Student Contracts in Group Work

Student contracts is a student-centered approach to setting expectations for collaboration and contribution during group work
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About This Strategy

Student contracts are agreements created by students to identify behaviors that will help the group collaborate and complete the assigned activity. Student contracts allow students to voice their concerns, expectations, and goals within a shared document. The student contract should be the foundation for student success on a group activity. A student contract also addresses consequences for any violation of the agreed terms within the contract. Student contracts can start as early as K5 and should build autonomy based on social readiness and maturity.  

Implementation Steps

30-45 minutes
  1. In order to brainstorm for the development of group contracts, divide students into their collaborative groups and then ask them to brainstorm and create a list of everything they dislike about group work or problems they've had when working with a group. Have students also create a list of everything they like about group work and the benefits of group work.

  2. Have students draft their contract using sentence starters including:

    • We will...

    • We will not...

    • I will...

    • I will not...

    • I will complete (specific portion of project or activity) by (certain time or date)...

  3. Once students have identified their various levels of roles and responsibilities, the contract needs to include clear levels of consequences regarding what will happen if a member of the group violates the contract. Examples include:

    • If a student does not complete their designated section of the activity by the due date/time, he/she must come to class during lunch or after school to complete their portion.

    • If we do not agree on the appropriate next step in our project, we will schedule a meeting with the teacher for support.

  4. Approve every contract before students begin. Hold students accountable to the contracts they created throughout the project or activity.

Scrum Framework Approach to Group Work

Scrum is a method to help students continually improve the project they're working on by frequently coming together as a team to reflect and adjust their collaboration and contributions. Additionally, it ensures each student knows exactly what he or she is responsible for.

  1. Each sprint of the project starts with a Sprint Planning Meeting, where students plan ahead and size the amount of effort required during the next few weeks. A group or team divides a project into tasks where everyone in the group takes pieces and works on them over a "sprint cycle" (generally a couple of weeks), and then everyone reconvenes to compare what they've done to contribute towards the project completion, re-tune, and then distribute out more tasks.
  2. Throughout the project, the group holds 15-minute daily "Scrum" meetings to check in. Students can use these stand-up meetings to update "Scrum boards"—organizing tasks by "to-do," "doing," and "done" columns. Students place sticky notes with their tasks. Short feedback loops also enable teachers to spot problems quickly and make appropriate interventions.
  3. During the Standups section, each student answers 3 key questions:
    • What did I accomplish yesterday?
    • What will I do today?
    • What obstacles are impeding my progress?
  4. Each Sprint ends with a Sprint Retrospective, in which students reflect on the work carried out, identify lessons learned, and determine areas for improvement. Students learn the power of reflection as a key driver of continuous improvement. During this meeting, every group answers the following 3 key questions:
    • As students, what did we do well?
    • As students, what could we have done better?
    • As students, what new thing can we start doing to improve?

After Action Report for Group Reflection

Within the student contracts, students sometimes need more structure when reflecting on how their group did in regards to collaboration and completion of the assignment. An after action report can be a great protocol to support student reflection within their collaborative groups. 

  1. Provide students with a template or display the following questions for the group to answer : 
    • What was the goal of the group? 
    • What were the specific, actual results? 
    • What is the reasoning for why those actual results were reached? Specific student behaviors, external factors, time management, etc? 
    • During the next group activity, what piece of the group dynamics does the group want to keep or use again and what aspects of the collaboration do they want to change?
  2. Meet with the groups to discuss their reflections and to help guide their discussion if they are struggling. It may be that each student needs to answer the discussion questions individually and then come back together as a group to discuss. 

It is important to note that this isn't meant to be a time where students place blame on their peers in a negative manner. It's meant to be a reflective way to acknowledge what is going well within the group and what changes could be made to improve collaboration and productivity. 

Student Contracts in Group Work For Distance Learning

Tori Todd
BetterLesson Instructional Coach

When working in a distance environment, student contracts ensure that all students know the expectations for their work. 

Implementation steps:

  1. In order to brainstorm for the development of group contracts, divide students into their collaborative groups and then ask them to brainstorm and create a list of everything they dislike about group work or problems they've had when working with a group. Give students some time to brainstorm in breakout rooms on Zoom or on Google Meet. Have students also create a list of everything they like about group work and the benefits of group work.

