Tip 15: Should you give extra credit? Maybe.

by Dr Davis on August 23, 2008

Who does extra credit?

Early in the semester the people who do extra credit are the A students. Towards the end of the semester, if you are giving grades out regularly, more students who actually need it will get involved.

But most of the time, the students who need it the most won’t do it. So be prepared for that. As a teacher invested in the class, it can be a bit disheartening.

Why give extra credit?

There are many different reasons, but a big one is to get students to do something that is outside the normal parameters of your classroom.

One of my schools only allows extra credit to encourage the students to attend campus events. Obviously in an English class, they then have to write about it.

What if you want to give a new assignment, but you are unsure about its usability?

Give extra credit. The better students will do the project, whatever it is. If they do it well, you will know it can work. If they do it poorly, you will know it needs to be restructured.

What if you had a great assignment, but you can’t integrate it into the class?

Give extra credit. Over the years I have developed some learning units (as Blackboard calls them) that are very good, fun, and cool. [And, yes, I am reading The Rhetoric of Cool.] But as I get new texts, which don’t have the sections those assignments were created for, I drop them out of my class. But I still like them. They are still good and useful. There was a point to them and, if I liked them all that much, I received well-written papers. So I give them as extra credit.

How can I argue for extra credit?

As a writing instructor, the more students write, the more they learn. That’s one argument for it.

Another argument for it is that extra credit assignments can be given which involve the students in campus life and getting students involved on campus increases student retention. (That’s always a big deal with colleges.) You can send them to see the school play and they can write a critique. They can go to the campus art show and discuss their favorite and least favorite works. If you have multiple school eateries, they could try them out and write a compare/contrast paper. There are lots of assignments you could create to get the students involved on campus and writing.

How should extra credit be given?

I usually assign the easier projects as extra credit early in the semester. Then as the semester progresses, the extra credit assignments become more involved. That means that the students who need to do more work to improve their grade will be doing the equivalent of an extra day or two in class.*

The only exceptions to this are for
1) new projects I want to try out and
2) projects which get my students involved with the campus (as an aspect of student retention).

How should extra credit be graded?

Don’t spend hours grading extra credit. Think about what you are looking for ahead of time. Determine to what part of the grade it will be added, assuming your assignments have different weights. And decide, for yourself, how many points it is worth. I don’t always say how much it is worth. I do say something like, “This will go towards your homework average.”

And I give more than 100% averages if the student earned them. If I have a student who does all the homework and the homework extra credit, that student might end up with a 115 on that part of the average. So they have 115 on 20%. I find that it is an encouragement to the students to let them know that you will go over 100, if they make that.

Then when you receive the assignment, read through it. Is it exactly what you were looking for? Give the full number of points. Is it adequate? Give 3/4s. Is it done but not very good? Give half. Is it awful? Give 5-10%. (I don’t ever give 0 on an extra credit assignment unless it is plagiarized.) Is it exceptional, far beyond what you were looking for? Give 110-125%.

How should extra credit be weighted?

If I want the students to do something I meant to get to in class but didn’t have time for, I offer “on the spot” extra credit. It usually goes towards their homework average and I don’t say how much credit it will get because it will depend on how much the student produces.

If the assignment is fairly straightforward (go here, read this, write a narrative paragraph of your experience), then it should be weighted lightly. If the assignment has a few pages of reading or requires a few pages of writing (but still fairly straightforward), then I give 100 points in the homework section.

I have thirty to forty-five assignments that go into that, so that helps their grade a little, but not a lot.

If the assignment is involved, then I will give credit towards a major grade. For instance, we have six journal assignments that are 10% of the grade this semester. If the students find someone in their discipline or field and interview them about the discipline/field, using questions we came up with as a class, and write up a two to three page paper discussing what they learned and how it effects their attitude or future, then I give more substantial credit. It is usually enough to replace half of a journal assignment that got left undone.

What are some sample extra credit projects?

This example of a project is something you couldn’t do in a class unless you are in a computer lab. So it is perfect for extra credit.

Read Murphy’s Laws of Teaching.
Write down three that you have experience with. Write a one paragraph description of your experience with each.
This extra credit will add to your homework average.

I have thousands of total points in homework. Again, if someone did an outstanding job, I would give them outstanding credit. Usually though it’s 50 to 100 points.

Schedule an interview with a teacher or someone who works in your major area. Call to get an appointment. The interview must be completed within two weeks. Keep the appointment, ask the questions, listen, take notes or tape the interview, and write up the interview.

This is the assignment that I wrote about earlier. It follows our discussion of interviews in class where we come up with interview questions as a group.

Read Killian Advertising.
Comment on which of the reasons for terrible cover letters you think is most likely and why.
Pick two of the bloopers that don’t have editorial comment [The parts in green italics in square brackets.] and tell what is wrong with them. Please copy the two bloopers, too, so I will know what they are.

This one is fun and makes them think about the audience reading their papers more.

The following is an extra credit assignment during the research paper section:

Pick a good argument on the side you agree with. State the argument in on or two sentences. Then refute the argument; that is, tell why the argument is problematic. In other words, why might the argument not convince someone? (1.5-2 pages)

They have read articles on both sides of their issue by this time and should have a good grasp of their situation.

Do I have to give extra credit?

Absolutely not. But I find that structuring it ahead of time (except for on-campus events) lets me know that students can do better if they want to. This eases my conscience when they aren’t doing as well as they (or I) know they can.

*I believe that writers become better by understanding what they are trying to do and then doing it. A lot.

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