In Defense of Extra Credit

Online one hears many criticisms of the idea of extra credit, here is my defense.

There are two reasons to allow extra credit. The first “points” is quite arguably not a good reason for extra credit. I know teachers who’ve given out extra points at the start of the year to students who bring in needed supplies, such as boxes of Kleenex. While we can lament the fact that a teacher needs to reach out to the students’ families to supply needed classroom supplies, the basic fact is the students get no value out of the activity. They haven’t demonstrated their learning. They haven’t tried a new activity. Other than spending a few dollars, they have done nothing. I am not going to defend that though I certainly understand the desperation that leads to that decision. I will defend the other reason for extra credit, “allowing students to express their understanding in different ways and engage in extra experiences.”

Extra credit should either allow students to express their understanding in a different way or allow the students to engage in an extra experiences. I have given my students extra credit labs they can do at home, designed to allow them engage in the standards or related topics in new ways. While teaching any topic in science there are always more labs than you can reasonably bring into your classroom periods. I’ve picked resource light and safe labs that students can do as family activities (or independently) at home. If it gets them to continue their learning outside of class, how is that a bad thing? I’ve given my middle school students high school level physics problems to work out at home (with a lot of support and guidance for those who are less math confident). How is getting students of all ability levels to engage in above and beyond math a bad thing? I’ve allowed my students to work on self directed projects to engage with the material and show their understanding in their own ways. Who can object to that?

It is not as if creativity and choice and pushing my students beyond their comfort zones only exists outside of class, we do that every day. But providing this as extra credit gives some students extra motivation and for others an extra way to demonstrate their understanding (with extra points to reflect that understanding in their grade).

Sure, there is bad extra credit the same way there is pointless busy work in classes, but that doesn’t mean all extra credit is bad. If it encourages students to engage in the class material outside of class, if it allows them to demonstrate understanding in a different way, if it gets them to be more involved, how is that a bad thing?



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