Overview of Assignments
Your work in “Building a (Better) Book” will happen across these major assignments:
- Discussion Prep
- Book Labs
- Reflective Posts
- Semester Book Project
- Final Presentation
In this course, you will determine the grade you receive by fulfilling a contract you will submit for my approval on Thursday, September 17th.
In brief, your written contract should detail:
- A formal declaration of the grade you intend to earn: e.g. “During the Fall 2020 semester I, NAME HERE, contract to earn an A in ‘Building a (Better) Book’”;
- The requirements you will meet in order to receive the grade for which you’ve contracted;
- Due dates for the major milestones of your final book project;
- The penalties you will incur for not meeting deadlines or not completing sufficient work for a given assignment;
- And finally two spaces for signatures, yours and mine.
The contract will be complete when you submit your final self-assessment by December 16.
Why Contract Grading?
As you no doubt know, grading can be a contentious issue in college courses, particularly in writing- and discussion-based courses, where grades can seem arbitrary and contestable. Grading in school does not much resemble the way you will be evaluated in your lives or careers, where you will define many of your own goals and be measured by how responsibly and effectively you achieve them. To quote Cathy Davidson, a professor at CUNY from whom most of my ideas about contract grading are adapted:
The advantage of contract grading is that you, the student, decide how much work you wish to do this semester; if you complete that work on time and satisfactorily, you will receive the grade for which you contracted. This means planning ahead, thinking about all of your obligations and responsibilities this semester and also determining what grade you want or need in this course. The advantage of contract grading to the professor is no whining, no special pleading, on the students part. If you complete the work you contracted for, you get the grade. Done. I respect the student who only needs a C, who has other obligations that preclude doing all of the requirements to earn an A in the course, and who contracts for the C and carries out the contract perfectly. (This is another one of those major life skills: taking responsibility for your own workflow.)
To fulfill any grade contract a student must do the following, which should nonetheless be specified in the contract submitted for approval. When writing self assessments students must describe how they have met these requirements in addition to the grade-specific requirements:
- Come to synchronous classes prepared to discuss any assigned readings, videos, or other media. Participate actively in class activities and discussions, making observations and asking questions that help the class think together.
- Use studio sections to work toward your final projects. Join group studio check-ins (with 2-3 colleagues) weekly and check in with Prof. Cordell at least once every two weeks.
- Revise contractual assignments as necessary until both you and I consider them “Satisfactory.”
- Complete a final self-assessment demonstrating that your work has met the agreed requirements, submitting it to Professor Cordell by 5pm on Wednesday, December 16.
In addition to the items in “All Contracts” above, to contract for an “A” in this course you agree to:
- Miss no more than one synchronous class.
- Take no more than one information overload day during the semester.
- Complete all book lab activities.
- Exceed expectations regarding in-class device according to the policies outlined in the device use rubric.
- Earn “Satisfactory” on all class preparation posts save one.
- Write at least six “Satisfactory” reflective posts during the semester.
- Complete an exemplary book project, meeting all specified deadlines, and presenting your project in the final week of the semester.
In addition to the items in “All Contracts” above, to contract for an “B” in this course you agree to:
- Miss no more than two synchronous classes.
- Take no more than one information overload day during the semester.
- Complete all book lab activities save one.
- Fully meet expectations expectations regarding in-class device according to the policies outlined in the device use rubric.
- Earn “Satisfactory” on all class preparation posts save two.
- Write at least five “Satisfactory” reflective posts over the course of the semester.
- Complete a satisfactory book project, meeting all specified deadlines, and presenting your project in the final week of the semester.
In addition to the items in “All Contracts” above, to contract for an “C” in this course, you agree to:
- Miss no more than three synchronous classes.
- Take no more than two information overload days during the semester.
- Complete all book lab activities save two.
- Generally meet expectation regarding in-class device according to the policies outlined in the device use rubric.
- Earn “Satisfactory” on all class preparation posts save three.
- Write at least four “Satisfactory” reflective posts over the course of the semester.
- Complete a satisfactory book project, meeting all specified deadlines, by the end of the semester
“D” and “F” Grades
I’ve borrowed this clause, too, from Cathy Davidson, because I cannot improve upon it:
The professor reserves the right to award a grade of D or F to anyone who fails to meet a contractual obligation in a systematic way. A “D” grade denotes some minimal fulfilling of the contract. An “F” is absence of enough satisfactory work, as contracted, to warrant passing of the course. Both a “D” and “F” denote a breakdown of the contractual relationship implied by signing any of the contracts described above.
What About Exceptional (or Mediocre) Work?
I also reserve the right to reward exceptional work throughout the semester using the full range of Northeastern’s grading scale. If you contract for a “B,” for instance, and submit particularly strong pieces to fulfill that contract, I may elect to raise your contracted grade to a “B+.”
Likewise, if you consistently submit mediocre work in fulfillment of your contract, I reserve the right to adjust your grade one half-step down (e.g. from “A” to “A-“) or even, in extreme cases, a full step.
Periodically during the semester I will ask you to evaluate your work thus far and compare it against what you agreed in your grade contract. In these moments you can also take the opportunity to request an adjustment to your contract in either direction. If you find that you will be unable to meet the obligations of your contract, you may request to move to the next lowest grade and its requirements. Contrariwise, if you find that you’ve been performing above the obligations of your contract, you may request to fulfill the requirements for the next higher grade. Important Note: In order to effectively evaluate your own progress, you must keep track of your work, including days missed, IO days taken, blogs completed, and so forth.