++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++ Date: Thu, 05 Oct 1995 09:23:14 -0400 (AST) From: Robert Lewis <LEWIS@academic.stu.StThomasU.ca> 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.
EVALUATION BY CONTRACT 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. ESSENTIAL ELEMENTS 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.
FUNCTIONAL EXAMPLE 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 contract. 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 papers. 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 quality. 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 point. 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 requirements. 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.
DISADVANTAGES AND PROBLEMS: 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".
ADVANTAGES: 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.
CONCLUSION 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 Email LEWIS@StThomasU.ca ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++ 5-OCT-1995 09:21:52.89 From: IN%"email@example.com" "Stephanie Nickerson" STLHE-L@unb.ca" 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 material.
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 management.
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
Ted, 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 AMICK@SBT.TEC.SC.US ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++ MAIL> reply To: IN%"AMICK@A1.SBT.TEC.SC.US" 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" <firstname.lastname@example.org> Subject: Getting students to take responsibility Cc: lrnasst <email@example.com>...
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" <firstname.lastname@example.org> 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 email@example.com ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++ Date: Thu, 05 Oct 1995 16:02:45 -0600 (MDT) From: "Edward B. Nuhfer" <firstname.lastname@example.org> Subject: Re: Getting students to take responsibility
> I would like to initiate a discussion around the subject of HELPING STUDENTS > TAKE RESPONSIBILITY FOR THEIR OWN LEARNING.
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 email@example.com 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, Ed +++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++ Date: Thu, 05 Oct 1995 13:02:13 -1000 From: "Landry, Anne F." <LANDRY@SMTPGATE.SUNYDUTCHESS.EDU> 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. anne, ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++ 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