How I Use a Calendar and Long-Term Planning to Improve Student Achievement

My first year of teaching I taught from the book. Every day I’d move on to the next page and at the end of the unit I’d give the test and then move on. I felt like I was living by the seat of my pants. It didn’t go that well.

My second year I realized I had to do a little more planning to be more successful. I started writing my lesson plans out for the week. This was better than the first year, but still not enough to make me feel calm about walking into class every day. My mother used a program called Calendar Creator to plan family stuff and write down important dates, etc. I decided to give it a try. I began planning a month at a time. Lessons, quizzes, tests, homework…everything. I loved it so much I actually began planning out entire quarters – and even semesters at a time.

Other teachers didn’t understand why I did it. They assumed I wasn’t open to shifting the plan if my students demonstrated a need. This wasn’t the case. If something happened, I’d rework things to accommodate my students’ needs. The thing was, that hardly ever happened. The more I planned, the more in tune I was with my students. Because I was planning so far in advance, I was forced to take the time to actually go through the lessons and look at the material, decide on classwork assignments, homework, projects, quizzes, and tests. I began to anticipate where students would struggle and where they would excel. Of course it was a learning curve, but now, a decade into my teaching career, I am to the point where I only have to revise a calendar once or twice a year.

Now I plan by breaks: summer is my time to plan from August through December. Winter break is time for me to plan January through Spring break. Spring break is the time for me to plan through the end of the year. I give students calendars at the start of every month. I email that calendar to parents every month as well, and I post it on my class website. On the calendar is the unit we’re on, the bell work for each day (sometimes very specific, sometimes generic), the class work for the day, and any homework for the day. The quizzes and tests for the month are on there as well.

Jan 2016 calendar

In addition to making me feel more prepared and a like I was a better teacher, it also had some unexpected benefits for my students. It increased their achievement in a few different ways. First of all, they had access to quiz and test dates, so they were more prepared for them and did better on them. Additionally, students who were missing school had access to the work we were doing so they didn’t fall behind. This worked very well for students who had absences planned in advance, too. I would get requests from parents like, “We’re going out of town next week, can you give my student work?” and I would respond that they could just follow the calendar and be pretty much caught up by the time they got back. Parents LOVED that. It also helped with missing work because students could go back and look at what they were supposed to do and turn it in if they were missing it.

Is it a lot of work? Yes. Does it pay off? Yes.

Why I Assign Seats in My Secondary Classroom

I began my teaching career in 7th and 8th grade math. I taught that for a few years and then switched to 7th grade English. Then, I moved up to high school English and Reading. After a 2.5 year break working in administration, I’m back in a 7th grade math classroom. I’ve found, through the years, that in the secondary (and most especially, high school) world, I am among the minority of teachers who assign seats.

I’m sure any teacher who doesn’t assign seats has a good reason for it, but I’ve found that for me, assigning seats helps my classes run more smoothly and more effectively. Here are some reasons I assign seats in my secondary classroom (the only grade I did NOT assign seats was 12th, because I felt like as adults, assigning seats was a bit much for them):

Housekeeping: Attendance is quick and easy with a seating chart. I don’t have to call out names or waste time trying to figure out who isn’t present. I look at the empty seats and match them to the names on the chart and attendance is done in 10 seconds.

Variety: I get bored easily and changing seats allows me to stay interested. Kids also get bored with who they sit next to (or get too chummy and chatty), so changing seats prevents social issues.

Scaffolding: One of the seating arrangements I employ is to seat a struggling student with a successful student (if my desks are in pairs – if they’re in rows, I seat every other student high-low by grade). This provides good modeling for the struggling student and someone to help them if I can’t.

Behavior management: Figuring out who can’t sit next to who in order for class to go smoothly is important. By assigning seats I can make sure troublemakers don’t sit next to each other and I stop problems before they start.

Life skills: Assigning seats teaches the life skill of working with someone you may not like. Students learn quickly not to complain about or ask to change their seat. I tell them, “It’s not a marriage. You don’t have to be next to him/her forever. I’m not asking you to be best friends, I’m asking you to sit next to him/her. You’ll move again in a few weeks. Deal with it.” And they do – for the most part.

Structure: Students like structure. It helps them be efficient. They feel secure. They don’t have to choose where to sit when they come into the room. Instead, they get right to work and it saves a lot of time (and trouble with seat fighting).

