July 13, 2009
Applying Learning Agreements in the Classroom
As a former editor in the business profession and now educator, I see connections between business and classroom best practices, especially when it comes to using academic learning agreements to promote student engagement and leadership. Such learning agreements can increase student accountability in the classroom and lay the foundation for a successful college experience by helping them understand the importance of adhering to their own best practices and goals.
This particular learning agreement is used in the classroom, and preferably with first-year students in order to establish a pattern of regular learning behaviors, which can be applied and reflected upon throughout college.
Learning agreements can be created on the first day of class or early in the first week. The agreement should help students recognize ideas and themes within their subject matter; approach these ideas and themes in several ways; and allow them to perform their understanding of the subject matter in a range of ways (i.e. one minute summaries) (Gardener 2006).
To start setting the tone of the learning agreement, include it as a required (non-graded) component of the course. On the first day of class create a grid on the board with columns such as learning goals/objectives, tasks performed to meet the learning goals/objectives, timeframe expected to complete goals/objectives, and, finally, a column where the students can reflect upon how they know they achieved their goals.
Next, engage the students in a short discussion about some of their insecurities about college, what they hope to achieve in this particular course or at the college, and what challenges they would like to overcome (i.e. improve time management, focus on study skills, etc.). Start filling in the columns with the feedback they provide during the discussion. Use this as a way to prepare the students to start thinking in terms of their own learning agreement.
This discussion alone is a type of assessment that helps to distinguish what characteristics are most important to students’ understanding of their own learning process. Afterwards, start passing out the learning agreement sample template that students can manipulate for their own use. Please note that you can structure your agreement as you like. There are many ways to address topics you would like your students to think about. This is only a sample. I encourage you to research other forms of agreements and see which works for your needs best.
The final page of the learning agreement is the Commitment Page. This is where the student commits to their proposed plan. The instructor keeps a copy of the agreement and the original goes to the student. (Remind the students that this is a non-graded, ongoing reflective tool, and they can add or remove goals/objectives, the timeframe, and even their plans for achieving their goals.)
At the end of the course have the students review their learning agreement and complete a short memo for the instructor explaining if and how they followed their agreement. They can also comment if this was a helpful tool for them in achieving their academic goals, and if they plan on adding to their plan throughout their college years.
By incorporating this practice into classroom management, students will have the opportunity to start monitoring and reflecting on their commitment to their learning. Learning agreements also provide perspective and direction to students’ academic goals. The agreement should not be used as a way to frighten or discourage students from performing in the classroom; it should motivate them to become proprietors of their own learning.
Loren Kleinman is the assistant director of academic support centers at Berkeley College.
Gabelnick, F., Leigh-Smith, B., MacGregor, J., & Matthews, R (2004). Learning communities:
Reforming undergraduate education. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Gardner, Howard, (2006). Five Minds for the Future. Boston, MA: Harvard Business School
Gross Davis, B. (2009). Tools for teaching. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Haines, C. (2004). Assessing students’ written work: Marking essays and reports. New
York: Routledge Falmer.
Instructions for Creating a Learning Agreement (2009). University of California, Berkeley
School of Social Welfare. Retrieved June 24, 2009 from
LaSere Erickson, B., Peters, C., & Weltner Strommer, D. (2006). Teaching first-year college
students. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Lacoss, J. (2009). The dog ate my homework: How to deal with unprepared students. Teaching
Concerns. Retrieved May 19, 2009.
Tips for Generating a Learning Agreement (2009). St. Norbert Career Services. Retrieved June
Tags: assessment, classroom management, first-semester students, first-year students, learning agreement, learning goals, professional development, student contract, Student Engagement, time management