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Labor- and Performance-Based Grading Contract (for SU19 and later)

(*Based on, and borrowing heavily from the work of Jane Danielewicz, Peter Elbow, Asao Inoue, Cathy Davidso, and Kate Owens, though any one of these scholars might not necessarily endorse my particular take.)

This labor- and performance- based grading contract works hand-in-hand with my course policies.

My courses don't use points, weights, or percentages for grades. Instead, I use a hybrid of contract-grading and specifications-grading systems, one that is based on two major areas: 1.) on labor (work that you do for a purpose within a course ecology that has reader/writers doing things with texts) and 2.) on peformance (how well the work is performed).

I hope that this hybrid system helps us all to focus more on your growth as a writer and less on phony and picayune differences between, say, a 72 and a 76. In any event, this system is designed to treat you as the adults that you are since points and percentages won't usually attach to your writing once you graduate, but you will have to do things with texts in particular ecologies and within certain expectations. You will notice that the basic contract for a B attempts to provide incentives for effective adult learning behaviors. We are grownups and will treat all members of the class as grownups.

The Labor-Based Part

You are guaranteed a B as an overall course grade if you do these things:

*NB: These terms are subject to adjustments based on a) an official "504 letter" re: reasonable accomodation of a learning challenge or b) other reasonable actions on a case-by-case basis.

1. Show Up/Engage Regularly and Punctually; Stay in Touch

  • Traditional face-to-face (F2F) classes: Attend class regularly and on time. Do not miss more than three class meetings total and do not miss any peer-review meetings. Check and use Canvas's messaging feature frequently.
  • Online classes: Log into Canvas regularly (suggestion: every day) and make sure that you know what is going on, what you have to do, and when. Do not miss any peer-review assignments. Check and use Canvas's messaging feature frequently.

2. Meet Deadlines

In all classes:

  • Meet due dates for all work.
  • But: During the regular semester (not finals week), you may turn in one major project assignment (including the self-assessments) up to 24 hours past its due date. (Other assignments and activities don't come with this option. In addition, the deadline for revisions to major projects due during finals week can't be extended because the university imposes a tight deadline for faculty to turn in final grades).

3. Read Attentively and Actively

In all classes:

  • Buy, rent, or access any required textbook(s); download or access (and consider printing) all other required readings.
  • Read all assigned readings closely and annotate them thoughtfully before class meetings in F2F classes and before you need to use them in online classes. (All readings are fair game for quizzes and other activities).
  • Use active reading strategies, such as Casey Boyle's six-step reading response and the SQ3R method.

4. Use Me as a Guide

  • In F2F classes, talk to me during in-class workshops, bring me drafts, come to office student visiting hours, ask questions via email or Canvas's messaging feature (the one that looks like email), and otherwise use me proactively as a resource. NB: If I ask you to meet with me, you must do so or you breach the basic contract. If I ask to see you, it's not some kind of punishment; rather, it's one grownup asking another to come get expert help that can best be delivered in person.
  • In online classes, stay in touch with me via Canvas and email. Make appointments via videoconference as needed. Attend virtual office hours by videoconference or chat, and otherwise use me proactively as a resource. NB: If I ask you to contact me, you must do so or you breach the basic contract. If I ask you to do that, it's not some kind of punishment; rather, it's one grownup asking another to come get expert help that can best be delivered one on one.

5. Protect your Work

In all classes:

  • Save your work in ways that do not make you depend 100% on the health of a particular hard drive or flash drive (e.g., use Google Drive).

6. Dig into Course Work

In F2F classes:

  • If you bring a phone, tablet, or computer to class, use it for work relevant to the particular class meeting. Ordinarily, there should be no reason to text during a class meeting, though sometimes life intervenes and you might need to arrange a ride, communicate with family about an emergency, etc. In online classes, resist the temptation to have multiple tabs open and a smartphone distracting you from course work. Online course work requires a lot of discipline from the student.

In all classes:

  • It all counts--there is no busy work. Don't just show up/log in/keep from being a distraction. Those are basic grade-school behavioral expectations. In a college course, you need to offer insights, ask questions, answer questions, bring necessary materials, dig into quizzes, class discussions, and activities, confer during workshops, participate in discussion boards on Canvas, and do assigned homework and in-process activities. If a Canvas module asks you to mark something done or to view an item, make sure that you do (or view) the item, then mark it done. Marking something done is the same as your word that you've done something to the best of your ability under the circumstances. For example, if you are to read something and you mark it done in Canvas, you are telling me that you did in fact read it.
  • If you are asked to do team activities or projects, make yourself available to your teammate, figure out and negotiate how to share the work, and give helpful, honest, detailed responses to any prompt asking you to evaluate your teammate's performance. I generally will use this rubric for such a prompt. That is also how you will be evaluated by your teammate. Blowing off a teammate's input, ghosting, or expecting them to do more than their fair share of work are all breaches of the grading contract. I reserve the right to break up teams and assign different grades, if warranted.
  • Bring (or submit) "good faith full drafts" (your best effort-in-progress attempting the whole project) for peer review sessions. Keep track of peer review evidence so your partner can get credit, and give thoughtful, useful, honest peer feedback.
  • Draft early and seek feedback.
  • Unless I agree otherwise, submit what each assignment or activity asks for, e.g., if an assignment asks for three peer-reviewed scholarly sources, your submission can't ignore that requirement.
  • Meet the specifications and criteria for all graded work (i.e., work is "M"-level-see below) and on the majority of other graded work in the course that uses that scale. On submissions graded Complete/Incomplete, you can't have any Incomplete and you can't miss any submissions.
  • Complete a detailed, substantive self-evaluation at midterm and at the end of the course.

