Why I Changed My Mind about (and Perception of) Extra Credit

For the last few years, I have refused to give extra credit. Why bother? If the students can’t bother to do the regular credit, why should they get extra credit? That’s what I reasoned, and it made sense. If they weren’t going to do the work in class, why would I bother coming up with some other participation-grade type of assignment that they probably still won’t do? The students who needed the extra credit wouldn’t do it, and the student who would do it didn’t need it.

That was my reasoning, and I found a lot of other teachers who felt the same way. It wasn’t until this year, when I came across a few tweets by Mr. Norman (@english_maven) talking about extra credit, and I immediately saw the fault in my thinking. It was the perception of the work itself that needed to change.

Like so many other teachers, extra credit had become nothing more than busy work to give students a chance to earn some credit back. It was meaningless work that was strictly about grades, not learning. When that’s the thinking, then yes, extra credit is meaningless. If you change your perception, though, extra credit assignments can be a great opportunity to remediate, accelerate, and enrich the content of your classroom. It can also give your students an incentive to try new things and not worry about “failing” (grades, I mean).

Think of it this way. If your grades are a collective, let’s say, 1000 points for the grading term, but you give them the opportunity to earn 1100 points, then they don’t have to worry so much about one “failing” grade because they know they have opportunities to regain points. Then, extra credit assignments become things that will stretch and challenge student to grow and reach greater heights.

Push them.  Challenge them. Give them tasks you’re able to in class. In my experience, students are going to rise to the level of expectation you set for them. If you don’t expect them to be able to learn and grow much, then they won’t. Give them challenging extra credit opportunities that will take them out of their comfort zones. Supplement the curriculum. Then, if students are doing “extra credit instead of the regular assignments,” they’re still learning the content. You’re the one who has control over that. Take advantage of it.

Here are a few extra credit opportunities I’ve recently done in class to give you some ideas:

1. During the research phase of our mult-genre research project, students could watch and answer questions over a series of Edpuzzle videos about online searching, key words, and plagiarism. The best part: Edpuzzle already had the videos curated with questions. I just had to create the class for the videos. It even graded the stuff for me. Very minimal effort for me to put together.

2. Again with research, students were struggling with using in-text citations in their writing, so I found a video about in-text citations and posted it to my Google Classroom. Students could watch the video and summarize the idea of in-text citation to show me they understood the concept.

3. Over Spring Break, I gave them a Flipgrid opportunity. My honors classes read How to Read Literature like a Professor for their summer reading, so I had them apply a chapter from that book to a movie or TV show they watched over break (or recently). My regular classes did a similar thing explaining symbolism.

Published by Lee Tucker

Lee Tucker is a high school English teacher who not only teaches literature and writing but also creates it himself. Lee is a huge fan of fantasy and science fiction, video games, comic books, and all things nerdy.

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