Dependent Learning Contracts
Learning contracts provide a framework for a process through which students develop a more advanced understanding of a topic or issue and become increasingly self-directed learners. Although learning contracts are often expected to enable students to work independently, this is seldom the case if students engage in a genuine, developmentally beneficial struggle to achieve their goal. They will need support. Hence the title of this chapter is Dependent Learning Contracts. Teachers will use these Tools to scaffold or frame their assistance to students in all stages of becoming self-directed learners.
The forms included in this chapter can be used to guide activities suggested by the results of the Possibilities for Learning, or the Dream Sheet, and can become one of the differentiated activities included in a student’s Individual Educational Plan (Chapter 7).
Learning contracts are not new to many teachers. Most are product-oriented. Each has been designed to help students achieve a particular type of goal such as issue resolution (Clark County School District, 1976), expertise (Gibbons, 1990; Winebrenner, 1992), deeper understanding of a topic (Draze, 1986, 1993), or to test a research hypothesis (Starko & Schack, 1992; Wishau, 1985). Readers are encouraged to locate these materials if they need product-oriented contracts.
The forms provided in this chapter target curiosity and wondering rather than the development of a product. They provide students with opportunities to explore without the pressure to produce. In this way perfectionists, underachievers and non-producers are less likely to become “paralyzed” by the expectation that they provide tangible proof that they’ve learned something. Students are only asked to plan and track their wanderings in search of new ideas so others might gain a sense of where they’ve been and where they might be headed.