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We have two more weeks of classes and a week of finals to go, and this past week I had several students come to my office to go through their grades and figure out what they have to do to get the grade they want to get. Personally, I would rather they start out the semester thinking about this, but I know that doesn't happen and so it is around this point of the term that we work through this.  In many cases this conversation at some point gets around to "Do you offer extra credit in this course?"

Let us go to the other side of the orange slippery slide of confusion for a discussion of this rather simple question.

When I started teaching the simple answer was "no."  And I still hesitate about that.

One of the reasons I would hesitate to offer extra credit was that when I was young it was something that was a private arrangement for particular favoured students.  Those of us who worked through the semester and struggled to maintain an A and do our best work throughout would be equaled at the end by a slacker, but charming, student who convinced the teacher that cleaning the office or doing something for the football team or some such thing would end up with nearly the same grade.  I really hated this way of doing things.  My mother always told me I had too highly developed a sense of fairness, but this never seemed fair to me, and thus it was really "wrong."  Everyone needed to follow the same rules.

Of course, this applying the same rules to everyone and making them clear from the beginning is an important aspect of constructing a syllabus.  I try to make the instructions/rules/requirements for the class clearly set out in the syllabus so that everyone knows at the beginning of the semester what they will have to do to succeed.  I do set out opportunities for belly flops, or at least ways to offset the face plants that come when my students try something they have never tried before.  I give them multiple pop quizzes over the semester to encourage them to study regularly, and drop the two lowest marks.  In one class I take the top three of four tests, hopefully offsetting test anxiety.  In another I periodically give them across the board full points as long as they participated in group projects.  In other words, if they do the work, and try to succeed even outside their comfort zones, I will give them an opportunity to do well in the class.

In only one class this semester am I giving the students the possibility of extra credit.  That is accomplished with an assignment that is above and beyond what can be done in town.  We do not have a museum available in town and while I can pretty well assume that my students will at least be somewhat familiar with Renaissance and later aesthetics, I can't do the same for non-western visual material.  I cannot take them to a museum to show them such stuff, so I instead reward them for going to a museum with a  significant non-western collection (I recommend a few in state and a few out of state for them to choose from, but the closest are some 3 hours drive away).  I give them a set of questions to answer by writing a short essay.  This is not an automatic full set of points, but as they are putting the effort into this, I do tend to grade pretty generously.  But the experience of seeing material similar to what we are studying in class, and very dissimilar to what they normally see in museums around here, is what I am rewarding them for.  And it is a pretty good reward -- the points make up about 4% of the final class mark, so the points they earn can very easily make the difference between a B or an A, or a C and a B.  Every time I teach the class I get a submission from a student or two who has a straight A going into the last exam.  This doesn't bother me as an example of brown-nosing or grade-grubbing, but rather a situation where a good student is always trying to figure out more and get more out of a class.  

Of course it is easier if one of the museums is in a student's home town, but there are always students the people in the class can go home with for the weekend.  And there is a train to one city and a (relatively cheap) flight to the other main one in my state, so public transportation is possible.  I understand that not everyone could do the assignment, but it is not necessary to get an A in the class.  

What I don't want is for students to do something outside of the scope of the class and be rewarded with class credit for it.  Then the learning aspect of the class is lost.  Giving extra credit for meeting with visiting prospective students, or volunteering at a food bank might be relevant to some classes, but I don't think they would be right for me to give credit for in an art or history class.  Perhaps for public relations, or sociology classes they would be ideal.  But they should be also a thing students do because they want to do good things for the university or for the broader community in general.  

What has been your experience with extra credit?  Do you assign it or make it available?  Do you value it as a second chance opportunity, or do you grind your teeth to stubs when a student asks that inevitable question?

Originally posted to annetteboardman on Sat Nov 16, 2013 at 12:32 PM PST.

Also republished by Teachers Lounge and Community Spotlight.

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Comment Preferences

  •  I have used extra credit a lot (13+ / 0-)

    particularly as a way of getting students to attend events outside of class and often off campus.

