Negotiating Authority by Designing Individualized Grading Contracts

Nov. 10, 2010

Source: Studying Teacher Education, Volume 6, Issue 3, November 2010 , pages 257 – 267.
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

The purpose of this article is to present findings from a qualitative investigation into how authority was negotiated in an undergraduate teacher education course in which the author - as the teacher of the course - established course obligations with students through designing individualized grading contracts.


The author conducted the study at a large comprehensive state university in an urban area in the Northeastern USA in the spring 2006 semester.
Twenty-two undergraduate students were enrolled in the course and comprised the primary research participants along with the author himself as the instructor of the course.

The author collected data from audio-recorded course activities, course documents, personal reflections, audio-recorded one-on-one interviews, audio-recorded informal discussions and debriefings with mentors, and observation field notes from experienced third parties.


The findings suggest that four themes emerged from the data represent potential frameworks for negotiating authority in teacher education: seeking mutually satisfactory agreement, finding several solutions to the problems being negotiated, compromising based on principle rather than pressure, and deriving legitimacy from mutually recognized sources.

Through modeling congruence with his personal, pedagogical, and professional beliefs, the author elaborates several aspects of his practice important for others to consider if they are interested in experimenting with alternative approaches to grades.

The first aspect is to reframe our underlying focus for the semester from grading to learning;
the second aspect is to reconfigure the intellectual atmosphere of the class; 
and the third aspect is to reconstruct our working relationship.

These actions accomplished a reasonable and realistic level of change in our approach to grades while fostering a pedagogy of teacher education consistent with democratic aims.

The author concludes that such knowledge is important for expanding our understanding of how authority is negotiated in teacher education settings.

Updated: Feb. 13, 2011