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.

15 thoughts on “What’s Wrong with Extra Credit?

  1. I fail to understanding the concept of ‘extra credit’. Students do something unrelated to the learning goals/targets/standards which the summative grade/score is meant to represent in order to increase said grade/score?

    I see at least two major problems with ‘extra credit’. It serves only to disrupt the connection between learning and the grade/score and leads to miscommunication of performance data to stakeholders.

    It also sends the wrong message to learners. Learners learn that the poor performance can be mitigated through performing unrelated work and that the score is more important than the learning.

    I saw through ‘extra credit’ when I was a high school student and my teacher gave extra credit. Often it was the high achievers who gained. One such classmate wound up with 112%. The teacher then allowed him to transfer the bonus 12% to his friends.

    Now as a teacher myself, my grades must reflect the student’s performance only. Luckily for me, my jurisdiction reports academic achievement and work habits separately.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. None of these experiences are valid extra credit opportunities. Extra credit is valid only when it stretches a learning opportunity. When I taught world history (8000bce-current), the curriculum required knowledge of the sequence of events though not exact dates. To help students internalize this info, they could spend lunch in my room playing a game based on the sequencing of events. They earned extra credit for every event placed in the correct order. Every child had the opportunity to participate and the activity strengthened their knowledge.

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  3. I have a digital class room. I have extra credit assignments posted on my website that are engaging, align with the curriculum and have 3 levels, 25 points, 50 points and 75 points. They are for each unit so kids have the opportunity to do them over a few weeks time. I also set aside a day (usually when I am absent) to use the full 90 mins to work on them. If students finish their normal work early, they can work on extra credit. Whether they do it or not is on them. My class is also ‘gamified’ so they get points for levels as well. It motivates them to do their best work and beat their friends in a game. It works for my class and they’re reading, writing and doing math in science class, so my principal loves that too. As far as bathroom passes are concerned, I do those two and I give them 3% master, and they get 5 extra credit points for that. But I keep hold of that digitally in an google spreadsheet. So no one has to hold on to the passes and they won’t lose them. However, when they do get to another level in the gamifcation, they can choose a bathroom pass which is worth 5 Points at the end of the semester. So if they’re running low on bathroom passes they can get one. They also have the opportunity to choose listening to their own music or having a snack in class if they have one. Because it’s science, they normally can’t eat in class. Bust as far as bathroom is concerned, they can exhaust them and still go, they just won’t get the points. However, they are usually engaged and dont ask to go. All in all, most students like the extra credit opportunity and it helps them in a game too. As teachers, our job is to motivate students to do their best and enjoy our subject matter and class. Giving a little or a lot of extra credit is no sweat off my back and they like the points and the grades!

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    1. Christine,

      In a classroom that is centered around earning as many points possible extra credit makes a lot of sense because the class is about point acquisition.

      However, in a standards-based learning environment that centers around students meeting the learning targets extra-credit makes no sense. Rather, these teachers differentiate and allow options for students to demonstrate learning.

      I like the idea of offering alternatives to teacher prescribed assignments. However, the question is whether these alternatives are about earning points or demonstrating learning.

      Liked by 2 people

    2. Christine,
      “They like the points and the grades” is my issue. I want my student to “like the learning.” Going without grades pushes me to make each and every lesson and assignment relevant to my students, which has made my lessons and assignments much more valuable than they’ve been in the past, and I feel students are learning more than they have in the past as well, especially with options to revise and redo (= learn).
      I’ve incorporated bits of gamification – to encourage students to work as groups. I’ve only used it for groups instead of individuals, because I’ve found that the individuals hungry for As are also hungry for points. It doesn’t seem to motivate my non-motivated students any more. With a group dynamic, however, the group members encourage each other and teach each other, and they earn these points to move their team forward. None of these points equate to a grade – they’re DOing, not necessarily LEARNing.
      I’m glad it works for you, but I’d hate to be their next teacher – where they might not work if it’s not for grades or points. I’d have to start over, trying to foster in them a love of learning once again.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Instead of offering extra credit, I allow students to redo any assignment or retake any test. A student must first come up with a plan on how they will better prepare for a retake test and then have a brief conference with me to show they have followed through on their plan before the retake. As for giving zeroes or not allowing a student to redo an assignment, I believe it is better to acknowledge that there is value in the assigned task and reward the student for their willingness to do more in order to improve. Lastly, bonus questions on tests are not for extra points either, but instead an opportunity to play me in beat the teacher classroom basketball or a game of Deal or No Deal with small random prizes that collect in my desk drawers or lunch with a friend and the teacher.

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    1. Heather, I love the idea of having a challenge at the end of an assessment. That’s intrinsic motivation for the students to learn as much as they can – PAST what you might assess! I, too, encourage revisions to any of our writing – if they DO it, they’ll LEARN more. I’d love for every student to get an A in my class because they’re learning the material, even if they have to revise multiple times to do so.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I teach 10th grade. Every year at the beginning of the school year at least one student will ask me, “do you do extra credit?”. As students start receiving grades I’ll have other students approach me with the same question. The answer is always the same, no. But in the words of my smart and witty niece who is a much younger teacher (8th grade), “Child, you couldn’t handle the daily work and now you’re asking for extra work? No!”

    Liked by 2 people

  6. I like to remind the students that the number is not important but the knowledge is. So on my quizzes (not exams), I allow the student to revisit their wrong answers. They can gain back up to 3of the 5 points per question if they fully explain why the wrong answer couldn’t possibly apply to the question while also verifying the correct answer’s validity. Many students have shared with me that this information was what they remembered months or semesters later; that the “correctly” answered questions were more fleeting in their long term memory. For me, if you didn’t know it at the time of the evaluation but spent the time to better master it after the assessment, well, isn’t that higher learning at its best?!?

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    1. Nichol,

      My question to you would be why not give full credit?

      If students are able to explain why they got it wrong the first time then they not only demonstrated an understanding of the concept but they went beyond. They took the time to relearn the material, they analyzed their work, and then they articulated their errors. Isn’t this far more than what the student who got it right the first time did?

      Don’t we want to promote reflective learners who know how to correct and learn from their mistakes? You may see that they get up to 3/5 on it, but couldn’t someone else argue that you are punishing a student 2 points for not getting it right the first time?

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      1. Many teachers argue the value and necessity of “getting it right the first time” in many situations from AP exams to not running out of money when you live on your own. I am pretty torn about the right way to give back points and wish that standards based or “I can” grading was more common. I always give partial on AP test corrections, on certain assignments in other classes, I allow full credit rewrites.

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      2. Melanie,

        There are very few things in life that require “getting it right the first time.” Both of your examples, “AP exams” and “not running out of money when you live on your own” are not totally correct.

        Yes, AP exams are only offered once a year, which limits the availability of a retake, but a junior can retake the exam their senior year. It may not be likely, but it is possible.

        As for running out of money, I lost my job and was evicted from my first apartment when I was 19 years old. Boy, I was impulsive and didn’t have the maturity to really handle those responsibilities at that time. However, I’m doing pretty well now.

        Driver’s License tests, the Bar Exam, SATs, MSTATs, and NBPTS are available to redo. Yes, redos on these cost money each time, but they are for full credit. If I failed my driver’s test the first time I am allowed full privileges if I pass it the second or third time or 20th time. There is no brand on my driver’s license.

        I just don’t agree with reporting anything less than full recognition of learning when a student demonstrates it. We need to be honest with students. They need to know if they fail the first time they will need to make a more concerted effort and deal with the consequences when they are ready to reattempt.

        Liked by 2 people

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