Grading Contract

[amended from Peter Elbow & @BetaJames]

I often find grades to be distractions from learning. This course places a strong emphasis on participation and I’m concerned that grades might get in the way of that. Conventional grading often leads us to think more about grades than about learning and writing, to worry more about pleasing or fooling a teacher than about figuring out what you want to say or how to say it, to be reluctant to take risks. Sometimes grades even lead to the feeling that you are working against the teacher. Instead, I want to create a culture of support, a culture where we function as allies, fellow travelers with various experiences and skills that we can offer to the group, rather than as adversaries working against each other for grades.

Rather than giving individual grades for each assignment and basing them on an arbitrary point system to be tallied at the end of the semester, I will instead provide substantive comments on the majority of work performed this semester.  I will also provide individual 6 week reports. However, these assessments will not affect your overall grade in the course.  Instead, they should function as guides to how you need to revise or rethink your course performance.

Through the use of this grading contract, I’m asking for a reconsideration of how you work, what your role is as a student, and what your relationship to one another is as peers. All of this really boils down to rethinking “responsibility.”  Traditional grading by a teacher alone keeps students from having much responsibility by instead assuming students can only be motivated by grades, not by learning or actual coursework.  Grades create systems of accountability instead of providing environments for personal and social responsibility.


In this course, the grading contract asks you to have responsibility to yourself and to the class to do the work required, to attend and participate during class time, to ask questions of me or your classmates if you’re confused, and to know what assignments have been turned in and where you stand in relation to the contract.  As the teacher/guide, I have the responsibility to be prepared for every class, to answer any questions and consider any feedback, to provide helpful and honest suggestions on your work, and to make myself available for questions and concerns outside of class.

Therefore, the default grade for the course is a “B.”  If you do all that’s asked of you in the manner and spirit it is asked, if you work through the processes we establish and the work assigned during the semester, then you’ll earn a “B.”  If you miss class, turn assignments in late, forget to do assignments, etc., your grade will drop.

“B” Grades

 You are guaranteed a course grade of “B” if you meet all of the following conditions:

  1. Attendance/Participation/Presence.  You’ll attend and fully participate in at least 88% of our scheduled class sessions and their activities and assignments (that’s at least 24 of 27 scheduled sessions).  You may miss (for whatever reason) 3 class sessions.  For our class, attendance equates to participation. Therefore, it is not enough for you simply to come to class.  If you come to class unprepared in any way (e.g., without work done, assignments read, etc.), it will be counted as an absence, since you won’t be able to participate fully in our activities.  This means any informal assignment given, or ones not outlined on our syllabus, fit into this category of attendance.  Assignments not completed because of an absence, either ones assigned on the schedule or ones assigned on earlier days in class, will be late, missed, or ignored (depending on when you turn it in finally, see the guidelines #4, #5, and #6 below).  Any absence due to an university-sponsored group activity (e.g., sporting event, band, etc.) will not count against the student as long as the student has FIRST provided written documentation in the first 2 weeks of the semester of all absences.  This same policy applies to students who have mandatory military-related absences (e.g., deployment, work, duty, etc.).  Again, the student must provide written documentation, stating the days he/she will be absent beforehand.  This will allow us to determine how you will meet assignments, participation, and the responsibilities of our contract, despite being absent.  And please, never ask if you “missed anything important.”  I believe this class to be most important.  We will discuss, write and argue in class all of which builds upon and expands your learning.
  1. Lateness.  You’ll come on time or early to class. Walking into class late 2 or 3 times in a semester is understandable, but coming habitually late every week is not.  If you are late to class, you are still responsible to find out what assignments or instructions were made, but please don’t disrupt our class by asking about the things you missed because you were late.
  1. Sharing/Collaboration.  You’ll work cooperatively in groups.  Be willing to share your writing, to listen supportively to the writing of others, and, when called for, give full and thoughtful assessments that consistently help your colleagues consider ways to revise.
  1. Late Assignments.  You will turn in properly and on time all assignments. Because your colleagues in class depend on you to get your work done on time so that they can do theirs on time, all late assignments are just as bad as missed assignments.  Twice during the semester, you may turn in a late assignment. All “late assignments” are due 1 day after their initial due date, no exceptions. Please note that a late assignment may be due on a day when our class is not scheduled to meet.
  1. Missed Assignments. A missed assignment is NOT one not completed; it is one that has missed the guidelines somehow but is still complete and turned in. In order to meet our contract for a “B” grade, you cannot have any “missed assignments.” Please note that assignments not completed at all are considered “Ignored Assignments” (see #6 below). A missed assignment is usually one completed after the 48 hours that would have made it only a “late” assignment, but it is complete.
  1. Ignored Assignments.  Any assignments not done period, or “ignored,” for whatever reasons, are put in this category.  Two ignored assignments means an automatic “F.”  There are no exceptions.