  •  extra credit (3+ / 0-)

    is often expected as a method to compensate of generally poor performance on more objective assessment methods, as a kind of subsidy for social promotion in lower grades, like AP credits, or in higher education as a means to compensate for missing assignment due dates to better control leisure scheduling

    Warning - some snark may be above‽ (-9.50; -7.03)‽ eState4Column5©2013 "I’m not the strapping young Muslim socialist that I used to be" - Barack Obama 04/27/2013

    by annieli on Sat Nov 16, 2013 at 12:48:29 PM PST

  •  I always ask administration if they have a (13+ / 0-)

    position on extra credit because some administrators like to have some mechanism to get marginal students "over the hump".   Personally, I prefer to have NO EXTRA CREDIT as the first line on every syllabus because over the years I found that not only do students go into courses trying to figure the least they could do for a certain grade but that if offered extra credit, they will then try to bargain that farther down.  In other words, the class becomes not about learning but about which students have superior negotiating powers or more parental juice.

    I prefer to give the student a certain amount of time for a "do-over" to increase their original grade (but to never completely obliterate an original grade) but after that time period, no second chances.  That way, students who are serious about passing can make up for academic hiccups as they go along.  

    What I particularly hate is the student with a 40 average with 90% of the grade already determined who shows up to ask what can he do to pull it up to an 80.  When I tell the student such an event is mathematically impossible, then the irate parents show up, demanding to know how could I predict the quality of work the student would do for extra credit if he were not given the chance

    •  I agree. (5+ / 0-)

      I'm actually fine with obliterating the first grade, because doing the projects takes so much time that someone would be hard-pressed to fail a project and then be able to get an A anyway. But they can take a C project and make it a B+ quite easily.

      I think a lot of learning happens after the project is over, so I'm okay with giving students who have the initiative the reward for continued learning. Very few of them ever do the rework.

      •  first semester freshman I blew the first of 3 (6+ / 0-)

        exams, 1/3 of grade with like a 40.  Prof agreed to set aside that grade if I aced the other 2.  On final, he only asked for like 50% of what I had learned so I flipped on the back of the exam and answered not only the questions he had asked but also the questions he had not asked (I had made out a series of possible tests and took them over and over until I could nail them.  Having done that, I then took the answer sheet and reversed the process)

      •  I have "resurrection points". (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        Well, OK, I borrowed the idea from someone else much smarter than I...

        Students come into my intro chem class with different backgrounds. I tell them from the start that if they jump the shark on one exam and do better on that material in the final, I'll substitute the grade on that material in the final for the exam grade. It gives the people who start off slow, because of poor background, a chance to catch up.

  •  I generally do not offer it. (8+ / 0-)

    What I do offer is the opportunity for students to re-work some of their projects and resubmit them for a new evaluation. A higher grade is not guaranteed, but they'll usually move up .5 grade if they do something to address the deficiencies in the project's initial solution.

    If I do offer extra credit, it is small (no more than a tiny GPA nudge) and it is offered to everyone and something they can all accomplish without extraordinary measures (no money required).

    I'll throw out bad test scores ONLY if their final exam is better than their other two tests' average. So if students really work for the final, it can take a failing exam grade and make it a B or even better, depending on how hard they study. The tests are cumulative, so it is reasonable to do it; the final covers all the material from the first two tests plus a little more. They prove they've mastered all the material and those first two tests can say goodbye.

  •  I hate extra credit. (6+ / 0-)

    It is not fair to students who work hard, get homework turned in on time and have great attendance. Why should my A be equal to the A of the guy who did easier assignments to get the same grade?

    I do appreciate teachers that give a good work mix and don't just rely on tests.

    My overachiever teenager just looks at extra credit as more homework and has ended up with 130% in classes before. (yes, 30% offered in extra credit)

    "Pulling together is the aim of despotism and tyranny. Free men pull in all kinds of directions.” --Lord Vetinari

    by voracious on Sat Nov 16, 2013 at 01:53:03 PM PST

  •  I do not like the idea of extra credit. (9+ / 0-)

    what I do instead is to offer to drop the lowest exam grade. That way one bad exam does not cause a bad grade, but I am not grading extra credit assignments into the following semester.