Not sure how to seat your students? Here are some of the ways I order them (and I change seats every 2 weeks in my room, so I rotate through this list several times a year):

By last name, by first name, by gender (alternating boy-girl or boys on one side, girls on the other), by grade/average (low-high alternating or low in front and high in back), by behavior/participation (I use the corners to seat behavior problems and make sure focused, quiet students surround them to keep them from drawing others in).

How do you seat your students? Do you assign seats? Why or why not?

On the Secret Use of Sticky Notes for Classroom Management

I often find that if I tell a student to stop doing something (or to do something), it can turn into a power struggle. I work with secondary students, and they are primarily concerned with looking good in front of their friends. If they sense that they look weak or have lost control, they will battle against whoever put them in that situation. It can get ugly.

teacher student fight

I also hate escalation and disruption while I teach. If I have to ask a kid 3 or 4 times to do something, that’s taking away from my lesson and probably getting the kid all worked up as well. Everything from eating to wearing the hoodie – my verbally asking a kid to stop is a disruption. Sometimes I just ignore things, but I don’t like that option, either, because it undermines my authority and shows other students that rules don’t have to be followed. I’ve also learned about the value of wait time – not just for question/answer sessions, but for directions as well. If I tell a kid to take off his hat, it’s unlikely he’ll do it immediately. But instead of telling him over and over and risking an escalation, I’ve found that if I just give him a few minutes, he’ll comply. I guess it’s a way of exercising some sort of control over the situation – he’ll do it, but he’ll do it when he feels like it.

student in hoodie

But there are some kids that even that won’t work for, so I use sticky notes. I’m not sure where I picked up this little method. All I know is I didn’t come up with it on my own. I carry around a clipboard with me throughout classes for various reasons – attendance, behavior documentation, participation tracking, etc. and on this clipboard, I carry a stack of sticky notes. If I notice a student doing something they shouldn’t be, I write them a note and make my way to their desk. I casually stick it right in front of them and keep doing what I’m doing. I don’t make any sort of fuss or draw attention to it. The majority of the time, no one else even notices what I’ve done. The kid reads my note, (9 times out of 10 s/he crumples it up) and then a minute or two later stops whatever behavior I’ve asked them to stop.

sticky note note

I used to just use this to manage misbehavior, but I eventually realized I could use this for positive reinforcement or even just basic directions. I have students who don’t like to be singled out for any reason – good or bad. But I still want to recognize when they’ve done something well, so I use sticky notes to write them a positive note when I’m impressed with their work or thankful they’re making good choices. I also use this when I have something I need done but I don’t want to disrupt the class asking for a volunteer. Most of the time I use my errand captain for stuff like this, but sometimes I’ll get a sticky note, write down what I need done, and give it to a kid without skipping a beat in my lesson. I also do this when someone’s been called to the office. When I hang up the phone, I continue teaching, write my note to the student who’s been called, and give it to them. Zero disruption.

I hope this teaching tip has been helpful for you. I’d love to hear what you use in your classroom to minimize power struggles and manage behavior effectively!

How Not to Argue with Students

I often encounter teachers who (usually without realizing it) argue with their students. I’ll even admit – I was one of them. And, okay, I’ll admit it again, every once in a while, I fall back into old habits and argue with a kid. But when I do, I pull out (mentally, of course) this “How-to” guide to prevent myself from arguing with my students.

Why don’t I argue with my students? Simple: they’re kids. It’s unproductive. It’s disruptive. It undermines my authority. It gives into negative, attention-seeking behavior. It has no discernable, positive results. Most importantly, though, I’m the adult in the situation. I have to have control of myself and my classroom, and when I argue with a student, I lose that control.

There are only 2 simple rules in this “How-to” guide:

  1. Agree with the student.

Now, hold on – I can hear you shouting at me through your computer. I can imagine your eyebrows disappearing into your hairline. Let me explain.

I don’t mean tell the student they’re right and let it go. There’s an art to agreeing without losing ground or control. Let me give you some examples.

 

Student says:

Teacher arguing: Teacher agreeing:
“This is stupid!” “Don’t say that about my class!”

“No, it’s not!”

“Be quiet!”

“I’m sorry you feel that way.”
“I hate this class!” “Why would you say that?”

