Why I Offered Extra Credit, and How It Worked

So I decided to accept late work and I really became judicious about the homework I assigned. Yes, things improved for my students, but there were still many who would come to me at the end of the quarter and ask for extra credit. I found myself with a dilemma. On one hand, I had students who wouldn’t do all their work during the quarter, and then would ask for extra credit to raise their grade at the very end. So I stopped offering extra credit because I told them they had to do their work. On the other hand, I had kids who would do all their work and really were giving (at least close to) their all, but their grades still weren’t what they wanted. So I did want to give them an opportunity to do something to raise their grades. *sigh* Rock and a hard place.

So I got creative. I decided to offer real and true extra credit. In my experience talking with other teachers, I have found that most of them either don’t offer extra credit at all or they offer fake extra credit. And by fake, I mean they let anyone do extra work to raise their grade regardless of their effort throughout the quarter. Now I offer extra credit. What I do NOT offer is “instead of” credit. Here is what I mean. If a student comes to me at the end of the quarter (before the last Friday before the end of the quarter) and asks for extra credit or what he/she can do to raise his/her grade, I look at the grade book. If s/he has missing work, I tell the student to do the missing work and turn it in, because extra credit is just that: extra. It’s not “instead of” credit. They don’t get to do it instead of the work. If the student has no missing work, then I offer an extra credit assignment to improve his/her grade. This ensures that students don’t get a free pass to a higher grade, but also that if a student really has given some amount of effort, s/he can still bump his/her grade up a little bit.

Additionally, I try really hard to make the extra credit something students really have to have a strong desire to raise their grade to want to do. What I mean is, as an English teacher, I didn’t just give a list of words to define. As a math teacher, I didn’t just give a packet of worksheets with computation/skill & drill/plug & chug. I gave assignments that would require a real time and effort commitment. One extra credit assignment I gave as a high school English teacher was a list of 100 common PSAT words and students had to research, find, and list the word parts and meanings (prefixes, roots, & suffixes) along with either 3 words with the same root or 3 synonyms and 3 antonyms (grade-level quality). This took a LONG time, so I knew students were serious about improving their grades if they worked on this assignment. As a math teacher, one of my favorite extra credit assignments was a research paper/biography on a famous mathematician. I had a list of 50 or so mathematicians throughout history and students had to pick one, research him/her, and write a biography essay (word count and paragraph count minimums would vary by grade level and ability). I made an effort to do cross-curricular things, so students who were just expecting a random plug & chug extra credit were sorely mistaken. They had to really want it to do the research and write the essay. This strategy helped weed out the contenders from the pretenders. It also helped ensure that students felt like they allowed to do as much as possible to get their grade as high as possible.

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