  •  I don't generally offer it but reward mastery. (9+ / 0-)

    I don't generally offer extra credit, but I try to build in incentives for people to master something they struggled with on first encounter. If I'm giving exams, the final is cumulative and I will down-weight an early test if the score on that section of the final shows the effort to go back and learn it. In classes with a final project, that counts a lot, and they have to turn in proposals and progress reports along the way so they get feedback and can improve their work.

    In a current class, small but a new course combining far too much material from two previous courses - not my idea! - they wrestled a lot with a new concept. So I'm adding a couple of no-fault quizzes: you can gain points but not lose points. (They wanted more homework but they did fine on homework, just couldn't think conceptually yet in class, and I want them to practice that.) We'll see how that works! It's not exactly extra credit though, more like a chance to improve and test their own understanding (and give me feedback on whether they are catching on to these particular ideas yet. I don't want to wait till the final to find out.)

    I sympathize because I might have given up math early on without the chance for making up. I missed most of the first quarter of 8th-grade algebra with an eye injury (blind in other eye so this was high-risk). In bed, no movement, no reading. When I got back, no consideration was given for absence, and I got a C. I protested that even if I got perfect grades on every test the next quarter I couldn't get an A. So the teacher said fine, I'll put extra-hard problems on tests for extra credit. I went back to beginning of book and worked EVERY problem, including starred ones - he was prone to picking the unassigned ones for exams - and by the next exam, I could do anything he stuck on there. I ran an average of 120% or so for a while, and then he said ok, you made your point! Got my A's and also found out that being really good in math was, in part, a function of how much effort I put in.

    In all cases, though, I think extra credit, if given, needs to be fair - available to everyone - and designed to get students to move beyond their usual learning trajectory in a class. Dig deeper, get noticeably better, or come back with new insights. Not just more of the same.

  •  Why should I offer extra credit... (5+ / 0-) students who can't earn the base credit?

    •  I think there're a few reasons. (5+ / 0-)

      Sometimes a student only fails or misses a better grade by a very small amount.  I think extra credit is reasonable in these cases.

      Similarly, perhaps there were outside problems which were interfering with the student's previous performance which are now less of a problem.  Familial strife, sicknesses, accidents, or even Just Not Getting It Until Something Vital Clicked.  

      What's the point of teaching?  To ensure mastery of a subject or to tick a bunch of boxes on a checklist?  If a student shows mastery in spite of prior poor performance, I see no reason not to give them the opportunity to earn a better grade.

  •  I had read somewhere that students who (9+ / 0-)

    studied for an essay test outperformed students who studied for multiple choice, on both formats. As my class grew too big for all essay tests, I used a special form our university has - an 8 1/2 x 11 sheet with numbers and foils, but also about a third of a page on the back that is boxed off for free response.

    I set a 10 pt bonus essay for each exam, and told them in advance about it. My hope was that  having in mind that part of the exam was essay would influence how they studied all of it.

    As a side effect, these small essays caught two cheaters. My TA came in because it seemed that two of the bonus essays were too similar. We looked at their multiple choice answers and they were almost always concordant on wrong answers. We got a bit of grief from one of the parents (the students were pre-meds - ouch!) but the data were unequivocal.

    Is it true? Is it kind? Is it necessary? . . . and respect the dignity of every human being.

    by Wee Mama on Sat Nov 16, 2013 at 02:47:08 PM PST

  •  So, car + time + money = extra credit? (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Eyesbright, badscience, kurt

    On the general question of extra credit, we don't have strong feelings one way or the other.  We've always told our kids to study/work as if there were no extra credit (every assignment is important); any such opportunities are to be jumped upon in order to provide a cushion, but we don't expect to see them.

    Now, having said that - I'd be rather ticked if you offered an extra credit opportunity like the museum trip you described, simply because it's effectively limited to those students who have (or, more than likely, whose parents have) the time and resources to take an entire day for a museum visit.  (If you're teaching a collegiate class, none of my kids have a car.)

    If you're going to offer extra credit, I think it should be something reasonably attainable by almost all of your students.