“Stop being disruptive!”

“I don’t like you much, either!”

“I’m sorry you feel that way.”
“You can’t make me do that!” “Watch me!”

“Yes I can!”

“Stop being so rude!”

“No, I can’t. But I hope you’re prepared for the consequences if you choose not to do it.”
“I don’t feel like doing that.” “Do what I say!”

“Do it!”

“Get it out and start doing it now!”

“That’s too bad. I hope you change your mind later.”
“I can’t do ___ because I don’t have my ___.” “Why are you always unprepared?”

“Why can’t you just bring your materials?”

“That’s a zero, then.”

“That’s unfortunate. Perhaps you could borrow one from a neighbor.”

This takes a LOT of practice to become comfortable using responses like this. It is difficult at first because it feels like you’re letting the student walk all over you and be disrespectful. However, once you say your statement, the student diffuses and you can have a conversation about their words and actions later, when it won’t derail your class.

The second rule is

  1. Be a broken record.

This eliminates arguing entirely and students who thrive off of arguing quickly learn they will not get anywhere with you. Let me give you some examples:

Argument with student Broken record
S: “Can I go to the bathroom?”

T: “Not right now.”

S: “But I really have to go!”

T: “I told you no!”

S: “How come I can’t go?”

T: “We’re in the middle of the lesson.”

S: “I’ll get the notes from R.”

T: “You’ve gone to the bathroom at the same time 3 days in a row.”

S: “’Cause I really have to pee!”

T: “You’re disrupting the class.”

S: “Please let me go!”

T: “Stop asking me if you can go!”

S: “Can I go to the bathroom?”

T: “No.”

S: “But I really have to go!”

T: “No.”

S: “How come I can’t go?”

T: “No.”

S: “Can I please go?”

T: “No.”

S: “I’m gonna pee my pants.”

T: “No.”

S: “Jeez! So stupid.”

T: “I’m sorry you feel that way.” (employing rule #1)

T: “Everyone sit down!”

S: “I gotta throw this away.”

T: “No you don’t. Go sit down.”

S: “But I gotta sharpen my pencil.”

T: “I said sit down.”

S: “It’ll only take a second.”

T: “No! I told you to sit down!”

S: “But I gotta give P a piece of paper.”

T: “Why can’t you just do what I’m asking you to?”

T: “I need everyone seated, please.”

S: “I gotta throw this away.”

T: “Please sit down.”

S: “But I gotta sharpen my pencil.”

T: “Please sit down.”

S: “It’ll only take a second.”

T: “Please sit down.”

S: “But I gotta give P a piece of paper.”

T: “Please sit down.”

S: “Jeez! So stupid.”

T: “I’m sorry you feel that way.” (employing rule #1)

 

You can see that the teacher who does not engage will create an environment where students choose not to argue. They may not be happy about it, but when they learn that you do not engage or argue with them, they will stop trying to argue with you. You will have to be consistent with this method, but after the first several times, your students will learn you have stopped arguing with them and they will cease and desist after about your second or third response.

How I Encouraged Productive Participation (aka, How I Made Grade Inflation Defensible)

My third year teaching I encountered something new. I had multiple classes of honors students and, being honors students, many of them thought they could just skate by doing the bare minimum and get straight A’s in my class. Well, I wasn’t about to let that happen, so when they didn’t do what I asked (homework, whatever), they didn’t get good grades. At the end of the semester, I was called into the principal’s office and asked about my grades. I had (what I believe to remember) a relatively normal grade distribution, but I did have students making C’s, D’s, and F’s. My administrators asked me what I was going to do to have more A’s and B’s. I told them I’d give the students many opportunities, but they simply hadn’t done their work and so their grades reflected that. I was told I needed to do something to have more A’s and B’s in my honors classes. You can read between the lines about what went down in that office.

explosion

I actually ended up losing my job over the incident. Well, that probably wasn’t the only reason, but it was definitely one of them. It turns out it was a good thing, though, because it really made me think about my grading. As the years went on, I began to realize that no matter what the students did (or, in most cases, did NOT do), I was always being asked what I was doing to improve their grades. So I started giving participation grades. This worked well with the new wave of teacher evaluations that required all students to be engaged in the lesson. I mean, I’ve never had a lesson where every single student participated meaningfully and engaged in higher order thinking, but…hey, I’ve only been in the classroom 10 years. I’ve got a ways to go.

