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Extra Credit — I don’t get it

September 18, 2007

I went to high school in Canada, and they didn’t do the extra-credit thing in school, and I’ve decided I just don’t get it.

Can some of the teachers out there explain what the point of extra credit is, and who it is aimed at? Is it for struggling kids who need to do extra work to learn the material, and get rewarded for doing it by bumping their grades up? Or is it for high-achievers who are doing fine but want to ace the class? Or kids in between? Or all of the above? Because… it seems to me that one would want to assign quite different work for the different groups.

I ask because my (9th grade) son was working on “extra-credit” work for math this evening, and was moaning about how boring it was. Indeed, it was just additional practice at skills he had easily mastered already. It seemed an inappropriate thing to give an A student additional credit for, not to mention a poor use of his time. But he didn’t want to let the opportunity for credit slip by him.  (This is an honors level class.)

So, if you’re a teacher, how do you approach this issue?

24 Comments leave one →
  1. Jackie permalink
    September 18, 2007 9:52 pm

    Well, as a new teacher my policy is… there are no extra credit assignments. If a student needs help he/she has many options open: I’m available before school, after school, during my free periods for extra help. There are peer tutors available every period of the day & after school. There are math teachers in the library during every lunch period for tutoring. Really, there is no excuse for NOT getting help.

    I do let students retake quizzes – if they come in for help first & go over with me what they missed. I have let students redo major assignments. I’m ok with it taking a student longer to “get” a concept. That’s why I allow “redo’s”. All major tests are announced, so there’s no surprises there – and they (will be) based upon the quizzes & daily classwork. There will be extra credit problems on the tests – but these will be extensions/more in depth problems.

    I don’t know – I just don’t get extra credit busy work (or extra credit for bringing in kleenex or canned food for a food drive or..).

    I’m looking forward to hearing others thoughts on this topic!

  2. September 18, 2007 10:25 pm

    Hi Jackie. Thanks for the reply. Bonus questions on tests I get. Extra credit for performing a math skit at open house, sure.

    I can see why teachers might offer credit for bringing something in, but it does seem to be outside the spirit of what I expect a grade to represent.

    I like the idea of allowing students to re-take quizzes, but in that case is it exactly the same quiz? Do they get full credit for a higher score on a re-take?

  3. September 19, 2007 7:38 am

    If I’m a teacher, I don’t get it like you.

  4. September 19, 2007 5:08 pm

    you don’t get it because it doesn’t make any sense.
    it doesn’t make any sense because it’s not *supposed*
    to make any sense. it’s designed to confuse the issue:
    there are good reasons for lying about things like course

    if you could just become a little more cynical about
    other people’s motives, *lots* of things might become
    a great deal clearer (yes, i’m thinking here of your
    very impressive recent debate with “SteveH” in certain
    commentthreads at d. marain’s).

  5. September 19, 2007 5:33 pm

    lol – I was reading your first paragraph thinking, “I don’t remember vlorbik being that cynical…” Thanks for the comment.

  6. Jackie permalink
    September 19, 2007 5:43 pm

    Mathmom – The quiz has the same content & # of problems and is worth the same number of points. And, I assess the same concepts.

    Example original quiz: Write the domain in interval notation for the function 1/(x+a).
    Retake question: Write the domain in interval notation for the function 1/(x-a).

    They get full credit for the retake quiz – so what if it takes a few extra days to understand the concept of domain? They’ve come in and gone over what they missed (which sometimes takes more than one day), have learned the concept and come in again to retake it. Why should I penalize them for not getting it right away? My goal is that they understand the concepts. Would I love that they got it quickly? Yep, but later is still better than never.

    Any extra credit that was on the original quiz though, is not available on the retake.

    (I echo vlorbik’s comments about your impressive debate! – thanks )

  7. September 19, 2007 5:58 pm

    Jackie, your approach makes sense. As long as you change the questions enough that they can’t just memorize a solution but need to “get it” it seems reasonable to me.

    (Thanks for your support on the debate!)

  8. Jackie permalink
    September 19, 2007 6:06 pm

    I think I’m changing them enough. From the example, does it seem like I am? (remember I’m still new!) Memorization is not what I’m going for. At all.

  9. September 19, 2007 6:09 pm

    Yes, your example looked like a reasonable change. You’re very dedicated to be willing to make up a “re-take” version of every quiz! (Remember, I’m not even a real teacher!)

  10. September 19, 2007 6:10 pm

    In other news, I have over 100 hits on my blog today. First time ever. I don’t know why I care, but I do keep looking at my stats. 😉 I’d rather have more comments, but at least I know someone is reading this stuff. 🙂 Now I just need to get Dave or JD over here to explain extra credit to me. 😀

  11. September 19, 2007 8:36 pm

    The link did it! I have been busy with school, and not keeping up with my reading.

    It really doesn’t make sense.

    I do give credit.

    If a kid does poorly on an important test, they can retake the test for (reduced, not extra) credit.

    If a kid fails to turn in homework once or twice, they can turn it in for (full) credit.

    If a kid fails to turn in homework more than that, they can still turn it in for (reduced) credit.