    The word "parent" is supposed to be a VERB, people...

    by wesmorgan1 on Sat Nov 16, 2013 at 03:43:50 PM PST

    •  I agree with that. (0+ / 0-)

      It has to cost nothing other than time and work.

      The time part of the equation is absolutely fair and necessary. The rest are not fair.

    •  It is designed to provide a cushion (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      mahakali overdrive

      But if a student has done the work in class he or she would not need it.

      •  Hey, you asked...*grin* (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        I just hate to think of a student who (for whatever reason) needs the extra credit but can't manage the road trip.

        As I said, extra credit isn't a biggie on my "parental concerns" list.  Now, I'd gladly surrender all extra credit opportunities in exchange for the elimination of "projects." THOSE can be nightmares...and I have spoken with teachers and administrators about absolutely horrendous project requirements/evaluations.

        The word "parent" is supposed to be a VERB, people...

        by wesmorgan1 on Sat Nov 16, 2013 at 08:36:56 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  what do you mean by "projects?" (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:

          My courses are almost entirely built around "projects." However, I teach in a design program. In fact, I am unusual in that I also require papers and exams. My students work hard at a blistering rate. And I grade a lot. ;-)

          •  Well, yeah... (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            badscience, annetteboardman

            ...I'd expect a design class to require project work.

            I'm talking about the "cross-curricular" sorts of things that are becoming more popular at the high school level.  For instance, my kids have dealt with:

            * science projects (e.g. "build a 3D model of a plant cell")...for which a full 10% of the rubric--that is, a full letter grade--was based on the science teacher's subjective evaluation of "artistic merit."

            * a vocal music teacher who showed last year's "Les Miserables" movie to classes, then hit them with a quiz asking about character development, plot devices and the like...and only 15-20% of the questions addressed the vocal music of the film.  

            * an English assignment to draw a comic of a scene from the then-current reading...and a substantial portion of the grade was based on "artistic interpretation of the scene."

            I'd rather see projects disappear than deal with teachers evaluating students in areas outside those teachers' areas of competence.  I don't think it quite fair that students who do possess above-average artistic talent are getting higher science and English grades than do students who show equal mastery of the material in question but don't have the same level of artistic skill.

            Now, it's only fair that I give at least one example of a teacher doing "project work" in what I consider the proper fashion.  My son's US History class was just handed an "project" assignment for which they were given 5 possible ways to complete the project.  (I remember 3 of them - Powerpoint presentation, diorama, and poster/collage.) Moreover, the teacher told the class that "if you have a different idea, come talk to me; if I think you can deliver the same level of content, I'll let you do it your way instead of one of these."  That's the sort of approach that allows each student to play to their strengths, even as all of them do the same research/study of the source material in question.  THAT'S the right way to do it.

            The word "parent" is supposed to be a VERB, people...

            by wesmorgan1 on Sun Nov 17, 2013 at 12:28:20 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

    •  and the two closest museums I recommend (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      are both free admission.

  •  Outside reading (4+ / 0-)

    I teach high school English. I give extra credit for outside reading solely in order to encourage reading more than class assignments. It isn't enough extra credit to turn a frog into a prince, but it does seem to motivate about 1/3 of the class to engage in the outside reading.

    The history of music is mortal, but the idiocy of the guitar is eternal. ― Milan Kundera, The Book of Laughter and Forgetting

    by James Earl on Sat Nov 16, 2013 at 05:06:58 PM PST

  •  We allow up to 10 points EC in the first (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    badscience, annetteboardman, kurt

    majors' bio course (lecture portion), on top of about 480 points on exams and quizzes. We give EC for attending lectures by student researchers and guests to the department, helping out in the department's garden, and doing environmental work on campus.

    What is important in setting this up is that the possibility of accruing EC points be equally available to all students, which is the only hesitation I have about your otherwise fascinating museum assignment. There would be a significant number of students at my institution for whom those points would simply be unavailable due to the challenge of getting there. I'd happily make that one of several options, as we have with our allowed EC. I came up with this "max of 10, choose what you want" idea when we wanted to encourage students to hear the summer research students' presentations, but knew that some in the class would have lab at that time.  

