have been working
in for several years has been very successful in getting students involved to
take responsibility not onlyfor their own learning, but also for the quality of
the learning environment. It's based on the Demings' type quality circle idea
where students are charged with generating improvements in their own classes.

Contact me at my individual E-mail and, if you wish,
we can carry on a more in-depth discussion without spamming everyone on this
server. PRISM magazine is in the process of producing an article on student
management teams for its current issue.
Best wishes,
Date: Thu, 05 Oct 1995 13:02:13 -1000
Subject: student responsibility
Sender: Teaching in the Community Colleges <TCC-L

getting students to accept responsibility for their own learning
is indeed difficult, particularly in my lower level math classes. one approach i
have taken that seems to set the right tone from day one is as folllows: the
initial homework assignment is always a writing assignment (GASP -- writing in
math, ooooh noooo). part one is the standard math/personal biography. in part
two I list for them over a
dozen very specific items that i have identified as my responsibilities to them
(serious preparation for class, timely return of graded work, fair and impartial
assessment, respectful treatment in class, thoughtful and relevant homework
assignments, etc., etc.). I ask for their reactions to the list and then I ask
that they prepare a similar list of their responsiblities to me, to themselves,
to the class as a whole. the responses never cease to amaze me. with very few
exceptions (remember, this is in lower level classes) the students are
astonished that a teacher would even consider having responsbilities to the
class. they report feeling very personally attached to the class now that they
know i am taking them seriously. it also makes it
harder for them to cut class casually or to start acting out in class or to fail
to work on homework when they have committed themselves in writing to positive
behavior. we usually need to reaffirm our commitment at a couple of times
throughout each semester, but, as i said earlier, a good tone is set very early.

this doesn't work as well in higher level classes or in my evening classes --
the only time i used this in an evening calcIII class i was told i had offended
them by assuming that they weren't already in control of their educational
destinies. upon consideration, i decided they were right and i have refrained
from asking subsequent evening sections to complete the exercise.

your group work sounds really great. i use a similar technique to structure
review session and have found it to be hugely successful. one of my pet peeves
is students who wander in on review days and ask for review sheets with answers
or sample tests -- lazy, lazy, lazy. i tell them that review is their job, i
already know the stuff. i help them organize their thinking and help them
decide how to prioritize the material, but i make them dig out their own "good
problems" and representative questions. i have also experimented with having
students (in groups of three or four) prepare sample test questions. i then
have them exchange questions with other groups. they discover
very quickly how difficult it is to construct a relevant, sensible, and doable
test question -- they are very critical ofeach other's questions and they begin
to think about what the components of a reasonable test are. again, this seems
to work better in lower level courses and in the liberal arts math class.
Date: Fri, 06 Oct 1995 03:06:23 -0400
From: "John Ufer. User" <OnSiteEdu1@AOL.COM>
Subject: Re: Getting students to take responsibility
Sender: Teaching in the Community Colleges <TCC-

I allow for 10% extra credit for outside classwork and it takes a lot of it to
get the full 10%- increase of one grade. students are given comprehensive weekly
10 question quizs and most need to do extra credit to make up missed points,
but it is their choice. This allows
students the contol of what their grade is, not completely by the lottery of
tests and my choice of test questions. I have used this method for a number of
years and it works great based on final exam scores.It is enjoyable to watch the
reaction of student when you enpower them to increase their grade by learning
more if they chose to. Students sometimes don't quite get it but by mid term
they all seem to start doing some extra credit. I think that motivation is key
to student learning and the more methods of motivation we can use the more
students learn.
John Ufer CETsr
On-Site Educational Services

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