long road

First, let me say that my personal philosophy is to try, at all costs, to not put students on the spot. I have found that I get more out of my students (especially ones with behavior issues and such) if I let them come to me, so to speak, rather than drag them kicking and screaming. If I just call on a student because I don’t think they’ve been paying attention, for me, that just creates all sorts of problems. I’m all about using public shaming, but it has to be artful. It can’t be for the sole purpose of embarrassing a kid who I know already struggles with something. And having been both a math and English teacher, there are kids who just struggle with some stuff. So anyway, my plan of attack was predicated on the philosophy that I don’t call kids out (99% of the time).

deer in headlights

I am a clipboard fanatic. I carry mine around with me everywhere. It gives me a huge advantage. Have you ever seen the look on a student’s face when he has done something he isn’t supposed to do and you just look at him and hold your clipboard and pretend to jot something down and then look right back at him? That’s a day-maker right there. You’ve got that kid in line for the rest of the class. I also carry around a list of positive phrases to help me with my classroom management. I can get pretty frustrated with my students when they act like…well…teenagers. So I have to work hard to stay even-keel and not let my emotions get the better of me. Point being, I carry a clipboard. I actually have 2 in case I set one down on one side of the room and go to the other and realize I need it.

clipboard

What I decided to do was give out participation grades. I decided (after lots of trial and error and tweaking) to give 4 participation grades every quarter. This worked out to about 1 participation grade every 2 weeks or so. I would print out a roster and track student participation during whole-class discussions and even small-group or partner work. I decided I would give students credit for wanting to participate. This was a key ingredient to the success of this system. I had 2 groups of students I worried about. The first were the overachievers. They raised their hands for everything. Hands up even before the question was finished. Every time. Clockwork. If I didn’t give these students credit – or the opportunity to earn credit – for being eager beavers, it would crush their spirit and they would probably take it personally and think that they’d done something wrong and I was mad at them. Then I had the stones. The kids that sat there and never wanted to say anything. Ever. Sometimes I wondered if they were even alive. There was no way they were actually going to answer a question. And even if I called on them (without their volunteering, of course), it would be hit or miss as to whether or not they would know the answer. So I had a dilemma with these students. What to do? What if I gave students credit just for raising their hands? Seriously. I ask a question (or another student asks a question) and I give points just for being willing to contribute. Obviously, I’m not able to call on every single student every single time, so sure, I would only call on 1 or 2, but the rest would get credit.

Game. Changer.game changer

First of all, the type-A’s were okay with it because they knew they were earning points to pad their 110% grade even when I didn’t call on them. Second, the students who normally sat like a bump on a log would wait until I asked a question that a ton of people knew the answer to and then they would raise their hand and hope to God I didn’t actually call on them. Which I often didn’t, because I knew exactly what they were doing and didn’t want to jeopardize the baby steps I was making with them. Plus, I also hit a 3rd group I didn’t realize existed. The fragiles. I have students every year who are high maintenance. They require finesse. They are the “I was just gonna say that” kid. They have a need to be recognized but not singled out. They are the “this is too hard! I can’t do this!” just because it doesn’t come easily right away or takes more than a single step to complete. When this kid raises a hand, you MUST call on him. Because if you don’t, you will a) hear from him that “I was just gonna say that!” after you call on the kid you do call on, and b) this kid will think you purposefully did not call on him because you don’t like him, think he’s stupid, or some other laundry list of teenager logic that makes little sense to the rest of us. But if I told everyone that they were getting credit for just raising their hands because I KNEW I wouldn’t be able to call on everyone every time, and that it was important to me that I hear from as many different people in a period as possible, that kid was managed. No longer did he feel slighted, because he knew I was paying attention to him. He saw that I saw his hand. He knew I knew that he “was gonna say that.”

