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.
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.
Have students draft their contract using sentence starters including:
We will not...
I will not...
I will complete (specific portion of project or activity) by (certain time or date)...
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.
Approve every contract before students begin. Hold students accountable to the contracts they created throughout the project or activity.
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.
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.
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.
Some students with disabilities face challenges participating in group work. As students develop contracts, help them identify any supports that will help everyone in their group be successful. For example, is their 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 time keeper? 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.
How would you adapt the group contract to work within your classroom rules, rituals, and procedures?
How would you insure that all students not only understand the group contract, but feel that it is their contract?
How would you hold students accountable to their group contract?
How could group contracts support students to overcome group challenges?
What are the benefits of having students define procedures for resolving conflicts at the start of group work?
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.