The Evils of Extra Credit(?)

This is a strange post to be writing, but sometimes I have strange thoughts. Those thoughts this week have turned toward extra credit, for a convoluted reason I won’t get into here. But in a nutshell, I came to the conclusion that a fair number of society’s problems might be caused by extra credit.

Well, perhaps that’s a bit extreme. But you don’t write interesting blog posts without making some overstatements now and then. Allow me to explain.

What exactly does extra credit accomplish? It gives students the opportunity to do additional work and improve their grade by virtue of having worked harder than they normally would have. I get it. I took advantage of those offers all the time when I was in school. So why am I suddenly thinking it’s not a great idea?

Simple. Life doesn’t have extra credit. By giving students so many chances to make up lost points in their grade, we teach them that effort matters as much as aptitude–if not more. And that’s just not the case in the majority of life. I can try as hard as I want to do something, but if I’m no good at it, then no amount of extra work is going to make it better.

Case in point: writing a book. Someone can work as hard as they want on a book–they can slave away on that thing for hours and hours. Years. Decades. Will any of that hard work pay off and net them a killer book deal?

Not necessarily. It might. It might not. Such is life.

The thing is, this makes sense in many areas of life. At my job, I can holler all I want about how hard I’ve been working, but if I don’t have the results to back up my work, then it does me no good. I could decide today to be the best pianist the world has ever seen. I could practice 16 hours a day, 7 days a week. It’s still no guarantee that I’ll ever get anywhere near elite level.

So why do we give students the chance to get around this immutable law of the galaxy? Why allow them to think the universe will bend knee to their overwhelming desire to succeed?

I suppose some of it is that we want to encourage hard work, and if students get to the point where they feel like no amount of work is going to help them, they give up. And no one wants to see anyone give up and get frustrated. Or do we? Don’t people give up and get frustrated out in the real world all the time?

What I mean to say is, “There are some people who are good at math, and some people who aren’t. Just because someone’s bad at math shouldn’t mean we let them work harder so that they think they’re just as good at math as the ones who are better than they are.”

I don’t know. The more I write about this topic, the more my head starts to spin. And that’s where you lovely people come in. What do you think about extra credit. Is it a good idea? Bad idea? A lot of you read a lot more studies than I do. How about it, hive mind–is there any research out there that says whether extra credit is a good idea or a bad idea?

Because no matter how hard I try to make this a valuable blog post, I think I’ve about reached my limits . . .

3 thoughts on “The Evils of Extra Credit(?)”

  1. I generally approve of extra credit within reason. I think life does give us chances to put in a little more work and things end up working out. Like putting a little more work into a job might get you a promotion, or spending a little more time exercising could lead to better health.

    Life and the universe isn’t always harsh on people.

    Saying that there are some people that are good at math and some that are not, is kind of misleading. There are some people who are bad at math year after year, until suddenly they put in a little extra work and then they become good at math. That doesn’t happen for everyone, but how can you know?

    When people get frustrated and give up, we sometimes call that suicide. Teacher’s shouldn’t be advocates for suicide. Life can be harsh sometimes, but that doesn’t mean we should be.

    I don’t feel that teachers should provide so much extra credit that someone who is failing at the end of the term can suddenly have the highest grade in the class. That is ridiculous. But allowing someone to bump up their grade a notch doesn’t bother me.

    Also, a little extra credit given in the right way can help alleviate some of the biases or shortcomings a teacher might have in his or her teaching.

    For example, I was once in a class where I got an “A” because of extra credit. Most of the class didn’t perform as well. The biggest problem is that the instructor was adjunct at two different university (university X and Y). He felt one university (university X) was superior to the other. I was not attending university X at the time. This instructor was convinced that the students at university Y were stupid. This bias was confirmed by him when the test scores came back lower. At the time, I knew someone taking his class at university X. We compared notes and discovered that he left out import parts of his lecture at the university .Y I guess he felt the students just wouldn’t get it and then he attributed the lower test scores to the students at university Y just being dumber. When he offered extra credit, I took it because there was no way he was going to teach the class equally and I needed a good grade. I also pointed out the evidence of his varying teaching methods between the universities and he kind of got defensive and didn’t like me too much. And the universities were BYU and UVU in case you are wondering.

  2. I used to be against extra credit in high school because I didn’t believe it prepared students for college. Then I went to college and they were giving out extra credit, too. In some classes more readily than I ever experienced in high school. So I figured maybe it wasn’t so disconnected after all. I think it depends on the kind of extra credit. Does it help you understand the material better, or in a different way? Teachers are all about students digging “deeper” into the curriculum – why not offer a small incentive? School is about learning, not about being exactly like the “real” world. The two are different beasts entirely.

  3. Interesting comments. Thanks, you two. I still think I’m against extra credit in most situations. For example, if students are doing poorly and haven’t been paying attention or going to class, I think it’s their own fault. If they’ve been consistently trying and just struggling, that’s a different story. Not sure where exactly the line is. I guess it comes down to an “I’ll know they deserve EC when I see it” sort of situation.

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