  •  As a high school teacher in a public school (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    badscience, kurt, Maple Jenny

    I offered extra credit to anyone, but NEVER at the end of the term to bump up a percent into the next grade range. They were allowed to expand on any CURRENT assignment, eg. do 3 replications in a lab rather than 2, and include those calculations/discuss significance in their lab report. If parts of that report were missing or poorly done, they might not make 100%, even with the extra. I did not allow them to go back and fix up an assignment because 1) it encouraged shoddy work the first time around, and  2) my notes to them on why they didn't get full credit were essentially doing the makeup work for them.

    Any extra had to be directly related to the topic at hand, and incorporated into the regular assignment.

    Here's the key to it. All grades are available to students and parents on line. In high school classes there are 2-3 assignments every week, so there will be 30-50 data points by the end of term, with the current cumulative percent always available. If a student starts to fall below 90% they can start doing extra, if they choose. If they don't, the responsibility is theirs not mine.

    It goes without saying this is all spelled out in writing in the syllabus, provided to students at the start of the course, and to parents online.

  •  No extra credit in my class (4+ / 0-)

    I offered extra credit for years in my university literature and writing classes if students wrote a play review or a review of a campus lecture or other activity (never sports). But I realized that the students who were doing the extra credit were either good students who didn't need it, or they were weak students who did a half-assed job with it, and so their grades didn't really improve. So I no longer offer extra credit. I still require them to write a review of one play each semester. If they don't like the grade, they can write a second review and I will record the higher of the two grades, but that is it.

    On certain days when I have lots of absences (the day before Thanksgiving break, for example), the students who do attend invariably ask for extra credit just for showing up. And every year I tell them that I don't give extra points for students who are just doing what they are supposed to do.

    I am so mean.

    Zen is "infinite respect for all things past; infinite service to all things present; infinite responsibility for all things future."--Huston Smith's Zen Master

    by Ree Zen on Sat Nov 16, 2013 at 06:22:51 PM PST

    •  I too don't offer EC (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      badscience, annetteboardman

      My school district doesn't allow it. I used to offer bonus points--not an extra assignment, but something tied to the assignments they were already doing--extra test questions, a difficult essay choice, etc. I also set up my gradebook so bonus could only impact students' grades 1.5%--enough to boost one increment if it could, but no more.

  •  I have tended to offer extra credit. (4+ / 0-)

    But it's always offered to everyone, the possible sources of extra credit are specified (and related to the course subject), and is not at the end of the semester.

    But in my experience, almost all the students who actually do the extra credit are the ones who didn't need it anyway. I don't recall ever having a student pass who would have failed without extra credit, and only a handful of times when a grade changed by a letter (I think always from a B+ to an A-). Most of the students who do the extra credit are changing their average from, say, a 96 to a 98, or something like that.

    "Great is the power of steady misrepresentation; but the history of science shows that fortunately this power does not long endure."--Charles Darwin

    by Hopeful Monster on Sat Nov 16, 2013 at 07:05:22 PM PST

  •  I am going to give you several answers (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Laurel in CA

    from different perspectives - don't know if this will help, but here goes:

    First, think of the objective.  The real objective is to encourage and acknowledge mastery of a subject. So the question that you have to ask is whether a student who achieved an 88 because of 5 extra credit points got the equivalent level of subject knowledge as the student who got an 88 without extra credit.  If the answer is not a resounding yes, then you should go no further.

    But even within that, there are some grey areas.  For example, there was a course I took on semiconductor manufacturing engineering.  Now, I had no plans to be an engineer.  I already had a degree, but I was working in a semiconductor company, and I felt I needed a basic understanding of the technology to succeed in my job.  I told the instructor the grade I needed for reimbursement, and he gave it to me.

