What's Wrong with Extra Credit?


Sifting through the #extracredit hashtag on Twitter, it seems there are more extra credit opportunities than learning opportunities.If the situations I share below look familiar, it's probably because many teachers are providing similar options for extra credit. Of course I took some liberties: I had to try to make some of it funny, because otherwise writing this post would make my blood pressure rise.Being so far removed from extra credit myself, it's hard for me to put myself in the shoes of someone who still uses extra credit to motivate students. I write this post with the goal of helping teachers think for themselves, instead of telling them what I believe they should think. Maybe this post will reach reflective educators...If you're wondering about benefits or pitfalls of extra credit, consider these situations and reflection questions. Feel free to add your own in the comments below.Teacher A always runs out of tissue by the end of the year. If students bring in a box, they get extra credit.Reflection questions:

  • Why would a teacher feel they need to provide extra credit in order to receive tissues?

  • What if students don't have the transportation to get to a store?

  • What if students don't have the money to purchase tissues?

  • How would you feel if you yourself couldn't provide tissues?

  • How would you feel if you didn't hardly ever use tissues yourself and yet were expected to provide some for peers?

  • What would happen if the class actually ran out of tissues?

  • What other ways could you encourage students to bring in tissues?

Teacher B wants students to read aloud more at home. Students are given extra credit if a parent takes a photo or video of them reading to their favorite pet (or puppet/stuffed animal).Reflection questions:

  • What if parents don't know how to send—or feel uncomfortable sending—a photo of their child to the teacher?

  • What if parents aren't home when their children are reading (or simply can't be around)?

  • What if students can't read that week because of sports or other activities?

  • What if parents don't have reliable Internet and they can't send the photo?

  • What other ways could you encourage students to read aloud at home?

  • What other ways could students share with you that they are reading at home?

Teacher C gives extra credit bathroom passes. Three passes are given to students each quarter. If lost, there are no replacements available. The points they receive at the end of each quarter when they turn them in really don't change their grade much, but it "keeps them in the room." (Similar ideas: attending the school play, going to a museum during vacation, etc.)Reflection questions:

  • What if a disorganized student loses their passes, or leaves them in a locker when a pass is needed?

  • What if a student has "free bathroom/water pass" on his or her 504 plan due to medical reasons?

  • What if a student has used all three and yet "really has to go" one more time before the quarter ends?

  • How would you feel if you had to tell an adult you needed to use the bathroom?

  • How would you feel if you had to show a pass each time you needed an extra break (other than any already provided) during a meeting?

  • What other ways could you keep your students engaged in class so they stay?

  • What other ways could you encourage students not to abuse the right to use the bathroom?

Teacher D wants students to know the Preamble of the U.S. Constitution. The teacher plays it for them every day for a week. They get extra credit for singing it in front of their class. (Similar ideas: singing the preposition song to a relative, performing in a short skit in front of the class, etc.)Reflection questions:

  • What if a student can't sing?

  • What if a student is an introvert—or simply bashful?

  • How would you feel singing in front of peers and strangers?

  • How would you feel if you really "needed" (or simply wanted) the extra credit, but you couldn't sing?

  • How would you feel if you suddenly forgot the words?

  • How would you feel if someone else sang right in front of you, and they weren't very good?

  • How would you feel if no one clapped for you when you finished, or if clapping sounded forced?

  • What other ways could your students demonstrate their knowledge?

Teacher E wants students to connect with authors. Students will receive extra credit if their letter to the author receives any type of response. Even more extra credit will be provided if the author sends something other than a letter back (a bookmark, a book, a signed copy, etc.).Reflection questions:

  • Why do you want students to write to an author?

  • What if the student's favorite author has no address to which to send a letter?

  • What if the author usually writes back, but something comes up?

  • What if the author just doesn't respond to readers?

  • What if the author is dead?

  • What if the letter to the author gets lost in the mail?

  • What if the letter back from the author gets lost in the mail?

  • How would you feel if you wrote a letter to your favorite author and never received a response?

  • How would you feel if your classmates were receiving letters, and you had to keep waiting?

  • How would you feel if you received a response well after the grading period was over?

  • What other ways could you encourage students to write to authors?

Teacher F has an extra credit option if students don't do well on a project. The learning targets include knowing what spices were used in which areas of the world, and how they were used. The extra credit option is for students to bake a cake. The teacher would judge the student on whether it tasted good, based on the spices and the amount used.Reflection questions:

  • What do you want students to demonstrate?

  • What if students do not have access to baking ingredients, time to bake, or parents to supervise?

  • What if the oven is already being used?

  • What if the student burns the cake?

  • What if the student's oven doesn't work or they don't have an oven?

  • What if the teacher's taste in cake does not match those of the student?

  • What if students simply re-did the part of the project they didn't understand?

  • What other ways could students show you they learned the information they were supposed to learn?

Teacher G provides extra credit if students watch a debate during an election year. Students simply have to provide proof—a photo, a letter from a parent...anything will do. (Similar ideas: attending the school play, going to a museum during vacation)Reflection questions:

  • What do you want students to demonstrate?

  • What if students simply watch one minute of it and still get credit?

  • What if students are engaged in another activity and cannot watch?

  • What if students watch it and learn nothing?

  • What is the goal with this activity? How else could students achieve that goal?

  • What other ways could you share what happened during the debate?

  • What other ways could students share what they learned during the debate?

Teacher H provides extra credit if a high school student's tweet (or Instagram post, etc.) gets a certain number of "likes" or retweets. The tweet links to a blog post written by that student about their favorite topic. The teacher does this to promote correct grammar and conventions (authentic audiences are the best for this), and also help students learn how to leverage social media (how to use photos, hashtags, etc.).Reflection questions:

  • What if students don't own a personal phone?

  • What if students are not allowed on social media?

  • What if students don't have many followers?

  • What if students plagiarize so they can get more "likes" or retweets?

  • What if readers don't agree with the student's points?

  • What other ways could students share their writing with an authentic audience?

  • What other ways could students learn better how to use social media?

Other extra credit ideas from around Twitter...

  • Write the name of Oedipus' adopted father on the bottom left of tomorrow's vocabulary quiz. #extracredit #itpaystofollow

  • #ACLU and #DACA Event in the 1400 building, #ExtraCredit 10am-12pm today and tomorrow.

  • Join us TODAY after school at the library! #doorprizes #extracredit #BannedBooksWeek

  • #ExtraCredit opportunity!! Attention to all my #6thgrade students - I challenge you to post an example of one of the #elementsofart that we discussed in class. (*Side note: Sixth graders are not usually old enough to use social media, in any case.)

  • Take a selfie of yourself with any member of the volleyball team! #ExtraCredit

Reflection questions:

  • What are the goals of offering extra credit?

  • Why do I feel I need to use extra credit?

  • What are my learning objectives?

  • How can I achieve these objectives without using points to motivate students?

  • What do you want a grade in your class to represent? Achievement? Effort? Compliance? Privilege? Stamina? Fortune? Luck?

Joy Kirr is a National Board Certified seventh-grade ELA teacher who teaches without grades. She is author of the book Shift This! How to Implement Gradual Changes for Massive Impact in Your Classroom.