But how did I manage this new method of participation grading? Ticks.tick marks

Tick marks. This system had an added benefit that I didn’t expect: increased wait time. In order for me to stay true to my word and give students points for raising their hands and participating, I had to keep track of it somehow. So I printed off a roster and slapped it on my clipboard. Whenever we were having a discussion, I would mark down tick marks every time a student raised his/her hand. Depending on the situation, I might even make a secondary mark after I actually called on a student. But the point was I was physically tracking student participation. And they knew it. They saw it. So they raised their hands. And I would mark a tick down for every single student. And when you have 22+ kids in a class, that can take some time. It feels like it takes forever, but it doesn’t really. What it does do is give you the wait time students so desperately need to process the question, find the answer, and decide to participate. By the time I was halfway through the tick marks, nearly every student’s hand would be raised. It was amazing.

wait time

To assign grades, I would give the student with the most tick marks for the time period (again, about 2 weeks) a 100% – in most cases it was out of 25 points, so a 25/25. Then, grades were calculated on a sliding scale. The next highest person (or persons, if there was a tie) would get 24/25, and so on and so forth. Everyone sort of bottomed out at about a “C”. I also would subtract points if a student was habitually disruptive or lethargic (sleeping, etc.).

If I knew certain students needed a teeny grade boost, I would reiterate the system before a class discussion. It would prompt participation. My students began to learn when I would get lazy, too. If I didn’t have my clipboard, participation dropped dramatically. The second I picked it up and started marking…boom. Sea of hands.

sea of hands

I like this system better than the popsicle sticks because even though students know they have to be prepared with that system, it still feels to me like a “gotcha.” I really like the idea of giving students the motivation to want to participate on their own. I mean, grades, by definition, are extrinsic motivation, but…I’m trying to build some sort of initiative and self-motive here. I have used this system with my 7th graders and also with my 9th graders and it has worked beautifully. And it’s a great tool to pull out when the administration walks through because you can show how engaged your students are in the lesson – and not just doing what you tell them to do; not just compliant, but really engaged and wanting to be a part of the discussion. On their own.

eager beaver

Once I started using this system, I found I had a lot more leeway to nudge students who might fall into that “yes, but what are you doing, as the teacher, to raise his/her grade” category. And I was able to sleep at night because it wasn’t really grade inflation, it was students earning points in a legitimate way. And it gave me ammunition. If parents or administration questioned my grades, I had one more intervention to throw at them: I give students points just for raising their hands. Let me tell you how many parents that shut up. It worked great in tandem with my “yes, and all the quizzes and tests are open notes.” There’ll be another post about why I give open-notes assessments in the future. And I used it to work the kids, too. I would tell them if they weren’t participating that they were essentially throwing points down the drain. There would always be a few who would rather die than raise their hand, but…to them, I would say, “Look, I’m doing everything I can here to help you out. I’m tempted to give you points just for breathing, but some of you are so intent on failing my class that I’m afraid you might actually stop.” Which would earn some laughs and maybe get a hand or two from those kids. Not always, but maybe.

making progress

New Resource for RI.6.8!

It took me an extra week, but I finally finished my newest CIM for RI.6.8: Trace and evaluate the argument and specific claims in a text, distinguishing claims that are supported by reasons and evidence from claims that are not.

6th grade CIM RI8 a

This CIM follows the same format as my others, and it uses seminal US documents – adapted for 6th-grade students: Patrick Henry and the Declaration of Independence. So not only is this a great resource for 6th grade ELA teachers, but it could be incorporated into a Social Studies classroom as well if you’re studying the American Revolution time period!

There are 3 questions per lesson, so depending on your students it could take anywhere from 3-5 days (if you’re not familiar with my CIMs, there are 3 separate lessons: I do, we do, you do, and they are designed to take about 10 minute each). Of course, just like my other CIMs, included are 1) pages to display questions with answer choices and questions without answer choices, depending how you choose to teach; 2) information for how to get to the excerpts for each day to display, as well as graphs for lessons 1 & 2 to display; 3) the lesson scripts/guides for the 3 lessons. Pages for students are also included (but in separate files).

6th grade CIM RI8 b 6th grade CIM RI8 c 6th grade CIM RI8 d

If you’re wondering if the CIM model is right for you, check out my freebie: RL.6.1

I’m working on RI.6.9 this week and plan to have the RI 7-9 bundle, the whole RI 1-9 bundle, and the full 6th grade CIMs (all RL and all RI standards) up by Cyber Monday, so be sure to follow my blog and my TpT store for updates on when these great resources will be available! Also, I will begin work on the 8th grade standards next, inter-spliced with CIMS from other grade levels 3-9/10.