    In my system, a kid who is struggling has multiple chances to improve. And I am not listing all of the opportunities for extra help, tutoring, the high quality of my daily instruction (ahem 🙂 ) etc.

    In an extra credit system a kid falls behind in homework, or gets lousy test scores, and is allowed to perform some other sort of work, often a report, to earn (extra) points. I don’t think you are supposed to get it. It doesn’t make much sense.

  12. September 19, 2007 8:53 pm

    Thanks for taking the time to come on over and comment.

    So, should I ask about the teacher’s approach to “extra credit” at Open House tomorrow night, or keep my mouth shut? (Actually, I have no clue if there’s any opportunity for parent questions/comments, or if the teacher just introduces him/herself and we move on to the next block.) I am quite sure in any case that it won’t be the correct forum for my Calculator Rant 😉

  13. Math Teacher permalink
    November 19, 2007 4:06 pm

    I don’t think extra credit should be in the form of “problems.” It should be an opportunity for students to have fun with math. In fact, extra credit shouldn’t be for the grade at all, but should at least have the opportunity to improve one’s grade. A great example of what I would consider an extra credit assignment would be something like this:
    These are not my students, although I’m considering offering something similar to them.

  14. January 21, 2008 6:06 pm

    As my recently-retired English teacher (for 30+ years) mother has always said to her students when they ask for extra credit, “Honey, if you couldn’t do the work I gave you, what makes you think you can do more of it?” That pretty much sums up the extra-credit question for me, too. 😉

  15. January 21, 2008 7:42 pm

    As the first semester ends, my reflection is that there are 2 kinds of kids who want extra credit. The kids who are flunking, who want to find a way to pass, and the kids who are going for top honors and are trying to maintain a 4.0 or 100% average etc. and want a few points buffer for questions they may miss on a test or homework assignment. (In the latter case, I don’t think Alane’s mom’s comment applies.)

    It sure seems to me that the opportunities (if any) for extra credit given in these two situations should be different.

    My son’s science teacher offers a “brain teaser” every week (a question related to the week’s topic, but which generally requires a little extra research to answer, or a thinking question related to the topic) which seems like a reasonable thing to give a few “extra” points for.

    The math teacher, other than the odd assignment I asked about in my original post here, sometimes put an “extra credit” question on a test.

    Those both seem aimed at the “perfectionist” kids, and I did think it was nice to throw them a little bonus from time to time if they were willing to do extra work for it.

    I suspect that there were other opportunities that I didn’t hear about for the struggling kids to get “replacement” credit for redoing work they flubbed the first time, etc.

  16. January 21, 2008 9:09 pm

    “It sure seems to me that the opportunities (if any) for extra credit given in these two situations should be different.”

    You are absolutely right — when I offer something extra, it’s not a review of previously mastered work. If it’s for the kids who are buffering their A average, then it *is* a waste to have them re-do what they already know. But for kids who say to me “What can I do in the next 15 minutes to add 2 points to my average? Can I do a worksheet?” No, I don’t do extra credit like that.

  17. January 25, 2008 8:41 pm

    I should modify/clarify my assertion that they didn’t “do” extra credit in my HS in Canada. There were sometimes bonus points on tests, but they didn’t have separate assignments you could do for “free” points, that I can recall.

  18. Bayram permalink
    March 31, 2008 10:48 pm

    “Honey, if you couldn’t do the work I gave you, what makes you think you can do more of it?”

    I don’t think that teaching in this (above) way could bring an effort to students. You have to consider that kids have their “out-of-school” life. It might be way different than you think.

    Extra credit is a hope that you give to a student. Students may make a thousand of mostakes and you forgive them. Kids below average will lose any motivation uness their teachers (tutors) give them hope, a way to improve. I believe that without sensible way to achive sudents will not learn at all.

    It may seem too idealistic, but we are teachers!

  19. Bayram permalink
    March 31, 2008 10:50 pm

    One request: Can anybody help me with reaching students from bilingual and/or low-income families?

    Thanks upfront.

  20. July 11, 2012 2:33 am

    I do trust all of the ideas you have presented to your post.

    They are very convincing and will certainly work.
    Nonetheless, the posts are too short for beginners.
    Could you please extend them a bit from next time? Thank you for the post.

  21. Mollee permalink
    April 19, 2013 2:57 am

    As a math teacher, I use extra credit for a few reasons:
    1. Some students work hard but have test anxiety. They clearly can do the work and they try so hard to do the homework correctly, but for whatever reason blank out on tests. I want to give these students good grades, but I also can’t grade their tests unfairly. Hence the extra credit.
    2. I can ask fun/random math problems without kids getting annoyed and complaining that I’m not showing them exactly how to work out the problem.
    3. I’m a very, very strict grader – because I like being honest about the mistakes students make and I also like to challenge them with difficult tests. However, in the end, I don’t want to fail everyone. So extra credit makes them do extra work so I’m not just arbitrarily inflating grades.
    4. I also use extra credit to motivate in class math group work. I find even if I offer one extra point of extra credit (which is tiny when tacked on to a 100 point test), students suddenly pay far more attention and participation goes way up.
    5. Finally, it just helps the student-teacher relationship. The student perceives the teacher as being more generous, and the teacher perceives the student as being more hard working.


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