You can see that you earn a B in the course largely on the basis of what you do—on your conscientious effort and participation as an adult enrolled in a university course.

The Performance-Based Part

Specifications (EMNZ Versus A, B, C, etc.) Grades for Performance

The grades I will give on work throughout the semester until I finally have to assign a final course grade of the A, B, C, etc. type at the end of the term won't be typical letter grades or points. Instead, I will describe where your project or graded activity stands relative to the specifications of the particular graded item (see each particular assignment or activity). The basic grades on a project or graded activity are:

  • E-Exceeding Specifications/Notably Strong
  • M-Meeting Specifications/Competent If a major project, can be revised
  • N-Submitted, but Not Meeting Specifications If a major project, can be revised
  • Z-Nothing Submitted, or Nonresponsive to Assignment. If a major project, you really should revise and you need to meet with me

Read my revision policies.

Canvas's Crappy Gradebook and Spec Grading: a Story of Compromise (sigh...)

Canvas's gradebook does not handle spec grading well (it handles nothing well, in my opinion). But we're stuck with it. For purposes of the gradebook, each graded event has certain levels of performance, even if the gradebook in Canvas calls it "ungraded" or "does not count toward final grade" (those are workarounds necessitated by Canvas's irritating fixation on points and percentages). Here are the levels of performance:

For major assignments and some other work:

  • 3=E-Exceeding Specifications/Notably Strong
  • 2=M-Meeting Specifications/Competent
  • 1=N-Submitted, but Not Meeting Specifications
  • 0=Z-Nothing Submitted, or Nonresponsive to Assignment

For certain assignments or activities:

  • ✔ Complete, meaning you turned it in and it meets specifications
  • ✘ Incomplete, meaning that you did not turn it in, or it does not meet specifications

Please keep in mind that the points are simply there as crude corollaries of levels of performance. There is a huge difference between a 1 and a 3, not just "two little points." I wish that Canvas's gradebook were able to handle spec grading better, but until it does, we are stuck with this system. Again, even if I have to force Canvas to consider something "ungraded," it all counts: I don't assign busy work.

If you revise a major project effectively, I will simply change the grade in Canvas under the original submission. The gradebook will read "complete" or "incomplete" on the revision, indicating whether you have turned in an optional revision or not. But, if you revise, look at the score under the original submission. It will either stay the same or improve (it will not go down). I wish Canvas' gradebook were not such a hot mess, but here we are. If you ever want to know "where you stand," just ask me.

The Path to an A

  • To earn an A, you must of course do all the basic things necessary to earn a B.
  • You must also produce work that stands out ("E"-level) on all major projects and on the majority of other graded work in the course that uses that scale. On submissions graded Complete/Incomplete, you can't have any Incomplete and you can't miss any submissions.

The Path Downward from a B

I reserve the right to assign C, D, or F grades for your overall course grade for non-performance of the basic contract. I hope that no one will aim for lower grades. Common ways to slide below a B in the course include, in F2F courses, racking up absences, showing up late/leaving early habitually, showing up unprepared, not meeting with me when needed or requested (remember that you have to meet with me if I request it), not using workshop time well, blowing deadlines, turning in sloppy or rushed work that does not meet the specifications, not drafting and revising your projects, not reading or annotating assigned texts, texting/FBing/Instagraming away your education, or ignoring feedback. In online courses, sporadically logging into Canvas, not contacting me, and not being especially disciplined (in addition to missing deadlines, turning in rushed work, etc.) are common ways to slide below a B.

Please remember the attendance requirement in F2F courses (of course, if some genuine emergency or calamity befalls you, I will be reasonable; I also will be happy to make reasonable accommodations in the case of "504" letters). If you are missing classes and getting behind in work, please stay in touch with me about your chances of passing the course. Please also see my general course policies about absences, tardiness, and intellectual honesty, which apply here. In online courses, if you require accommodations, the same "504" process will apply.

Plus/Minus Grades

I may assign a +/- grade (e.g., A-, B+, C+, etc.) for your overall course grade to make the grade best reflect your achievement of your learning goals and performance. These are necessarily for "in between" cases and will be guided by my experience and discretion, your work in the course, your performance of the contract expectations, and your thoughtful self-assessments.

You Get to Make an Argument

In the final self-assessment, you may make a reasonable, supported argument to me about what overall course grade you believe is warranted. I am not bound by your arguments, but I will consider them if they are supported. Here, argument = reasonable claim + sufficient evidence + warranted inferences. Wishes, mere pleas, and schmoozing are not arguments. See the final self-assessment assignment.

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