    • To adapt this step for asynchronous distance learning, use a Padlet or shared document, like a Google Doc, for students to brainstorm their likes and dislikes. Or, ask students to record their thinking using a platform like Flipgrid.

  2. Bring students back together to explain the next step. Explain that you will give them time to collaborate in breakout rooms to draft their contract using sentence starters.  Create a visual or template that you can share with students, and include the following sentence frames:

    • We will…

    • We will not…

    • I will…

    • I will not…

    • I will complete (specific portion of project or activity) by (certain time or date)...

      • If you are working asynchronously with students, provide students with a shared document template to collect their thinking. Encourage students to find a time to meet synchronously in order to create their contract together, if possible.

  3. Once students have identified their various levels of roles and responsibilities, the contract needs to include clear levels of consequences regarding what will happen if a member of the group violates the contract. Examples include:

    • If a student does not complete their designated section of the activity by the due date/time, he/she must come to class during lunch or after school to complete their portion.

    • If we do not agree on the appropriate next step in our project, we will schedule a meeting with the teacher for support.

  4. Give students examples of what they can do if they need help, such as how they might schedule a meeting with you if their group is not agreeing on next steps. Provide them with time in their breakout rooms to draft their consequence agreement, and their plans for getting support from you.

  5. Offer frequent opportunities for students to reflect on their group work contracts. Provide students with reflective sentence frames to guide their self-assessments. You can also check out the BetterLesson strategy "Group Work Reflection and Self-Assessment" for more self-assessment and reflection ideas.

Special Education Modification

Nedra Massenburg
Special Education Specialist

By using contracts to allow students to voice their concerns, expectations, and goals around group work within a shared document, teachers can effectively help support students with disabilities in group work.   Building engagement in group work for these students is a good avenue to helping them build overall engagement and investment in their learning.

Using contracts for group work requires significant executive functioning (task initiation, prioritization, working memory, etc.), emotional regulation, reading, and written expression skills.  In order to support students with disabilities in these areas, consider the following modifications:

Modifications:

  1. Teachers who assign learner roles for group work should be mindful of student disability types and needs when developing contracts.  As students develop contracts, help them identify any supports that will help everyone in their group be successful. For example, is there a group member who would be particularly well-suited to taking notes on a laptop? Is there a group member who would be a great timekeeper? Is there a group member who could make sure to pause the conversation to ensure that all group members have time to contribute equitably? Ask students these types of questions to help them develop contracts that maximize the contributions of all students, including those with disabilities.

  2. Teachers should thoughtfully plan modifications for any roles planned to be included in group contracts.   A variety of modifications should be considered for each group’s members, i.e.  allow students with disabilities in a group access to read aloud for a text or provide sentence stems to write responses to a text for learners with writing impairments.

  3. Depending upon the number of students with disabilities present in a classroom, teachers should consider increasing the amount of time they spend on explicitly teaching norms for group contracts.  The first few rounds of creating and using group role contracts should be followed by explicit individual and whole group feedback on engagement and task completion.  

  4. If multiple teachers are present, careful thought should be put into co-teaching models and how they integrate into a differentiated lesson plan on contracts in group work. See the resources in the resource section below for more information.

Questions to Consider

  1. How would you adapt the group contract to work within your classroom rules, rituals, and procedures?

  2. How would you insure that all students not only understand the group contract, but feel that it is their contract?

  3. How would you hold students accountable to their group contract?

  4. How could group contracts support students to overcome group challenges?

  5. What are the benefits of having students define procedures for resolving conflicts at the start of group work?

Coach Tips

Krystal Bankston
BetterLesson Instructional Coach

The first few times that students create group contracts, they will not be strict enough and won't hold students as accountable as they or you would like. That's part of the learning process. Remind students that the next time they build a student contract they will want to think of the problems they've faced and try to write out a contract that addresses those problems. They will learn to write their contracts better and deeper as they practice and engage in this process.

Tech Tools

Google Docs

  1. Google Docs is an online word processor (part of Google Apps) that allows you store, create and edit documents collaboratively in a web browser.
  2. GoogleDocs supports this strategy because it allows teachers to create templates for group contracts or students can create their group contracts from scratch. Students can access the group template and work collaboratively to create, modify, and utilize the contract throughout the project. Teachers can view the contracts at any time, make comments, or add suggestions.