Extra credit is a beast to be reckoned with. I’ve talked with multiple colleagues who find that extra credit takes over their grade book, and students seem more interested in doing extra credit than in doing the regular classroom assignments. Another common problem they’ll note is students expecting, begging, or guilt-tripping them into coming up with an extra credit assignment for some reason such as a pending grade check or ultimatum from their parents.
Look, givers have to set limits because takers never do. As the teacher, you are the only one who can set boundaries in your classroom and teach students to respect them. In my experience, once students learn that extra credit is an option, they stop valuing classroom work and start prowling for extra credit. Unfortunately, this often removes student focus from your content.
My biggest tip to teachers regarding extra credit is to plan what extra credit opportunities will be available to students at the beginning of the school year, state them in your syllabus, and stick to them. Then, as you consider offering extra credit for a given task, ask yourself these three questions: 1) Is it equitable? 2) Is it rewarding academic habits? 3) Is it a reasonable addition to my grading load?
1) Is it equitable? First and foremost, I firmly believe that a student’s grade should be an accurate reflection of their abilities, and not of their socio-economic status. Therefore, as tempting as it is to get students to bring in Kleenexes and Expo markers for extra credit, I don’t go there. This is not an equal opportunity for all students when there are students receiving support to get their own supplies covered. Additionally, many students work or have family responsibilities in the evenings and on weekends, so for that reason I also do not offer extra credit for attending shows, speeches, or extra events of that sort.
2) Is it rewarding academic habits? Make sure that your extra credit assignment is rewarding good decisions that will set students up for success in future classrooms or life situations. Also, this will prevent students from transferring their stress from poor choices onto you (which, if you allow it to happen once, it will inevitably happen again). Make sure that the extra credit tasks you assign students are rewarding students who are prioritizing their education, not ones who are stressing out the day (or hour) before a grade check or deadline.
Referring back to my initial tip of stating extra credit opportunities in your syllabus from Day 1, I find that is helpful in these high-pressure situations. Students have likely had teachers in the past who have buckled and helped them out in a pinch, throwing some extra credit at them to keep their grade afloat. If you don’t want to be that teacher, referring back to your syllabus is a logical, black-and-white way to justify that “No” answer. It’s much cleaner to say, “My syllabus states that extra credit will be earned by x and y” than to hem-haw around considering it and setting yourself up for being inconsistent in the future. Ultimately, you’re teaching these humans to be responsible citizens of the world. I think most teachers would agree that we want students who learn to work diligently and consistently towards a goal, not ones who expect instant gratification at the last moment.
Consider your due date here too. For this reason, I choose not to enter any extra credit until the end of the semester. I do not want students choosing not to complete an assignment because they've seen their grade with extra credit entered and know they don’t need it. I collect extra credit at the end of the semester and enter it in the peace and quiet of my classroom.
3) Is it a reasonable addition to my grading load? I refuse to put anymore grading on my plate, and I see no reason other teachers should burn themselves out grading extra credit when they likely have a small mountain of regular credit to be grading too. If it’s something you find merit in, make it an assignment, not extra credit. Therefore, if you choose to offer extra credit, I’d suggest making it a completion grade, something students either did or did not do, so that it’s an easy check for you.
With those three parameters in mind, the two extra credit opportunities that I recycle every semester are for completing and turning in every assignment and for unused hall passes. For the former, I scroll through my grade book and any student who has neither missing nor incomplete work earns extra credit. Simple as that. It’s equitable, it’s academic, and it’s reasonable.
These ideas may need to be tweaked to work for you, but I hope this post has at least given you some food for thought regarding extra credit. I’d love to hear your reactions or ideas in the comments below.
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