Adapting contracts to specific situations

The design of a contract may vary significantly depending on a number of factors.  A Spanish class will need a different structure than an Algebra or a U.S. History class.  Contracts for high school freshmen will likely need more constraints than those designed for seniors.  

Another design factor is the variability of student readiness and motivation to learn.  When faced with a wider range, teachers may have more difficulty providing the appropriate level of challenge for every student.  By design, the "detracked" courses have a dramatically increased range of abilities. In this case, more flexibility must be built into the contract to accommodate the needs of all the students.  

No matter the situation, however, the goal is to have every student learning optimally by working at the appropriate level of challenge at all times.

Evolving from teacher-directed to student-directed choice

Contracts can be introduced with limited or no choice on the part of students, but one of the principle goals of this structure is to wean students off their dependence on teachers and help them take responsibility for their own learning process.

The graphic design of contracts

Regardless of the scope of a contract, its graphic layout should be as simple as possible.  Excessive verbiage—complex instructions, rubrics, scheduling guidelines and the like—should be avoided.  These are generally ineffective forms of communication, and they clutter up the central task of offering differentiated work to the student.  The design should include lots of white space in the margins and between sections of the contract, and the font should not be so small as to make it look like a legal disclaimer on a credit card bill.  The question of clean graphic design is discussed in more detail in the next chapter on unit contracts.