Have a great week!

Basic Math Operations Posters

I have found throughout my years of teaching that my students have trouble translating word problems into something workable. I have given them notes and even handouts with reminders about what various words mean, but when the time comes, most of them have misplaced anything they might need. To combat this, I created some simple posters for my room and my students. These posters have common words that indicate the four different basic operations. By hanging these around my room, I can ensure that my students have access to these as they are working real-life situational problems. It helps them decode the problems. Also, I’ve been working on my ELA resources so hard and I wanted to create something for all my math followers!

basic math operations posters

Take a closer look here.

Common Core Practice with Non-fiction in the Middle School Classroom

It’s hard to get kids on board with reading non-fiction. Fortunately, there are websites out there with kid-friendly articles that are topical and approachable. It was these websites I went to when I needed to find non-fiction, informational text to create my Continuous Improvement Model mini-lessons for CCSS.ELA.RI.6.7.

CCSS RI6.7

This CIM has 3 different mini-lessons designed to take about 10 minutes each. Every lesson has 2 questions to help students practice this standard. I was able to find appropriate non-fiction, informational text on www.timeforkids.com and also on http://kids.nationalgeographic.com.

timeforkids   education nat geo

What’s great about this resource is that it ONLY targets the standard RI 7 (Reading Informational Text 7). All the other practice out there that I have seen has multiple standards, which is great if you’re doing summative work or have lots of time to go over every single standard with the students, but if you are wanting practice that pinpoints a single standard, mine is the only thing I’ve found like it. Mine also has scaffolded practice, which is the only resource I’ve ever seen with that as well. Other practice out there tells which answers are right and why, but mine has 3 separate lessons that follow the “I do,” “we do,” “you do” model so students are scaffolded on their journey to mastering the standard. It even includes a script for teachers for the first and second lesson, along with detailed explanations on answers for the third lesson, in case the teacher needs to re-teach/explain.

6th grade CIM RI7 c  6th grade CIM RI7 b   6th grade CIM RI7 d

This CIM is targeted for RI6.7, but because of how Florida redid their standards, it is also applicable for LAFS.6.RI.3.7.

If this sounds like something you could use with your 6th graders, you can check out the free version (RL.6.1) and then go from there.

Otherwise, you can go straight to the CIM for RI.6.7 here.

6th grade CIM RI7 a

My Newest Common Core Practice Bundle

I’ve been MIA for a while because I grossly underestimated how much work it would be to go back into the classroom! But I put in a lot of work into making my Continuous Improvement Models (CIMs) for RI.6.4-6 (Author’s Craft & Structure) so I really wanted to post about it. I just want to give an overview of the CIMs in the bundle and explain to you why you should be interested in my resources if you teach upper elementary/lower middle English/Language Arts.

I’ve been working on my CIM for RI.6.7 and I was having trouble finding texts and even looking for resources with sample questions to make sure that my resources are valid and on point with the standards and other resources out there. Well, I started realizing there weren’t any resources out there that target individual standards. Sure, there are lots of things out there for teachers that have texts and questions for Common Core, but everything I’ve found gives teachers a handful of questions that target multiple standards. For example, I might get 7 questions, but each one only targets 1 standard, so I really only get 1 – or maybe 2 – questions on any given standard. And nothing I’ve found uses the format I do – the “I do,” “we do,” “you do.” And none of the resources I’ve found give teachers the tools to work through teaching students how to correctly identify answers for the given questions. Everything I’ve found only identifies which standard the question assesses and the correct answer. Sometimes it will have reasoning for why it is the correct answer, but nothing more than a few sentences. My resources are much more in depth. There are 3 mini-lessons for an individual standard. In this particular bundle, each individual lesson has at least 2 questions. For lesson 1, there is a full script that explains, in depth, how to determine the correct answer(s). In lesson 2, there is a script to guide students through determining the correct answer(s) themselves. In lesson 3, there is ample explanation on why the incorrect answers are incorrect and why the correct answer is correct, in case students need re-teaching or explanation.

If this sounds like something your students could use, check out my newest bundle for Reading Informational Text Grade 6 standards 4, 5, & 6.

https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/6th-Grade-Common-Core-Practice-RI4-5-6-Authors-Craft-and-Structure-Cluster-2120055

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.