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Contracting for Remote Learning

These instructions are designed to help teachers who are preparing to teach remotely for at least part of the school year—or who are already engaged in remote learning—create two contracts with their classes, one for in-person learning and one for remote learning. 

Rationale

Contracting is an effective strategy for making your classroom a reflective and respectful community. It is the process of openly discussing with your students expectations about how classroom members will engage with each other and with the learning experience. Since remote learning deeply affects the ways in which members of a class communicate and connect with each other and their teacher, it is important to create a version of your class contract that addresses the different circumstances involved in remote learning so that students can feel engaged, valued, respected, and heard whether you are meeting in person or virtually.

Facing History teachers have found that effective class contracts typically include several clearly defined rules or expectations, as well as ideas for how the class will respond if students do not fulfill their obligations as members of the classroom community. There are many ways to proceed with developing a classroom contract, and we encourage you to adapt this process to meet the needs of your students and your learning environment.

Note to Teacher: Questions to Consider

Before creating a remote-learning contract with your students, you may find it useful to consider the following questions:

  • What norms should there be concerning technology use? How should technology be used to promote learning and engage with others? How can it be a distraction? 
  • What should students do when they feel as if they need more support, either emotionally or academically?
  • When are students expected to be available? The teacher? For example, are there times of day when teachers and students can expect quick replies? Are there times of the day or night when teachers and students should not be contacted?
  • How can a student raise a concern with the teacher about an issue that arose during unmonitored group or pair work with classmates? 
  • What norms should govern synchronous remote sessions? For example, how should students use the chat function or raise a question? Are there specific district guidelines about when students should turn their video feature on or off?

Procedure

  1. Define

    A contract implies that all parties have a responsibility to uphold the agreement. Students can think about what it means for a class to have a contract and why it is important to create a contract that can guide both in-person and remote learning.

  2. Reflect

    To prepare students to develop a class contract, ask them to reflect on their experiences as students in both in-person and remote class communities. Consider using prompts like these to guide students’ reflections:

    • Think about what it has been like for you to participate in remote learning in the past. What are some aspects of remote learning that you found challenging? What about remote learning worked well for you?
    • What does your ideal in-person learning environment feel, look, and sound like? What does your ideal remote-learning environment feel, look, and sound like? What are the differences? What are the similarities?
  3. Generate Ideas for Norms

    To help students brainstorm ideas for class norms, present them with a series of scenarios and ask them to envision what they would like to have happen if that scenario arises when they are learning remotely or when they are learning in person. Project each scenario during a synchronous in-person or virtual session, and ask students to write down their ideas for each one. You might ask students to consider situations such as:

    1. When I have an idea or question I would like to share, I can . . . when we are in person, and I can . . . when we are learning remotely.
    2. When I have an idea but do not feel comfortable sharing it out loud, I can . . . when we are in person, and I can . . . when we are learning remotely.
    3. When someone says something that I appreciate, I can . . . when we are in person, and I can . . . when we are learning remotely.
    4. When someone says something that offends me or confuses me, I can . . . when we are in person, and I can . . . when we are learning remotely.
    5. To make sure all students have the opportunity to participate in a class discussion, I can . . . when we are in person, and I can . . . when we are learning remotely.
    6. If I read or watch something that makes me feel sad or angry, I can . . . when we are in person, and I can . . . when we are learning remotely.
    7. To show respect for the ideas of others, I can . . . when we are in person, and I can . . . when we are learning remotely.

    Next, ask students to work together in breakout groups to generate ideas for norms or “expectations” for the class contract. Students should share their responses to the scenarios with their groups and work together to decide what the common themes are among their responses. Based on their discussion, students should create a Venn diagram or three-column Google Doc or Padlet with ideas for class norms specific to remote learning on one side, ideas specific to in-person learning on the other side, and ideas that apply to both in the middle. We suggest keeping each list brief (e.g., three to five items per section of the Venn diagram) so that the norms can be easily remembered. Students can work together in person or collaborate virtually in a document. If students work together in person, consider designating one note-taker per group to write ideas in a Venn diagram on a piece of chart paper in order to make it easier for students to maintain physical distance from classmates.

  4. Discuss Norms as a Class

    Ask each student group to share their ideas for class norms with the full class, including how students envision the idea working when they are in the classroom and when they are engaged in remote learning. The following are some suggestions for how students can share their ideas with the full class:

    • Present during in-person class or synchronous virtual session.
    • Write ideas on a physical or virtual Big Paper.
    • Record a brief explanation of the proposed rules and post the recording to a virtual learning platform.

    As a class, with the teacher writing on the whiteboard or a shared screen, organize the ideas for remote learning and the ideas for in-person learning by theme. If there are any tensions or contradictions in the suggested expectations, you can discuss them as a class. While the process is inclusive of students’ ideas, ultimately it is the teacher’s responsibility to ensure that the ideas that make it into the final contract are those that will best nurture a safe learning environment.

  5. Commit to the Contract

    After the class completes its contract and reaches consensus about rules, norms, and expectations, it is important for each student to signal his or her agreement. If you are teaching in person, you can ask students to sign a copy of the contract that will remain displayed in the classroom.

    If you are teaching remotely, ask students to copy the classroom contract into their journals, sign it, and then take a photo of the contract to share. You can compile the photos into a collage. You can also ask students to record a short video in which they commit to upholding the contract.

Variations

If you are teaching in a face-to-face setting, view our Contracting teaching strategy.

This Teaching Strategy is part of our Back to School 2020 Resources Collection

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