Teachers first integrating contracts into their classes may choose to keep the form simple initially. This makes planning easier and lets students acclimate to this new way of working. The following functions are the basic elements teachers will need. However, most, if not all of these functions will be found in a mature, well-designed unit contract.
A definition of learning goals. What students should know and be able to do by the end of the unit is clearly stated. These goals serve as the basis of assessment at the end of the contract.
A complete list of all available work. All the activities that students can do to master the learning goals of the contract are listed. They fall into two broad categories:
1) Essential work items that all students are required to complete. Of all the work listed in a contract, some items serve as the foundation for mastering the learning goals of the unit. These items are fundamental and required of all students, regardless of how quickly they master the material.
2) Differentiated work items that will individualize each student’s learning process. When a student has completed the essential work in a contract, he may or may not have mastered that material. Contracts provide remedial work designed to allow a student who is struggling to continue working as needed. Contracts also contain enrichment items to allow a student who has already mastered the material to continue to work at an appropriate level of challenge. In addition, contracts can provide work that is differentiated around various learning styles, so that students can approach learning in ways that are most effective for them.
A calendar of due dates for homework and assessments. While it is not unusual for a teacher to give students a list of homework deadlines, the contract structure makes a calendar more important because students now have to make choices about what work to do and when to do it. The calendar gives every student the necessary information to manage his time well.
A mechanism to record what work each student completed. Once the work in a class is differentiated, contracts can be used to document the path every student took in mastering the learning goals. A simple checkbox next to every contract item will often suffice for this purpose.
A mechanism for the evaluation of every item on the contract as well as for the contract as a whole. If student work is being evaluated, contracts provide a means of assessing the learning process. This requires a complete rubric for evaluating every type of contract item, along with a means of deriving a grade for the whole contract.
A mechanism for student self-evaluation. In addition to (or instead of) a teacher evaluation, contracts provide a practical means of documenting student self-assessment.