The English Teacher

Extra Credit Work

Extra credit work can be a valuable addition to teaching strategies.

Some teachers have a policy of no extra credit work. They feel that every student has the opportunity to do what's necessary and if they don't, they should experience the consequences. In this case the consequences are a lower grade. Teachers may feel that this 'no extra credit' policy teaches students to learn to plan ahead, and to be accountable. Also it may benefit the teacher because they feel that there is less hassle. Also they may have had teachers when they were students who allowed no extra credit and they are following their example. And yet again, they may have had teachers who allowed extra credit and did it in a way that they don't wish to follow.

There are some reasons and benefits for allowing extra credit work. The teacher should consider the individual lives of their students. Perhaps the student's family is moving; they may be sick; they may have a fear inducing situation outside of the classroom. Perhaps their family is splitting up. There are many reasons outside of the students' control for doing poorly on an assignment.

As teachers if we are sick, we can simply return papers a little later, give the test the next day, etc. Students don't have that control over their school lives. Some teachers have very full, tightly planned courses. In these courses, if some problem occurs so that early in the semester a student's grade falls, a very competent student may never be able to achieve a respectable grade without extra credit. Consider the motivation to work for a student who realizes that no amount of work will improve the final grade.

When a teacher decides to allow extra credit, the following material may be useful.

1. Set a deadline for extra credit work to be completed before card marking so that you don't take paper and test correcting time away from those who have been doing all their work on time.

2. Those students who are sincere, will work diligently to get their extra credit work done by the deadline... and will request it well before the deadline.

3. You can allow extra credit to simply pass the course. Why not? Just make sure that it is creditable work. My policy is to allow no extra credit work until the regular work is done. This policy forestalls students who would otherwise 'pick and choose' the assignments that they wish to do. They may feel that if they don't like an assignment, that they can just skip it and do extra credit project to replace it. [Most often the skills used in the extra credit work that such students request is far from the type of skills required by the assignment which they are missing.]

4. Sometimes you may offer or grant a special 'one time' extra credit project that will enable a student to pass or reach a specific grade. If you do a 'one time' deal, then make it clear that it is an exception and hold to your policy.

5. Some students may do less than their best work and count on extra credit to 'bail them out.' When the conference is held regarding the extra credit work, the teacher's comments on the student's work level and ability should be noted so that the student doesn't come to rely on extra credit work to allow them to do less than their best.

6. Some students may do extra credit work to reach the 'A' level. Some may do it to pass, or reach some level in between. They should be told that their extra credit work is graded on quality as well as quantity. In other words, eight pages of 'D' work will not raise a 'C' student's grade at all and may lower it.

7. In my experience, allowing extra credit work does not increase the teacher's overall work load. Of all the students that may request the work, far fewer actually accomplish it. I usually have, at most, eleven students who actually do extra credit work out of five English classes. That amount may even seem a lot to some, but the compensation is that you now don't have resentment from students that they can do nothing to improve their grade. Also when parents come in to complain about their student not receiving a certain grade, they can be informed that their child had the opportunity to raise the grade through extra credit but they did not do it. The decrease in the stress in these areas may well compensate for the extra work that you may have to do in grading these extra credit assignments. And also you may well enjoy grading the extra credit projects. See the material below.

Strategies for Giving Extra Credit Work.

1. Ask the student to give you five suggestions for extra credit projects, of different types. The types may be stories, reports, book reports, maps, posters, etc.

2. Don't be drawn into suggesting assignments to the students. When they can pick and choose what their assignment is, they are given the power of approval over the teacher's choices. Then if the students are unmotivated, the teacher has to go to great efforts to please them. This practice will cause frustration in the teacher and allow students to be 'picky' and exercise no responsibility in the process. If they suggest the assignment, they have to consider where they are lacking and how much they need to do to raise their grade. Then the teacher can judge whether their suggestions are adequate.

3. Assign or choose the project according to the student's interests and abilities. As you choose from their list, they will be more responsible and will do better work than if you simply assigned it.

4. Avoid book reports. They are usually repeats of something done in an earlier grade, perhaps several times.

5. Avoid 'reports' that are simply copied from an encyclopedia (or now from an encyclopedia on cd rom so that a student can simply copy and paste the material). You can make an exception if your students already know the principles of research, proper documentation, avoiding plagiarism, etc. Otherwise, you will again be frustrated as the students turn in something that they expect will raise their grade, perhaps the same type of work done in lower grades, and which instead lowers their grade.

6. I finally discovered how to assign extra credit work which satisfies me. I had had some projects done which made me pleased but often they were merely acceptable for the purpose. I started giving 'unusual assignments.' The following are some examples from a ninth grade honors class.

When I had a unit in one act plays, we read 'In the Shadow of the Glen' from 24 One Act Plays. It is a play written in Irish dialect. When a student came to me with her list of extra credit projects, one of the choices was to write a play. After some thought, I assigned her to write a 'final' act for the play, in dialect. She said 'great' and then after some thought, she said 'that's hard, can I do a different play?' I said, 'I know it's hard, that's why I am assigning it. If you want extra credit, that's the assignment.' [I would not have given this assignment to someone who had little ability to do it.] She worked on this project for weeks and when it was done, it was good enough to have students take parts and read it in class.

When we were reading Dracula, a student asked for extra credit and one of his choices was a map. After some thought, I asked him to do a map of London and the Romanian area as they were at that time (1899). When he couldn't find what I asked for, I modified the assignment. He finally turned in a map of places in London and England as a whole showing where Dracula was spotted. I learned from the map that Dracula landed in a ship in a much different area from where he left. Also the map included an outline of Europe and possible shipping routes, creating the question 'which route did the two ships which transported Dracula take?' Also there was an insert showing Transylvania and Dracula's castle. The map was laminated and it will be an educational tool , along with other extra credit projects (another Dracula map and a lineage chart of the Norse gods), for next year's class.

*In considering the educational value of this extra credit project, besides what the class and I learned, the student had to do much careful reading to find out where Dracula and the other vampires were located. [He added a key to show the location of where vampires were sighted and where they were killed.] Also he had to research to find the appropriate maps. Finally, he became a good example to others in the class and following classes of learning beyond the regular assignments.

As a final example, the next semester when we were finishing Dracula, the young lady who wrote the finish to 'A Shadow in the Glen' again asked for extra credit. A journal was one of her topic choices. After some thought, I asked her to finish the journal that Lucy wrote. It took her about four weeks and then I handed it back to her twice for finishing touches. I felt that her experience in trying to match the Irish dialect in 'A Shadow in the Glen' helped her to match Lucy's syntax in Bram Stoker's Dracula. You can read 'Lucy's Journal' here.


Match the assignment to the student. Don't expect honors work from regular students. Don't use extra credit as a 'club.' Creatively make assignments that allow students to show and feel good about their abilities. Do not try to have the best extra credit assignments. Do not try for a 'world class' extra credit project; just be happy when you are pleasantly surprised.

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