Saturday, October 30, 2010

Using Contracts to Extend Learning

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It happens in every classroom.  You are happily engaging the classroom in a lesson when you notice a bored face with a glazed expression staring back at you. Or worse, rather than a glazed expression the student may be causing havoc in order to entertain him or herself.  This is the student who already knows the material.  You have two options: create a stressful situation by forcing the student to stay on task, or enrich your student.

Option One

I realize that many teachers select the first option.  After all, it seems easier to have all students doing the very same thing at the very same time, and there are times when that structure is necessary.  There are also many more times when such a structure is not necessary.  Some students already know the material being taught, and yet some teachers are quite good at forcing those very children into submission and then droning out a lecture anyway.  A question that must be asked however is, ‘is that the best way to facilitate meaningful student learning?’  We don’t teach to make our lives easier, we teach so students will learn!   

An Alternative: The Contract

How do we know if the student with the glazed expression, or the one wreaking havoc, is indeed in possession of the knowledge we seek to impart?  One way is to use the pre-test.  Give a version of the end of chapter test before beginning the chapter.  Make sure there is more than one question per concept, AND that it is NOT multiple choice.  (Take it from me… there are good guessers out there.  I found that out the hard way.) I tell students what the chapter will be about, and leave the choice to take the pretest up to them.  

If students pass the pretest, they sign a learning contract.  The criteria for passing the pretest are up to you.  I usually allow a student to pass if they miss only one concept.  On the day that specific concept is taught, the student must work with the rest of the class.   This information is presented in the student contract.  Below is a section of one such contract.

As you can see, each concept is listed with its corresponding page numbers.  If the student missed a concept on the pretest, that concept will be checked and the student will work with the class on that day.

Pre-tests are not always necessary.  In my class, gifted students are given the option to sign a contract for Language Arts each week.  I give them a folder containing the contract and class work for the week, which they complete at their own pace.  Once finished correctly they can move on to the Extension Options.  I do require pre-tests for math.

Extension Options

The extension options are to let students know what they should do while the rest of the class is plugging away.   Here is the section of my contract that covers this:

If your math or reading series comes with enrichment work, put these together in a folder for your student (the folder should also contain the contract).  I require the enrichment packet be completed fully and correctly before allowing my student to move on to the extension options. 

Discuss the extension options and working conditions prior to asking a student to sign the contract.  They LOVE to sign!  I let them know it is especially important not to disturb me during instructional time, and that they will lose their privilege to be on the contract for the rest of the day if they do.  One will always try.  I’ll be up there teaching away when one of my ‘contract students’ will walk right up to me to ask a question.  I quietly tell them they’ve lost their privilege to be on the contract for that day – because they broke the contract – and they must work with the rest of the class the remainder of that day.  They learn a real life lesson, and it usually won’t happen again.  That also goes with the other working conditions.  I explain the conditions are there for a reason and if they break their contract, their privilege is lost for the day.


So far this year I’ve had a wonderful PowerPoint presentation about the history of our town, and an illustrated book about ants.  Both created by 2nd grade students!  The presentations usually have something to do with a subject we are studying.

Make sure to include a form in each student folder for them to record what they have done with their time.  What books did they reference in the library?  What website did they access for research?  What did they read?  At the end of the week, I staple the contract with their weekly work, pre-test, and the accountability form to send home.


Here is a copy of a blank contract for you to make into your own.  I adapted this idea from the book Teaching Gifted Kids in the Regular Classroom by Susan Winebrenner, 2001.

Learning contracts will help classroom management because you will not have to deal with bored students.  More importantly, student needs will met.  Is it a little more work?  Yes.  Is it worth it?  Yes.  Your bored, eyes glazed over student will thank you.  Your student wreaking havoc to stay entertained will also thank you because he/she will no longer be getting into trouble.  You will breathe a sigh of relief.

Learning Contract pdf file.
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