    As a teacher (I taught at two online universities, both graduate and undergraduate courses)  I followed your general philosophy.  I gave students a chance for a "belly flop / face palm generally by dropping the lowest grade) but no real extra credit.  On the other hand, my grading structure was pretty easy.  I used to say that in my course it was hard to earn an A (I feel that the grade of A should really signify excellent work) but relatively easy to earn a B  (show up and hand in the work on time, don't plagiarize)

    Perhaps the best solution is my son's sophomore (high school) english teacher.  She does offer extra credit, but states what it is at the beginning of the class in the syllabus.  In other words, a student who does everything perfectly including the extra credit has a shot at 110%.  The key is that the students have a choice of ways to earn an A, but it is all stated upfront at the beginning of class.  I like that, I don't like extra credit thrown on at the end.

    I will close with one more thought.  Was your grading through the term fair?  Was it reasonable?  Can you say, honestly that a student who has a D or F really deserved that grade because they didn't put in the effort?  If that's the case, then don't worry any further.

    I will close with a thought that one of my mentors passed on to me.

    You don't give a student a grade.  The student earns a grade, all you do is record it.  Record the grade the student earned

  •  My policy is to offer extra credit only to (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    students already in good standing (meaning with a C- or above). That tends to avoid grade grubbing from slackers. My purpose in offering extra credit is to encourage them to write more essays than are assigned since much of what I teach involves writing, and the more, the better there.

    I also offer tiny, random bits of extra credit for spontaneous sorts of things in-class to encourage certain positive behaviors, like extra credit for civility or particularly well-done peer revision work, although I don't specify what it will be for since it's for "good student habits" in essence. I announce it when I give it, quite loudly and with fanfare so other students take note. It's usually only a few points but tends to serve a far greater purpose all around. That's my favorite sort.

    Make-up work? No. My course expectations are clear, and if a student falls very behind, I will usually try to conference with them as I see it happening. If they aren't responsive, I'm not interested in giving "students who don't give a shit" extra credit. The students who usually go after extra credit essays in my classes tend to be A students in the first place.

    Click the ♥ to join us on the Black Kos front porch to review news & views written from a black pov - everyone is welcome.

    by mahakali overdrive on Sat Nov 16, 2013 at 10:14:43 PM PST

    •  To add, as I read through the comments here (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      badscience, grog, annetteboardman

      I am teaching at the college-level. My policies would be different for lower-level students (in that my thinking about adult students, and I use the word "adult" here to indicate the 17-19 year olds who comprise the bulk of my students, so in other words, some can buy cigarettes and others cannot) -- I would not presume to know what would be the best policy for younger students, pre-voluntary schooling. That would be a tough one, so my hats off to those teaching K-12 on this complex matter.

      Click the ♥ to join us on the Black Kos front porch to review news & views written from a black pov - everyone is welcome.

      by mahakali overdrive on Sat Nov 16, 2013 at 10:27:37 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  I never gave "extra credit." (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    sny, annetteboardman

    Never, ever, under any circumstances. No "extra credit" of any kind. I didn't offer it, neither on my own nor in response to a request, I didn't give it, I didn't believe in it.

    My policy was always exceedingly simple: You do the work you are assigned, when it is assigned, period. If you choose not to do that, you must bear the risks and consequences of that choice. I will not un-do that choice for you later.

    Harsh? Yes. Might I have been willing to offer extra credit to a student who did do all of the work (s)he was assigned, when it was assigned, and still wanted to learn and produce more? Probably. Did that situation ever arise? I doubt it. TO my recollection, 100% of the time, students (and parents and administrators on their behalf) seeking "extra credit" did so as a means of replacing the grade the student actually earned with a higher, arbitrary number that reflected not the student's actual performance but some artificial measure of his/her momentary desire to deny, obscure, and forgive themselves for the choices they made over five, or ten, months; to replace the result of those choices with something artificial and fleeting.

    I noted repeatedly throughout my teaching career that a lot of kids don't actually care about their grades until the day they get their report cards. I had too many students over the years who spent the entire semester or year ignoring instruction, producing no work, cutting class, misbehaving, sleeping, and so forth, only to come to me in January or June with the proverbial hats-in-hands asking if there is "anything I can do to pass" or to "bring my grade up." Eventually I learned that the best answer is no.

    I found, in the final analysis, that the worst thing we teach kids nowadays, in school and elsewhere, is that their feelings matter but their choices don't. I made sure my students understood that in my class, the opposite was true.

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