Classroom Contracts – Building a Culture of Student-Centric Learning

Classroom Contracts – Building a Culture of Student-Centric LearningAs a new school year gets under way, many teachers are getting to know their students and vice-versa. It’s a perfect time to establish classroom goals, behavior expectations, rules, and learning targets. In many ways, establishing these benchmarks is similar to creating a contract between students and teacher. Every classroom has an implicit classroom contract when you think about it, whether it is acknowledged or not. It is built out of the routines, behaviors and norms that operate every day in each classroom.

The classroom contract does not simply refer to classroom rules or agreed-upon behaviors that are often drawn up and posted in a classroom to keep order. Rather, the classroom contract can be the intellectual environment of a classroom, which comes about largely as a result of established expectations, beliefs and practices that teachers make explicit in their classrooms. It is shaped by classroom routines, the many ways in which teachers and students jointly own the classroom, expectations for teaching and learning and more. It is about building a culture of learning – a classroom culture (or contract) – based on the self-sufficiency that we think comes through the use of formative assessment.

In our Keeping Learning on Track™(KLT™) formative assessment-based teacher professional development program we stress that to realize the gains in student learning that formative assessment promises, the classroom contract must be consistent with the core expectations, beliefs and practices of formative assessment. It must be groomed to both promote and support teaching and learning. Some of the elements that contribute to such a classroom culture should including four essential expectations:

  1. All students will achieve and improve their learning.
  2. Students will function as active learners who take responsibility for their own and one other’s learning.
  3. All students will think deeply and make that thinking public.
  4. Students will develop metacognitive skills and engage in metacognitive thinking that help move their learning forward.

building-cultureTogether, these elements have the potential to inspire a climate that values and promotes shared responsibility for—and deep engagement in—teaching and learning, as stressed throughout formative assessment. The picture here is one taken from a class that shows what kids thought the differences were between students and learners and how the classroom culture was changing to support that evolution.

At the heart of a classroom contract that promotes thinking and learning is the understanding that ultimately, in any classroom, students are the ones who have to do the learning. No one can hand it to them or force it on them. However, their teacher’s informed use of formative assessment strategies and techniques, as well as core beliefs and practices he or she makes apparent in the classroom, can precipitate this shift in the classroom contract.

In other words, teachers set the stage for students’ independent learning by creating a climate that empowers them to become active learners and to take responsibility for their learning. By making the classroom environment more responsive to students’ learning needs and providing tangible support for student thinking minute-to-minute and day-by-day, students can become more willing and able to participate in the intellectual challenges presented by their teacher.

Do you have a classroom contract of sorts in place? If so, what does it look like? What is based on? Does it work? We’d love to hear what you think, so share your thoughts and ideas in the comments section below.