All Compositions need to meet the following conditions:

  • Complete/On Time. You’ll turn in on time and in the appropriate manner completed work that meet all of assignment guidelines.
  • Revisions. If/when the assignment is to revise, you will reshape, extend, complicate, or substantially clarify your ideas – or relate your ideas to new things. You won’t just correct or touch up. Revisions must somehow respond to or consider seriously your colleagues’ assessments.
  • Copy Editing. When the assignment is for the final publication draft, your piece must be free from almost all mistakes in spelling and grammar.  It’s fine to get help in copy editing.
  • Thinking. Use your work to do some figuring out. Make some intellectual gears turn. Your work needs to move or go somewhere, to have a line of thinking. It shouldn’t be formulaic, random or freewritten.

All Assessments and Peer Responses need to meet the following conditions:

  • Complete/On Time. All assessments should be complete and submitted on time and in the appropriate way so that your colleagues will get your assessments of their writing the way the class has predetermined.
  • Content. All assessments should focus their comments on our rubrics, following the directions established by our evolving class discussions about them.
  • Courtesy/Respect. All assessments should be courteous and respectful in tone, but honest. It’s okay to say something doesn’t seem right in a draft, or that something doesn’t really work. Respect means we are kind and truthful. It’s not the “golden rule” (treat others as you would have them treat you), but a modified one: treat others as you believe they want to be treated.

 “A” Grades

The grade of “B” depends on behaviors. Have you shown responsible effort and consistency in our class? Have you done what was asked of you in the spirit it was asked?

However, the grade of “A” depends on acknowledged quality. Thus, you earn a “B” if you put in good time and effort; we should push each other for a “B.” In order to get an “A,” you have to make your time and effort pay off into writing of genuine, recognizable excellence that responds in some concrete way to your colleagues’ and my concerns (and also meets the conditions for a “B”). This means that not only is revision important, but a certain kind of revision, one demonstrating a reflective writer listening, making decisions and moving drafts above and beyond expectations. Writing in the “A” category will respond to assessments and be reflective of itself.

For grades up to “B,” you don’t have to worry about my judgment or my standards of excellence; for higher grades, you do. But we’ll have class discussions about excellence in writing and we should be able to reach fairly good agreement.

 Knowing Where You Stand

This system is better than regular grading for giving you a clear idea of what your final grade looks like at any moment. Whenever you get feedback, you should know where you stand in terms of meeting the expectations of the course. I will also guide some of these discussions in class, but if you’re doing everything as directed and turning it in on time (no matter what anyone says), you’re getting a “B.” As for absences and lateness, you’ll have to keep track of them, but you can check with me any time.

Grades Lower Than “B”

 I hope no one will aim for lower grades. The quickest way to slide to a “C,” “D” or “F” is to miss class, not turn in things on time, and show up without assignments. This much is nonnegotiable: you are not eligible for a passing grade of “C” unless you attend at least 85% of the class sessions and meet the guidelines above. And you can’t just turn in all the late work at the end. If you are missing classes and behind in work,please stay in touch with me about your chances of passing the course.

The Breakdown

So, here’s the way grading works in our class.  In order to get the grade on the left, you must meet or exceed the requirements in the row next to it.  I’ve embiggened and italicized the default grade that you achieve if you meet our contract obligations.  Your grade will be based on the “lowest” column.  For example:  You have one absence but 2 missed assignments and one ignored assignment.  Per this contract, you would have a C.


# of Absences

# of Late Assign.

# of Missed Assign.

# of Ignored Assign.

















4 or More





5 or More

4 or more


2 or More

All assignment that are turned in as “late” after the 2nd are considered “missed.”  All “missed” assignment after the 2nd are considered “ignored.”


Each student may use one plea to the class in order to receive a special dispensation or exemption from the contract, or to be given a temporary break from the contract.  A plea can only be used in extraordinary circumstances, those beyond the student’s control or that are special in some other way and that have kept her/him from doing assigned work.  Each plea will be voted on and a 2/3 majority is needed for approval.

Option 1: Public Plea

This is the default and the one I’ll push for in 99% of all cases. 

Option 2: Private Plea

As contract administrator, I will decide in consultation with the student whether a private plea is warranted. In rare and unusual cases, there may be extreme, extenuating circumstances that keep an individual student from meeting the contract’s stated responsibilities. In such cases, the student must come to the teacher as soon as possible, and before breach-of-contract, so that s/he and the teacher can make fair and equitable arrangements, ones that will be fair and equitable to all in the class and still meet the university’s regulations on attendance, conduct, and workload in classes. In these special cases, the class will not vote on the issue (and may not even know about it).

My first recourse in most matters will be to take all issues to the class for a plea, not to make special arrangements with individual students who cannot meet the contract requirements. The contract is a public, social contract, one agreed upon through group discussion and agreement, so the majority of negotiations must be public negotiations. This caveat to the contract is NOT an “out clause” for anyone who happens to not fulfill the contract; it is for rare and unusual circumstances out of the control of the student, and usually so personal in nature that a plea to the class is not doable or reasonable. If I (the teacher), in consultation with the student, decide that a private plea is warranted, then the class will be informed that a private plea has been made and decided upon via email.

By staying in this course and attending class, you accept this contract and agree to abide by it, as do I (the teacher).