Sunday, March 10, 2013

More about Learning Contracts!

Learning contracts have been a topic of interest, not just for many of my blog visitors, but also for conversations I've had with colleagues of mine, both in my building, as well as in other buildings!   

(In case you haven't read them, I've written other blog posts titled Differentiate Through Learning Contracts and Differentiate Through Learning Contracts...Monitoring.)
Sooooooo, let's talk more about them!

One important thing to remember is that filling a learning contract with worksheets will certainly make them lose their appeal, which you of course do not want!  Part of the beauty of learning contracts is:
  • Activities can be differentiated
  • Students have choice (which activity they want to work on each day)
  • Students can work independently or collaboratively, depending on learning styles/needs
  • Projects can be implemented
  • Students can apply skills to different activities, versus just rote, isolated practice
  • A variety of different activities can be incorporated to meet different learning styles
  • Students have the opportunity to independently practice a variety of skills (versus working on a skill in a unit, moving on, and not working on it again)
  • Students work on their time management skills
 Learning contracts are such an important part of our classroom!  I think our students would revolt if we ever took them away!  :-)    

Also remember, if you want to try this as a new learning structure in your classroom, you need to teach your students a new set of skills, especially if they are used to everyone sitting quietly in their seats, all doing the same activity.  Just to name a few, they will need to learn more about:
  • Using quiet, collaborative voices
  • Monitoring on-task behavior more independently
  • Pacing themselves
  • Managing Materials
  • Holding their peers accountable for doing their own work (versus "over-helping" them on an activity)
Some ways we address these issues in our classroom is:
  •  Have the students create a noise scale, as well as an on-task scale.  (Generally they create a scale between 1 and 5.)  We will have them stop in the middle of contract time and rate themselves on each, as well as set a goal if they need to improve their rating.
  • Do a Status of the Class check-in every 3 or 4 days.  We will take five minutes, call the students' names, and have them report how many contract boxes they have completed. (They are not complete unless the box has our initials in it.)   They do not like having to report that they have one activity done if most of their peers have 3 or 4 activities done!!  This also helps us determine the students who need to work within teacher proximity, versus with friends, if they are not monitoring their on-task behavior or pacing themselves well.
  • Have two students be in charge of materials.  We have two students in our room who set up shop by where we keep our materials and just work there.  When a student needs certain materials for an activity, the girls will give it to them, as well as put them back up when they are finished.  It is AMAZING how organized our materials are staying now!!
While it does take some time for students to learn new procedures/routines for new learning structures in the classroom, the time taken to prepare them for learning contracts is worth its weight in gold!  When you see their engagement increase, the way you can meet different learning levels and needs of your students, and the increased learning, you'll be glad you did!  :-)

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