Extra Credit is for the rich

Extra Credit Only Feeds The Rich

Guest blog post by John Stevens

Think about it… Who asks for extra credit? Who comes running up to the front of the classroom as soon as a project is assigned, asking what they can do to get extra points? Who is eagerly awaiting the explanation of the rubric wherein the creativity points get counted as extra? Who is Aimlessly hoping that you, the teacher who cares so much for your students, will offer up a couple extra credit assignments for that end-of-term push?

More often than not, extra credit only feeds the rich.

When I was in school, it was a competition between Kevin, Nick, Amy, Tricia, and Suzie to see who would have the highest grade in the class. We all did our work, and did it well, no matter what class we were in. Therefore, the only way to gain an edge was to create one. “Mr. Carlin, could I do this assignment for extra credit? How about a project? If I turn this in early, will that get me bonus points?”

At the sacrifice of my education, I was so point-driven that it consumed the end of each grading period. You have students like this, to one degree or another, who are infatuated by the notion of getting more than the maximum number of points on an assignment.

Accuracy of Content over Tech-Savvy

Fast forward to me, standing in front of my students in year 8 in the classroom, ready to assign our Choose Your Own Assessment project, where students would prove to me that they knew their Triangle Congruence Theorems in a way that was comfortable to them. I doled out the rules, then ended with this: “There will be NO extra credit assignment, not even for glitter. Actually, minus 1000 points for glitter. Now go have fun and start on your project.”

Yes, I had some projects with glitter on them, just to irk me.

What I also received were incredible products of student creativity, with kids living within their own comfort zone, or stepping as far out of it as they wanted to, in order to create something that they could be proud of. Every student knew that their grade would be based on the quality of their work and accuracy of their content, and not on how creative of tech-savvy they could be. That includes Mackenzie, who used posterboard and pictures of pizza to show how triangles can be congruent. It included Tracy, who created a video on iMovie with no words spoken, yet everything was accurate. It also included Russell, who folded up a sheet of paper and, in pencil, wrote out each of the theorems I needed to see that he understood.

Extra credit-less Classes

Since that project, 8 years into my teaching career, I have been a staunch advocate for the extra credit-less class, and I encourage you to do the same. For your highest-performing students, it makes the effort that they exert more altruistic than point-based. However, there is another group of students who we think benefit from extra credit: our low-performing students. After all, they are the ones trying to find ways to lift their grade from a 54% to a 61% right before finals week. Doing away with bonus points for tissue boxes or dropping the lowest test grade for coming in to scrape off gum puts that value of the product back into the classroom. Not only that, it restores credibility to the tasks given the first time around.

Academic Success?

Whether it is an assignment that will boost overall grades, a project that includes extra points, or a menial task that helps you but doesn’t help the academic success of the student,

I would implore you to consider the consequences.

I have to say that, since I stopped giving out extra credit and making my expectations abundantly clear from the beginning, I didn’t have students coming to me with unruly requests or asking “is there extra credit” with a week or two before the end of the grading period. This would be a good time to reflect on test corrections, re-takes, tutoring hours, and other practices that would support student learning and not hoop-jumping to master the “game” that education can devolve into.

An Assignment for You

So now, with that, I have an assignment for you:

If you give extra credit, try to assign something with an explicit expectation that there will not be extra attached to it. Talk with your students about the benefits of taking pride in their work. After grading an assignment or two, email me (john) and let me know how it went. I would be happy to help you navigate this water.

Extra Credit: well, there is none. But if you want to go above and beyond, share with me on Twitter (@jstevens009) or Facebook (@TableTalkMath) how it went in your classroom. I would love to hear about it, and I’m sure that others will as well.

John Stevens

Author, The Classroom Chef and Table Talk Math

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